I admit to myself, while staring at my perfectly executed coffee at Bar Termini in London, that I have come a long way. To get from Luton Airport to here is like travelling between two different worlds, a voyage of immense change of scenery and ambience.
Back there I was a cheap nobody, a bum and a loser. I had, in accord with my fellow travellers at the budget-priced Ryan Air flight from Copenhagen, chosen a path of masochistic self-hatred. The migraine triggering blue and yellow company colours, the charter trip fanfare that is played when landing and the complete lack of legroom. It is, together with the inhuman time of departure and the biblical desert wandering to the airport gate, truly what defines us all on this northern winter morning. We are all stupidly cheap and this I how we get to pay for that. And as we enter this laughingstock of an airport everything is just wrong. We have landed in one of the biggest metropoles in the world but still it feels like we ended up in Wetumpka, Alabama. Nowhere is the flair of the big city to be seen. Nowhere is the promises of self-fulfilment with all the epic adventures that comes with it. While travelling is usually comprehended as mind-altering and broadening this is nothing of the sort.
And as we are lining up for the astronomic bus queue that will take us away from this dreadful place it is pretty clear the we can't really break free from each other just yet. Because which one us are willing to cash up for a cab that is actually more expensive than the plane that took us here? No, (lack of) logic says we are in this together for another hour or so. This will give us more time to reflect on our sorrowful existence though. I am myself looking through the dirty window while the bus radio is torturing me with nighties nostalgia, again and again disrupted by an unbelievably poor signal. It is of course raining outside and I wonder if North London has ever dragged down a man in more doubt than today. I don't know if it is the weather, the Brexit or the British inability to make a single tasteful storefront logotype, but there is something about this scenery that makes me low. It is like an Emmerdale nightmare, on the influx of those old anti-malaria pills Lariam. It feels off, it feels so wrong.
But that life is past me now. At Bar Termini, the whole game has changed. They say that you are what you eat, I say that you are where you drink. Here I am a winner, the king of the world. This Soho bar is the ultimate experience of a flawless life in perfection and by coming here my whole persona reaches new heights. It just feels so right. It is like a life draped in velvet, if this was socially accepted of course. The pistachio green leather seats with the dark wooden tables in front of it and the chess floor tiles beneath it, this is simple but genial interior design aiming to empower the soul and to restore what today's society has robbed us on so many times. A beautiful world.
But this is more than just an architectural splendour, this is something much deeper than that. This bar is a homage. The two men behind this place knew exactly what they wanted to express when they launched this project in 2014. For owners Marco Arrigo and Tony Conigliaro, Bar Termini is the recognition and tribute to the traditional Italian bar, a fundamental and beloved element of Italian society. Spotted on almost every corner or street in Italy, the Italian bar is the center of social life and has a somewhat different meaning to than bars in other countries. This is not the place where to get hammered and consume absurd amounts of alcohol, it is more the spot where you start your day with a morning cappuccino, come back for another coffee after lunch or where you have an aperitivo before dinner. These bars are often small, family run businesses and they are often old. Bar Termini is all that, even though it is a very refined version of it. What Arrigo and Conigliaro have actually done is to put the Italian bar on a piedestal and try to create the quintessential embodiment of it. It is like the Italian bar of their dreams, a portrayal that may not even exist in real life Italy.
Bar Termini has a consistent "fifties retro"-style to it and this is natural considering that this era was decisive in how the modern bar culture in Italy developed and how it is still characterized today. Along the "economic miracle" that transformed the Italian society during the post-war years, a new urban culture emerged and with this a new way of consumption took line. The Italian bar was definitely a major feature of this. To dress Bar Termini in the fashion of this time makes good sense, especially as the name of the bar derives from Italy's biggest railway station, Stazione di Roma Termini. Finished in 1950, this station is a symbol for the new, dynamic Italy that was in the making during these years but it was also a part of the big railway construction that connected the urban areas in the former rural Italy.
Truth to be told, I do feel great when being here. There is a love and affection put to this bar that eases my mind. It may sound vague and cliché but spending time here gives a feeling of reason and gratitude. I stop wonder what it is that we actually are trying to achieve with all of this. Maybe society ain't that bad after all? I take a sip on my drink and try to just savour the moment. My fantasy gets carried away. I could maybe move here? Make this to my home and become a part of this place? I could swing by everyday for a coffee or a drink. I gaze out on the small twenty-five seat room and I rest my eyes on all the beautiful details. A warm round doorknob, the retro-styled office curtains, the finest Coppa ham being sliced at the bar. I take a look at the time. Got to be back in Luton airport in one hour. So much for that.
Drinks? This is where we get serious, real serious. Both drinking and eating is on another level at this place. Marco Arrigo is a coffee heavyweight on the British isles and he has been in the game for more than twenty years. He is the Head of Quality at Illy and founder of the University of Coffee in Islington. At Bar Termini he has set up a list of classic espresso coffee made with respect for the old ways. Hipster flat whites this is not. There is the 1£ espresso to be taken directly at the bar, a triple shot espresso designed for a longer stay at the tables and if you are craving for coffee with milk then you will get steamed milk to perfection on the side, made for you to combine yourself. Damn good coffee, according to me.
Let's talk booze. Tony Conigliaro is one of the most influential mixologists in the world. This is not just words, it is the truth. Being referred to as a "revolutionary" by Heston Blumenthal, Conigliaro was one of those pioneers that looked at mixology as a craftsmanship based on a scientific approach instead of just a profession based on showmanship. He runs "the bar with no name" at 69 Colebrooke Row, a cocktail temple that has been on the lists over the world's best cocktailbars for many years now. Next to this bar there is also the Drink Factory, a cocktail laboratory where Conigliaro elaborates his new inventions with a dedicated team. From here Bar Termini receives its pre-bottled Negroni that comes in four different versions; Classico, Superiore, Rosato and Robusto. Beyond these there is a short but concise cocktail list filled with classics and remakes such as the Marsala Martini and a Bloody Mary made on horseradish vodka.
Munch? Beautiful small mini-paninis will set you off at 1£ a piece but there is a high risk that you will buy a dozen of them as they are annoyingly tasty. Another great nibble is the plate with burrata, sun dried tomatoes and the Sardinian flatbread Pane Carasau. There is no compromises at this bar menu, only pure gusto.
Where? Bar Termini, 7 Old Compton St, Soho, London, UK.
I'm always on the lookout for for more bars to enjoy and write about. Do you know about an interesting place in your city or elsewhere, let me know and maybe I'll stop by!