Bompas & Parr are the two-man team responsible for some of London’s most unusual happenings of late, bridging the seemingly unrelated worlds of food and architecture. They have cornered the market in bespoke jelly moulds (using complex computer modelling techniques to replicate iconic buildings) and bizarre culinary experiences, most recently accomplices to Heston ‘I can make fruit out of meat’ Blumenthal. There are seemingly no bounds to what these two can not only dream up, but also pull off. With little time to draw breath after February’s Scratch and Sniff screening of Peter Greenaway’s ‘The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover’ (not for the faint-hearted), they present ‘Alcoholic Architecture’.
Tickets for an hour in this pop-up bar with a twist on Carnaby Street have, not surprisingly, sold out rapidly. The concept is novel – a ‘walk-in cocktail’, where punters don protective biohazard-style suits, enter a steamy whitewashed room, and get merry on mistified gin and tonic. The intended effect is that of being inside said cocktail, with muffled music evoking underwater sound, and the white overall-clad bodies colliding in the mist like ice cubes bobbing in a glass. Oh and there’s a massive straw sticking out of the wall.
However the bar also achieves a creepy science fiction quality. Like a vision of a post-apocalyptic drinking culture, an air-raid siren sounded the curfew and we all trooped out of the bunker in our identical suits.
This is a beautifully realised project, and the lighthearted nature of the end result belies a great deal of hard work. Sam Bompas and Harry Parr clearly take silliness very seriously. On creating the right kind of mist they consulted the Eden Project’s hothouses and Anthony Gormley (creator of the Hayward’s Blind Light installation). They have engaged Hendrick’s as sponsors, who ensure the quality of the gin mist on an hourly basis. The location is apt, the theme referencing the area’s historical reputation for ‘gin alleys’. And the décor and costumes are faultless.
As well as their commitment to the concept, they clearly want people to have fun. It’s a wonderfully generous enterprise, both in terms of the cost to participants (in London there is nothing quite as refreshing as the feeling that for once you’re not being ripped off) and the sheer delight of the entertainment they offer.
Alcoholic Architecture is also a timely and excellent example of what could flourish if landlords are able to let empty units on a short-term lease for a lower rate. It coincides with an announcement last week by Hazel Blears of a plan to create small grants of up to £1,000 to people who want to use vacant shops in a creative way. Additionally, planning rules will be relaxed, making it easier to negotiate changes of use and temporary lease agreements.
There are predictions that more than 70,000 retail outlets will close this year. Although depressing for retailers, this news may be welcome to those who fear the creeping homogeneity of the British high street. Allowing young entrepreneurs and creative minds to invade and rejuvenate our town centres is, I think, a happy prospect, and Bompas and Parr’s pop-up bar provides a great precedent. My advice to them: patent it now!