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Drink London

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by Juanita Chung. ellipsis, 2000. 320pp. £10

The latest of those excellent little square books from Ellipsis deals with drinking in London, and, more particularly, drinking in London bars not pubs, writes David Taylor. For this is all about 'style': big 'grungy' sofas artfully placed, 70s-yet-futuristic interiors, clean lines and bottled beers (the more distant and obscure the better).

Architect-author Juanita Cheung, whose liver must now be a shrivelled wreck, takes the reader to 100 or so establishments, split into drinking 'zones' of the capital - such as Soho, Notting Hill, Clerkenwell and current hipsters' hang-out Shoreditch/Hoxton.

We get an architectural appraisal, at least one black-and-white image, and some idea of the character (or otherwise) of the places concerned. There's even a 'best matches' feature at the back, which suggests that these places value good design down to the smallest detail - or are they just a bit anal?

The bars appear a little faddish, however. Although they're happily in contrast to the glut of theme and chain establishments, there is a kind of sameness, a pervading aesthetic. Mash, for instance, lacks character and soul, for all its references to Oscar Niemeyer and the 1950s. Denim similarly draws on a kind of New Age-ism and is a brief ironic joke. Lab reminds you of graphics from the Charlie's Angels years.

The formula appears to be: choose a one-word name - say, 'Dull'; locate in a former bank or dentist's or library; throw in the sofas, bright colours, and a spacey look and voila! Thirsty twenty-something punters come flocking. Then there are the reworked industrial buildings, electricity showrooms and the like, with their frisson of being so undesigned.

So much for the building type. The book is a clear and well-written guide to the best of the bars around, and an eye-opener to some off the beaten track. But it's time for some new ideas from the architects.

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