I, more than anyone, should be rooting against Tabac Bar. When I moved into a flat in Kentish Town this fall, my landlord promised the restaurant space on the ground floor would be near silent. Three weeks ago, the opening night proved this to be an empty promise. I can hear the thumps of songs and the laughs of parties from my room two floors above. But, in the spirit of opportunity, I decided to hold my judgement until I tried it out myself. The concept– an affordable French bar with interesting wines, boutique cocktails, and light snacks– did sound appealing after all.
Picture this: a wet, cold evening walk in Kentish Town is interrupted by the orange hues looming out of two big and foggy windows. You enter a warm, cozy bar. The staff is friendly, the drinks cheap.
Tabac Bar’s décor mixes domesticity with sociability; soft materials like the caned bar counter sit alongside durable marble topped tables. A covered fireplace motif lights up the back corner. Fresh lilies and lavender twigs stand on their respective vases upon a copper countertop. The general manager Gabriel Fontana eagerly explains that “we try to bring a rustic, convivial, and cozy atmosphere from France to here.” And it does indeed feel like a place where you could “enjoy and chill for three or four hours drinking several cocktails – or [have] a lovely bottle of the house wine.”
Refreshingly, the menu items support this welcoming feeling. In London, the stylish décor and menu types exhibited by Tabac Bar are all-too-often met with exorbitant prices. Upon hearing the words “cocktails” or “wine,” a London student normally presupposes a heavy expense. So, the £3.5 house white glass proves a sterling surprise. (The most expensive wine glass on the menu– excluding sparkling ones– is £4.5.) Tabac understands that to attract the full intended customer base – “Anyone from 18 to 80!” according to Fontana – the menu items need to be affordable for all. Should you want to appreciate finer wine, venture into the sumptuous bottles displayed in the enomatic dispenser. But the cheaper options– served in French ballons full to the brim– are enough to fulfil the space’s purpose: easy gatherings around tasteful glasses. Whether you gather regularly with a book (as I do) or with friends, the space welcomes us both.
Happy hour at Tabac continues the welcoming by living up to its name. The manager enthusiastically tells that “we would love more students here, especially during happy hour.” All menu drink items are served at half price every day from 5 to 6 PM. The half-priced ‘Purple Brooklyn’ (£4; or £8 normal price) is your happy answer to a dreadful, wet day. The menu tag states it well: “July in Provence: all year round in Kentish Town.” Based on absinthe and a lavender infused gin, the cocktail imparts a light aromatic flair that pleasantly contrasts with the cold winter outside (The gin is infused with lavender inhouse every Sunday, for 2-3 days). The lavender vase on the bar is not just a decoration; a small twig floats on the thin egg white foam, calling forth the drink’s purple hues. The lime juice’s citric hit will strike your palate first, followed by the robust strength of the liquor below. Those notes then give way and leave a sweet lavender aroma behind– inviting you to take another swig.
Try out the ‘Goats Cheese and Truffle Honey’ (£4.5) for a munch. Served with either crackers, the generous serving of cheese will satisfy any small cravings. It is the truffle honey sprinkled on top, however, that stands out. The sweetness inherent to honey dances along with the tart cheese and truffle notes. Herein and elsewhere Tabac presents a progressively rare quality: items feel worth their price. The taste self-sufficiently justifies a £4.5 price tag and so do the other menu items. “Good quality, affordable prices, and good vibes. Tabac Bar: that’s what it is!”
Tabac Bar may not hold the quaintness of a pub nor the wackiness of an experimental cocktail bar, but it was a conscious effort. Fontana notes that, before Tabac, “we were missing, in Kentish Town, a bar– a simple bar.” They do not aim to provide an exhaustive cocktail or wine list. They do not try to offer full meals– for that you can visit the adjacent sister-restaurant Patron. Instead, they are “focused on the bar concept with our beautiful copper bar, with our vibe, and with our little tables. It is important for us that it is a bar.” And this bar offers a collected elegance that – by virtue of its prices – is available to all (After becoming a regular, I would joke that Tabac will become my extended parlor room). In an age of esoteric bar concepts, Tabac Bar is simply, then, a good and pleasant bar. Fontana invited me to imagine: “let’s say it is 5 o’clock, so I might start with wine and move my way up to a cocktail. In the meantime, maybe, I would try the mixed board.” It was easy to picture.
Tabac Bar is a welcome addition to the varied establishments that make Kentish Town an affordable and spirited leisure field. Like Fontana mentioned, “in a cold city like London we need something cozy.” Tabac will not only prove cozy to your experience but also to your budget. I type these words to the reverberating beats of the music downstairs. But instead of ruefully bedamning the waking thumps, I continually find myself a happy customer there.
Edited by Dimitrina Dyakova
Tabac Bar 16 Fortess Road, NW5 2EU
Boutique cocktails £8-£12
All drinks are half-priced during happy hour – every day from 5-6PM.