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You might be forgiven for thinking initially that a bar called The Rattlesnake, Dublin-born designer Paul Daly’s newest venture, is only the latest in a long line of Tex Mex eateries and watering holes peppering Islington’s Upper Street.
You wouldn’t be forgiven for long though, not once you’d set foot inside the door. Initial appearances are of a very rock ‘n’ roll, dimly-lit, American bar. Exposed brickwork, shades of blacks and reds, wooden tables, leather booths and stools, shady corners, television screens and aerodynamic logos above the bar all seem to suggest glossy biker venue.
Take another look though to squint at the detail and you start to get it. Beginning with the neon signs, one mounted on a star patterned with the stars and stripes that says ‘American Dream’ another that says in bright orange, ‘Hunky Dory’ too saccharine not to be strangling their own meaning in a post-modern mess of self-subversion. They scream optimistic Americana so loudly and so sardonically that they are much more Hunter S. Thompson than Easy Rider. You begin to notice all around you that we are in the darkly comical land of fear and loathing, laughing ironically at the high tide of the American dream as it crested in the 60s and came back down to rest.
Photographs by Marcus Thomlinson, whom Daly has known since 1980, affixed to the shady nook in ‘the live room’ present not clichéd pinups of scantily clad women draped over Harleys, but female bodies clothed in shadow, cut off at the neck playing with the light, images nodding towards a sensual objectification.
Even the music on the launch night provided by The Heartbreaks, had a subversive sense of humour about it, with an aggressive, utterly danceable synthy, punk rock that refused to take itself seriously and an air of natural showmanship, right down to the indecision and frustration with a shiny golden-mirror encrusted jacket.
Owner Daly’s intention is to create a trippy, surreal atmosphere, and with walls lined with native American art sourced here in England and bison skulls painted by Hopi and Apache Indians acquired on a 2,600 mile trek across America last year, it is indeed much more Aldous Huxley and D.H. Lawrence vision quest than Hopper and Fonda on the open road.
Which is not to say it does not serve the primary purpose; even the Patron based cocktails show an impressive level of intelligent design, highlights among them including the Patron Raging Bull (Patron XO Cafe mixed with Cola and served with a squeeze of lime) and the Patron XO Cafe on the Rocks, both exquisitely smooth and satisfying, though the former richer and sweeter, the latter a subtle pleasure.
Rattlesnake presents us with an American ‘style’ bar, rich with atmosphere, but laced with irony. While not pretentious, I’m put in mind of the old urban myth associated with The Simpsons, that there is a joke in every frame. Blink and you might miss it. Keep your eyes open at Rattlesnake. There is a fine balance struck between a great place to have a great time and a tongue-in-cheek treatment of well-worn themes that push boundaries. Long may it continue to do so and become a hot venue for the bright young things of Londontown and further abroad.
Where: 56 Upper Street Angel London N1 0NY
Phone: 0207 354 0471