For those of you who never venture south of the river, Bankside is the former no man's land that sits behind the Tate Modern and runs from Borough Market in the East to Blackfriars to the West. The old warehouses and theatres along Southwark Street have been joined by cafes, restaurants and retail shops which are mostly concentrated around three modern office behemoths imaginatively dubbed the Bankside Three. Tucked in at ground floor level of Bankside One is The Refinery Bar.
The Refinery screams of a marketing plan that aspires to be ‘edgy’. Wooden floors, exposed pipes, Chinese-style screens, padded booths, chalkboards, chandeliers, oversized light bulbs, leather sofas, glass staircases and marble bathrooms. It even has a DJ and decks from Thursday night onwards. All of these ingredients, plus the fact that it has very good outside space, makes the Refinery very popular. The wine selection is broad in terms of region, grape and price point. The food is drawn from a comprehensive menu that includes flatbreads, burgers, salads, and your classic pub-grub staples. The staff are friendly, mostly Antipodeans, and enthusiastic. And the punters are not as stiff as your typical City crowd, nor as pretentious as the nearby Bermondsey cool set.
However The Refinery feels like a bar that wants to be a funky independent in Shoreditch but settled for being in an office block south of the river. The fittings, good looking as they are have an All Bar One feel to them in that they are clean to a fault and contrived. For example, the mismatched furniture is by design rather then necessity. The bar as a whole lacks character. The same can’t be said for the staff, however, despite their charm they can be inefficient bordering on disinterested. Many times I have seen punters front of queue while the staff merrily ignore them, or congregate around one corner of what is a very long bar.
The déjà vu experience is of course down to the fact that the Refinery Bar is part of a new chain which features the aforementioned Anthologist bar and also The Parlour in Canary Wharf, which I have yet to visit. Although, given the déjà vu feeling triggered by the two venues that I have seen, I think I know what to expect.