El Camion Baja Bar - Soho Bar Review
25-27 Brewer Street, Soho, London W1F 0RR
I've always longed for more party bars (not clubs) that are open late in London. Look at New York where every restaurant, bar ney taco bell is open until 4am! New York never sleeps and nor should London, but whether it be tough licensing or the lack of desire for new bars, it is just too damn difficult to stay out later than even 1am at most places. You can imagine my excitement then when I was let into a little sercret....a hidden basement party bar open until 3am...and not even in Shoreditch....in Soho! I tried not to get too over-excited and headed on over to El Camion on a cold Saturday night...
Ambience and decor
El Camion is a well established Mexican restaurant in Soho (and on Portobello Road) known for its top quality food and even better Margaritas! But where the hell is this bar I was told about?! The very friendly reservations man showed us down some stairs, threw a left at the bottom (straight on are the toilets) and boom there it was..not a figment of my excitable imagination, but a small, cool bar space with booths, sparse seats and a bar. The space can be no bigger than 80-100 people and at 8pm on a Saturday all the seats and boothes were nearly taken (luckily we booked in advance!) and people already mingling in the middle of the bar loaded with cocktails, beers and keeping an eye on anyone looking like they might be leaving!
The music was down low at this point and a buzz of chitter chatter and laughter filled the low-lit mexican air. I suppose the way to describe it is like a small tequila inspired mexican drinking den. They haven't gone ott with the decor and it won't blow you away but somehow you have the feeling you are in somewhere special...somewhere "in the know".
Cosy raised area in El Camion basement bar
Clientele and atmosphere
The clientele at El Camion was a very young professional crowd with most looking like they were in the 24-34 age bracket. Everyone had a knowing glint in their eye that they had also found this cool basement but imporantly there was not one ounce of pretence; not in the customers or the bar team. Yes the bar has an "excluisve" air to it because it is so tucked away but this does not permeate into any fabric of El Camion.
The atmosphere is what really got me; early doors there was simply a great buzz in the air. Friends there to catch up on funny stories of the week past and the ever-flowing margaritas helped with the joviality of the place. Later on (around 10-10:30pm), if the crowd seem up for it, the mood changes from this wondeful air of friendship to something even more fun...even more frivolous...but Ill get to that later!
One of the intimate boothes in El Camion basement bar
Food and Drinks
Obviously, being part of the upstairs restaurant, the food is a step above normal bar snacks. You can order from the full restaurant menu too, including the good old mexican dishes you would expect. We decided on a few sharing taco/burrito type platters (about £20 in total enough for 4 people). We tried some chicken, pork and beef ones and they definitely filled a much needed hole and the perfect size to eat before continuing on a night out. They didn't blow me out the water and aren't cheap cheap but they definitley do a job! You can get mains from £6-£15.
Do you like Tequila? I hope so as this is a mexican Tequila bar at its best! Personally I hate Tequila so was a bit concerned when 4 shots and 4 post-shots showed up...the post shot was a fruity, spicy mix and I have to say the combination of the two was actually lovely! I had sunk Tequila without needing to rush to the toilet! Result! As you would expect the Margeritas are their speciality. They have all kinds and for me the fruitier more exotic ones were actually better than a standard Margarita (from a very reasonable £6.50). But it is not a one trick pony, their head barman is an award winning mixologist that regularly creates his own delicious concoctions exclusively for El Camion. I said to the waitress that "I love Gin, surprise me" and I got back a lovely cocktail, perfectly balanced with alcohol, flavours and a spicy kick. This is no party bar with the drinks as an after thought but a serious cocktail bar to be taken as such by the cocktail connoseur. You can of course get a south american beer (from £3.25) and wine (from £5 a glass) if you so wish!
As I mentioned above, past 10ish the mood changes from background music and chitter chatter to a DJ playing to the boutique space. When I say I want a party bar, I don't expect current chart pop or house remixes of Rhianna and fortunately I was not dissapointed. You can expect to hear anything from Marvin Gaye to The Stones to Arcade Fire -- amazing, well chosen tracks from the 50s to the noughties. The music isn't sooo loud that you can't continue your chats but by this time conversation was on the bottom of the list and dancing top. Hesitantly a few party people got up from their booth and began to dance in the middle of the bar and (as you'd expect with England) once one group had taken the lead, everyone began to get up to get down! Within an hour the whole bar was up singing and dancing...i even saw people up in the boothes partying on the chairs/tables (although I'm sure that isn't encouraged by El Camion team)! Come midnight more people begin to pour into the bar purely because they were lucky enough to know that this party was going on....before too long the place is full with great music, a fun crowd and everyone up having a great time! Without realsing, we had been up for 3 hours dancing and when 3 O'Clock came around and it was the last song of the night... unfortunately!
The upstairs restaurant at El Camion also open until 3am for late night feasting
EL Camion is what we need more of in London. It is a late night party bar but with the right party music, a great crowd, attentive staff and no pretense (I must note at this point that they do have someone on the restaurant door from 11ish monitoring who goes down into the basement and you are not guaranteed entry! Always try get yourself on the list or book a table early doors --- obviously you can do this on designmynight). The decor won't blow you away but who cares that they haven't spent millions on the decor when you are having so much fun! The restaurant upstairs is even open until 3am too if you just fancy a late night snack/dinner...Mid-week they also have acoustic performances down in the bar and it's a great space for more chilled out food and drinks. I love this place and in the words of Ace Ventura, "P-A-R-T----Y? Cos I gottta!"
Party Nights are Thurs-Sat
Budget: Happily Affordable
Pre-designs: After-work drinks, Fun-Time Party Night, Catch up with mates, Impress your mates