Without a doubt, one of my favourite places to eat and drink so far this year has been at #Meateasy. In the 3 short months or so that it’s been open, I’ve gone at every opportunity I could – I even found myself making the trip to London especially to go there on 1 or 2 occasions. If it wasn’t for the fact that the last train home was ridiculously early (21:43, thank you Virgin Trains), I would have spent a LOT more time at #meateasy – Not only for the food, but also to have a stonkingly good cocktail (or 9) and taking in the atmosphere of a real dive bar. There was nothing like it anywhere in the UK and there will probably be a few imitators now, but none will have the chemistry and vibe that was so unique to #meateasy
I first got my jaws around one of the tasty burgers a while back at the (original) Meatwagon so upon reading that the wagon was stolen, my initial feelings of being angry at the idiots whom committed such a crime soon turned to sadness knowing that with the theft of the wagon, people were being denied good burgers. Therefore, when I read about the plans for #meateasy I knew that I had to go visit as soon as possible, after all, it’s much nicer to be indoors waiting for your burger than to be waiting outside in the cold (and possibly rain).
There were lots of elements about #meateasy that perhaps wouldn’t work elsewhere or by themselves, but combined together, the did work at #meateasy and all contributed to what was for me, a great experience. Personally, I loved the fact that you wouldn’t even know that such a place existed at all if you walked past it. The only indication that you’ve found #meateasy is by some chalkboards nearby congratulating you on finding #meateasy. You begin to understand why you’re congratulated as you ascend the rickety outdoor fire escape stairs in the early days and later through a door at street level (which still meant you had to walk through what resembled an indoor building site with temporary wooden screens sectioning off a pathway for you to walk along), which lead to some stairs with the former establishment’s sign crossed off and replaced with the word #MEATEASY and an arrow pointing up the stairs. You’re still not exactly sure you’ve reached the correct destination when you reach the top of the stairs, even as you go to open a door with #MEATEASY painted onto it.
Once you open the door though, it’s a whole different world inside: The (ridiculously hip and funky) music is unapologetically loud and interspersed with even louder klaxons going off or one of the Burgerettes announcing over the PA system what ticket numbers can now order, there is a general buzz in the room and you know people are having a good time which you can’t find in any bar or pub these days as they become more and more corporate. The room is dimly lit but light enough for you to read the chalkboards where the food menu is (what more do you want?). The staff there are extremely friendly and helpful, even though they’re working pretty much non-stop taking and serving orders and clearing tables down afterwards. They all look like they’re having a great time and more to the point, are helping out because they want to. I certainly found the good vibe to be contagious and felt very well looked after every time I was there, as compared to the numerous places where you barely get a grunt of acknowledgement from staff, let alone someone who is genuinely happy to be there and haven’t been fed a script to keep customers happy.
Head to the bar and the first thing that strikes you is that there are no menus – Just ask for whatever you want, or even what kind of flavours you like along with a spirit of choice and the bartenders (from the exemplary Soulshakers) will create one for you. There are no measures used here – It’s completely free-pouring – but you can bet that these pros know exactly what a single or double measure is. At the back of the bar, amongst the various bottles of spirits, there is a large block of ice – When I say large, I mean as big as a cinder block – that gets hacked at as the night progresses. Then you realise that there’s no ice machine with uniformed ice cubes in your drinks, but rather this block of ice gets chipped away to use in the drinks. Plus there is the fact that the cocktails are served in jam jars – Something I had previously seen in the film Kill Bill Vol. 2 where Budd (Michael Madsen) served up Margaritas in jam jars to the Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah). Again, if any other place tried to serve their cocktails in jam jars, it wouldn’t work at all. But here, it’s perfect and in contrast, they wouldn’t work if the cocktails were served in normal glasses. I don’t think you can exaggerate the importance of Soulshakers to the success of #meateasy; Sure, people come for the food, but waiting (to order or to eat) is helped no end by the fact that the drinks served there are so damn tasty.
Then there is the food, the fabled burgers from the Meatwagon which brought people here in the first place. Reading around the web, you can find details of how long the meat has been hung for, what cut of meat, what ratio of fat to meat in the mince is preferred. You will also have read how Yianni has spent a fair bit of time with a baker trying to perfect the bun to house the juicy burgers and how Yianni has been to the USA just to research what makes a burger great (rather than good). With such meticulous preparation and research into the food, you know you’re in for something special. The burgers at #meateasy were every bit as good as they were from the Meatwagon. There were also some extras for #meateasy that weren’t practical to do on the Meatwagon – Mac n Cheese being the most obvious example here. I’ve already blogged about how it could well be the best Mac n Cheese I’ve ever eaten and it’s no exaggeration to say that I know that I’ll never have another quite as good as that one again, no matter how many times I will try to replicate it. The fact that everything is served on paper plates and there isn’t really any cutlery provided (unless you ask) isn’t an issue at all, yet everything works in the same way that drinking cocktails served in jam jars could only really work in #meateasy.
So the last night is April 16th, I’ll be sad to see it go but there are rumours of another wagon; Yianni has already said that #meateasy was only the Meatwagon “in winter clothing”. Given the success of #meateasy, I sincerely hope that something similar is also in the pipeline – there’s a lot of love for Yianni and the Meatwagon as has been demonstrated over the past few months; People have travelled from near and far to be part of the #meateasy experience. I think that there is a larger, longer-lasting legacy that #meateasy will leave though; I’m sure that countless people have been inspired from visiting there, be it demanding better quality food and drinks, or rejecting the corporate blandness that is being offered in all town centres, I don’t think you can exaggerate the influence #meateasy has had. Whatever Yianni decides to do, you can bet that I will be looking to pay a visit at the first opportunity. And when I get to sink my chops into a burger like the Dead Hippy again, I know that all the travelling and organising to get to that moment will be absolutely worth it.