Camden is one of those odd places, an area of London that once had a reputation as being edgy - the sort of dirty and dingy cool associated with the ‘90s. Pete Doherty and Amy Winehouse lived there and it was THE place for discovering emerging talent. But then word got out, the tourists discovered the Saturday market and London’s clubbing and live music scene took a dive, strangled by councils’ reticence to issue late licences. The Barfly was one such institution, a late-night, sticky-floors type place that hosted the likes of Adele and The Libertines through to The Killers and Bombay Bicycle Club, before its slow demise. Breathing life back into the place is The Columbo Group, the company behind Blues Kitchens and Jazz Cafes, who have transformed it into The Camden Assembly.
Gone are the days of decadence and swinging chandeliers, it’s all about pared-back and low-key, and The Camden Assembly has stripped out the faux leather sofas of The Barfly and given it a bare-minimum redesign. Spread across two floors, the venue captures both sides of Camden; that of the smart set, and the wilder, hidden away live music scene.
The ground-floor bar is a chilled-out spot of exposed brick and intimate tables lit by candle-light with couples huddled drinking wine and starting their evening. But push open the black door in the corner and follow the stairs upwards to find the legendary stage and club room. This is a space that has hosted pop royalty and indie nobility, and with room for only 200, the venue is intimate and close. All things rotate to the stage where a DJ is silhouetted against a wall strung with bare bulbs.
Food & Drink
Burger-pros Lucky Chip are running the kitchen at The Camden Assembly and serving a Stranger Things menu throughout November. The Demogorgon Burger (£10.95) was worth waiting seven hours since lunch to eat. The patty was oozing with gorgonzola cheese, topped with crunchy candied bacon and smothered in a delicious mac sauce; The Up Fried Down (£9.95), comprised of two fried chicken fillets came with American cheese and a mouth-tingling hot pepper sauce. Get a portion of Stranger Danger Fries (£4.50) which are layered in cheese, and unless you have a mouth of steel, keep the Holy Fuck sauce on the side.
When it comes to drinks, the venue keeps things simple; yes, there are a few cocktails on offer if you ask the staff, but you’re better off ordering a G&T, trying the tequila and heading up to the dancefloor.
Camden has cleaned up its act since the '90s but that's not to say there's not still pockets of fun and debauchery. The rockers have moved on and in their place, students wearing polo necks or oversized t-shirts sway on the dancefloor and give the upstairs room a vibrant, busy atmosphere. There's a clear separation between the two levels; downstairs is for drinking and chatting, so much so, that you might not realise there's another hidden den of fun until you see gaggles of people disappearing through the corner door.
London’s live music scene may have taken a hit over the past few years, but with venue’s such as The Camden Assembly bringing bands and DJs back to small, intimate crowds, there’s hope yet. Plus, the burgers are damn delicious.