London as a Twenty-Something, Upstart Reprobate: Vol.4.

Ode to The Camden Barfly

Gentrification: noun the process of renovating and improving a house or district so that it conforms to middle-class taste.

Chiefly hipster, one hears this term bandied about in the very coffee shops it was coined to condemn. Upon a time, hipsters would suck on their flat whites in up-cycled London cafes, and, with milky white froth rimming their moustachioed upper lip, hypocritically berate conglomerate giants driving independents to extinction. Then pay the bill.

Happily, one thing has changed: the term hipster is now defunct. A term used to typecast folk who loath categorisation, the constituents soon set about defying the stereotypical image society forced on them. Some toned it down, others massively increased the volume to an integer that’s not actually on the number line, but an artisan yoga position invented by a gluten-free vintage shop just 42 minutes ago. In this way, the indigenous demographic steadily dissolved itself into more granular flavours of anti-culture, none of which are really describable as ‘hipster’ anymore; to use the term would be as imprecise as labelling a Brazilian’s nationality as ‘sub-equatorial’. Meanwhile, the original hipster uniform (skinny jeans and beards inspired by Albus Dumbledore) was being too easily assumed by part-time hipsters, or faux-hipsters, if you will. However, whilst these looked akin to the real McCoy, they didn’t consistently act hipster. If they smoked rollies, they wouldn’t get a wrist tattoo because it might endanger their otherwise flourishing career in recruitment consultancy. Some of them even had rightist ideologies. And so, as the only people resembling the original stereotype became exposed as fake, it was realised the word described something that wasn’t there anymore. And so it’s become obsolete, in the same way we don’t use the word ‘protestant’ to describe religious orientation anymore. Put simply: there are less topknots now, and the world is better for this.

Sadly though, gentrification is more pervasive than ever, rising in tandem with the dizzying value of real estate. London is especially prone to this, and so it’s lamentably common to see a S*******s spewing its brown smelly caffeine all over property recently made unobtainable by the likes of independent bakeries, music shops or affordable housing. Example: I earn about ₤90/day, ₤45 of which is immediately lost to rent; for all my toil between 9am to 5pm, four hours is purely to keep the landlord sweet. Luckily, I’m from the millennial generation, and used to being overcharged, be it the price of a pint or the cost of university. In fact, I’ve trained myself to tolerate being ripped-off because, frankly, it’s easier than accepting I’m helpless to do anything about it. But sometimes, when the cost to society is too high to condone, my own peace of mind obliges me to protest, even if this takes the form of a short article. Such is the case here.

Found opposite the north-most corner of Camden Market (itself a now fully operational tourist trap, though you can still find a well-priced second-hand book in the stables), Barfly was the firm favourite on Friday nights. Why? Because it wasn’t expensive and played music we liked (Arctic Monkeys, Oasis, The Stones, The Smiths etc.). It also didn’t try to be something it wasn’t (search Cargo or XOYO for good examples of this inexcusable trait), and the result was an unpretentious, fun venue, which attracted people of similar nature. Combine this with a drinking policy inspired by the bar staff’s obliviousness, the ‘pour-your-own-pint-when-the-guy’s-not-looking’ special, and you could be sure of a decadent night out every time.

‘attachment to a particular establishment is profoundly personal, a culmination of all past experiences and the narrative one engages with each time they return.’

Of course, every regular hang-out produces a catalogue of stories between you and your cronies. There was the time I was in the process of being thrown out for getting in a fist-fight, until I explained that the other contestant was in fact my own brother (which he was), and somehow that was a valid excuse for both of us to remain inside. Another time, I realised I’d lost my wallet, and so I sought the manager out directly. Once I found him, he calmed me right down, reminded me I was in Camden, and assured me I’d never see my wallet again: “suck it up and cancel your cards”. But humanity prevailed against this prognosis, and a fellow Barfly-goer contacted me the very next morning. I was reunited with all my cancelled credit cards by lunchtime, and rightly elated. At this point, I reflected on the well-known maxim that people make or break a place, and ruminated how the other punters are, if anything, more important than the venue staff, especially at nightclubs.

Of course, anyone’s attachment to a particular establishment is profoundly personal, a culmination of all past experiences and the narrative one engages with each time they return. Barfly had an exceptionally prolific record at producing good nights and excellent stories, which is rare enough for me to doubt that whatever club follows will never be able to continue the legend of 49 Chalk Farm Rd. Besides, from a sentimental perspective, the act of moshpitting in its successor would be to almost literally dance on Barfly’s grave. Impossible. Better to boycott the new place.

Given this sense of personal attachment, it would be unreasonable of me to expect anyone to mourn the loss of Barfly like I do, except those who’ve been themselves. To those who haven’t, I would say the point of this article is to remind you to visit your favourite hangout over the new one that’s just opened down the road, especially if you’re in cities prone to change. To those who have, then this article serves to validate your own decision-making: well done. I did actually ask three friends to write short obituaries on Barfly, to help me write an interesting article. However, one can only assume the very request was enough to send them into an arresting state of depression, as none of them got back to me. It’s been hard for us all. As an empathetic being, it would have been inhuman for me to press them, even for what might to all the world seem a menial task, and so I left them be. However, for me, the artist, writer and tweaker of heart strings I so mawkishly aspire to be, I had to delve deep into the recesses of my being and poke around the nerve endings to extract my ode to the Camden Barfly. Then I could post it on the internet, as a cyber-gravestone of sorts, soon to be overlooked, neglected and overgrown by the ivy of new articles, but vital nonetheless if I was to ensure the Barfly rests in peace. Amen, Barfly. You were a great club.

Oh, to write in ode of the Camden Barfly,

Does heap my heart with heavy load,

For the once happy haunt of wit-wise rhyme

Now’s vacant tomb, and its soul has fled from Chalk Farm Road.

Here once welled a vibrant water,

Fanned by palms like lively limbs

And here did swell the pool with merry draught.

But quiet lieth Camden, tripped youth’s saunter,

Felled the palms of life-veined skin.

And dry the pool, sponged by notes of fouler class.


How bygone music once did rock thee,

As storm rocks boat ‘pon ocean’s swell,

Its twist-whipped crowd was loud and cockney

And sweat-dripped bricks were flamed in hell.

As horn gives cause the foxes run,

Or pistol shot sets blood to race

From steady ebb to pounding pulse,

The senses five would soon succumb

To highs and heights of spritely pace

‘Til fever pitched the floor itself convulsed!


True, though good for naught save dance and song,

Alleyway antics, or quick love and mirth,

T’was real the joy which grew so long

In authentic Barfly’s erstwhile earth.

Alas, oasis did convert its candid water,

To sandy dunes of soul waned desiccate sin,

And Camden mines too much its hollowed heart.

London grieves its penless authors,

Its impoverished essence straining thin,

For when sells a place for two-fold coin its soul is split in half.