Piano Smithfield

 
 

reviews

 

Piano Smithfield: Painting the town red. (Very, very red.)
Benton Schecter, 2016

Piãno Kensington is arguably the most successful piano bar in London – and now it’s got another leg to dance on.

Piano Smithfield, like its sister, is less than a minute’s walk from the Tube, drenched in style and oozing with exclusivity. Nestled between Barbican and Farringdon, Piano Smithfield provides you with the same authentic feel of your classic jazz bar, but boasts a wider, more open-space floor plan than its Kensington branch. Make no mistake; this extra space does nothing to hinder the cosiness and exclusive feel that makes Kensington so wildly popular – but it does give the bar the ability to accommodate fresh hordes of Friday night revellers, who tire of the gimmicky approach to piano entertainment provided by other more nightclub-style venues. But there is still energy here – regular entertainers Robbie Peaple and the sublime Olav Bratli make sure of that.

The venue’s basement location further compounds that feeling of knowing a place that others don’t, a feeling so important to venues whose unwavering approach to good musical entertainment is their unique selling point. As with Kensington, the standard is very high indeed – in fact Mr. Bratli appears to be one-man-band, synthesising multiple instruments and still interacting with an eager, raucous crowd who frankly cannot get enough. (I’m told it’s rare treat to see the red-haired Norwegian perform in Smithfield – he’s now a regular at Kensington, but makes the odd, highly welcome appearance City-side.)

The venue itself is…red. Very red. The walls are embossed in a vivid scarlet, the banquette seats similarly fiery and plush; but there is nothing vulgar in this – indeed, it just adds to the class of the place. How owner Bazz Norton has achieved this I don’t know, but it must have something to do with the piano: a beautiful, gilded old machine, sporting the Piano brand’s iconic glass top which allows you to sit around the piano and be closer to the action. This is especially affecting on a quiet Tuesday – the music is soft, the lights are low, and Olav summons a delicate storm of slow, gentle numbers with which to numb the hubbub of City life.

Owner Bazz Norton plays jazz with his trio in Smithfield Wednesday nights – a stunning outfit made up of bassist Sandy Burnett and the technically dazzling Gary Williams on drums – be sure not to miss them.

Smithfield also stars a disturbingly confident team of bar staff to make its tasteful collection of cocktails, featuring old favourites (the Old Fashioned is still on its meteoric return to popularity, and Smithfield executes it beautifully) and ones perhaps you haven’t heard of yet. Smithfield – besides the more plush feel – differs from Kensington in another, quite crucial aspect: After a boozy night, having to go up stairs rather than down them is more than welcome – and invariably, as you emerge onto the busy Smithfield streets, leaving Piano’s second venue with the taste of Old Fashioned in your mouth and the music still circling round your head, you are left with just one thought: When will I be back?

Piano Smithfield is open Tuesdays–Saturdays and it’s advised you phone in advance for bookings.

 

Daily Telegraph

"A great night out."

 

Evening Standard, Edward Sullivan

London and New York are forever being pitched against each other in a race for the accolade of ‘coolest city on earth’. Both cities are close contenders given the quality and diversity of the respective bar scenes, but the fun lies in the differences. New Yorkers laugh at us for our ludicrously archaic licensing hours – we poke fun at them for not being able to buy a bottle of take-away wine on Sundays. But New York has piano bars. I'm not talking about a bit of a knees-up round the old Joanna and plates of jellied eels mopped up with a few bottles of stout – their piano bars, mostly to be found in Greenwich Village, are camp cabaret venues where the glamorous and the glitterati congregate round a grand piano with the pianist belting out his or her repertoire of show tunes. They’re hilariously entertaining – ‘darn good fun’ as they might say. Piano bars of this ilk have never really taken off in London. So pianist-cum-entertainer Bazz Norton has decided to challenge our social mores and introduce one in Kensington – bless him – and it is now home to his 160 year-old Collard & Collard grand piano. It’s Showtime in Kensington, then. And on the bill every night, you’ll find the likes of Billy Joel, Bette Midler, Elton John, Whitney Houston, Elvis Presley, Barbara Streisand, Frank Sinatra, Elaine Paige, Dean Martin and whoever else Bazz decides to cover. (Jane Macdonald must still have been at sea during my visits). As I ascended the staircase for my first visit, Bazz was just rounding off his renditions of great classics and sure enough there was an appreciative audience camped around his piano, clicking their ruby heels together and stroking their Toto’s (metaphorically, if you get my drift). I chose a table away from the piano for fear of being drawn in to a situation I might regret. Bottles of wine start at £15.25, beers £4 and you can get a substantial dinner for £16.50. (And I needn’t have worried about singing, as there was far too much talent in the room for them ever to get round to asking me). Even the devilishly good-looking waiter interrupted his table service to croon a few moody numbers (obviously a professional waiting to be discovered), and a few members of the audience also braved it by taking the microphone – and boy could they sing. By the end of the evening every standing space was occupied by locals enjoying the high-camp, high-spirited, hilariously good-fun atmosphere. Be warned, though, this is a small venue, so don’t turn up mob-handed and expect to be accommodated. They do, however, take table bookings, and book you must. It won’t be long before this place ranks up there as one of the best nights out in London. It could even rival the best New York, New York has to offer. Start spreading the news.

 

Metro Life

High Street Ken’s golden era died when Biba's Rainbow Rooms folded and Sombrero – a gay disco, also frequented by Bowie, Ferry and Grace Jones – became a branch of Abbey National. My friend, dog-walker-to-the-stars, suggests a new piano bar, located opposite the tube station. Such lairs are traditionally the habitat of prissy Friends of Liza and washed-up divas. Mercifully, owner Bazz Norton’s endearingly basic, time-warp lounge is a pretence-free zone, where a refreshingly inclusive party vibe prevails. Norton’s megawatt personality – think Austin Powers, The Musical – is matched by brilliant mastery of the old Joanna and a fine ear for a choon. The punters, a curious mix of dapper continentals, young bed-head trendsters and jolly office birds of a certain age, request everything from Cole Porter to Alicia Keys via Queen. Fit waiters serve fizzy cocktails and great food, and chip in with spine-tingling renditions of the odd Elton ‘Joan’ song. Smoochy numbers are left to Bazz’s wife Moya, who is a dead ringer for the young Eartha Kitt. If you fancy yourself as a crooner, there’s no open mic policy, but listen up, this lot are no karaoke casualties. Such was our enthusiasm; we booked tables for a Christmas party. Bazz, your baby is just grand.

Chef
 

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We are open five days a week for live piano music and there is no cover charge, however it is advisable that you book a table, as we can get very busy!

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