Hiding behind The Old Lady Of Threadneedle Street's skirts, new bar The Arbitrager is considerably smaller than I imagine the average oligarch's bank vault or Tom Cruise's closet to be. An arbitrager is traditionally a bod who deals in bonds, shares, commodities and the likes. The stock to buy into at this Square Mile bar-ette is liquid gold, as in a dozen or so doable London brews from the likes of Beavertown, Crate and Brixton to slake parched traders' thirsts. "Sold to the man in the bowler hat" for around the price of two shares in Barclays Plc (263p a piece as markets stand today). I'm more interested in investing in what lies below, however. Demon and Wise, the Arb's sister bar in the next door basement specialises in cocktails. When I visit at 9.30pm-ish, 95% of its demob-happy punters have pushed off, probably pished, to catch trains home to Hemel, Horsham, Hatfield and Hell, leaving this steamy (as in overheated) Steampunk Barbarella basement to me, an even older old soak (yes, such vampires do exist) and two simpatico Italian barkeeps - one of whom is clearly barking, having relocated to Barking or some such sad slum from Sardinia, such is Londra's lure in the eyes of the sort of young EUers UKIP would rather we not host. D+W is owned by The Hide, that useful hoochy hole-up in SE1. Prices, however, are more mohair and silk pinstripe than Bermondsey barrow boy at £11 (plus service) for my Monkey Shoulder-based Blood and Sand or a Tapatio Blanco-informed Flamingo from a list that is big on London gin: Portobello Road No.171 the preferred pour in Champagne-informed twisted G and T, Market Maker. Other recipes rope in rare and vintage Armagnac, malt whisky and the likes of Martini Gran Lusso; but at £16 +, such exotica will leave me in the red at Barclays. If only I'd stuck to my first ever job - something in the City - I could have bought this bar fifty times over by now or, like old boy on the next school, be hanging on in there for a gold-plated carriage clock before retiring to watch reruns of Four In A Bed, permanently bladdered in a Broadstairs bungalow.
I'd often passed by The Dundee Arms without ever setting foot inside. Why would I? I don't fantasise about chavs as championed by porno peddlers, Triga; nor am I a pitbull fancier. That's as in your average EDL voter's canine chum, by the way; the Florida rapper is pretty Bon Bon in my book. Any trackie bottoms and shell suit tops spotted at The Dundee today are likely to be worn by the fiercely fashionable; 80s Brookside Scally is a hawt Hackney look reckons a stylist friend. Saved from the clutches of greedy property developers (praise be!), this Victorian boozer has got its mojo back, rescued by the peeps behind The Empress at Victoria Park and the Crooked Billet in Clapton. Original wooden bar counter, glorious glazed tiles and remnants of old wallpapers retained, lit by Eames era ceiling lights, moody and macho in cerulean blue and Bovril tones, the deconstructed, downplayedDundee is a Cockney looker. Craft beers on tap represent the new East End. Expect the likes of Truman's Zephyr and Redchurch Shoreditch Blonde plus tasty stuff from Redwell of Norwich and Dulwich micro', Clouded Minds. Wines come in four colours: red, white or rosé at £16 and 'orange' (upmarket white rioja, more 'straw' in colour, at £28). Behind his counter, a Tales of the Riverbank-ish mustachioed magnificent - hot of the boat from Brooklyn by the sound of him - talks me through the food. Dundee's most famous son is hirsute hipster Desperate Dan. The cow pie-scoffing cartoon hero might not go a bundle on the sole hot option, but raclette, spring onion and truffle oil toastie is fine and Dandy by me. 339 Cambridge Heath Road E2 9LHhttps://www.facebook.com/e2dundeearms
It would be easy to walk past The Natural Philosopher, mistaking its shop window for another East End bric-a-brac emporium peddling retro tat aimed at London Fields poseurs' postmodernist pads. Downstairs, beyond a reception area's rococo geegaws and avian taxidermy - Corrie Steve's Street Cars office as imagined by Tim Burton - lies Dalston members club Manero's new liquor lounge. First however, I'm urged to inspect an anteroom that houses what must be The East End's smallest "museum." Piled on shelves, ten-feet high, is owner/ curator James Manero's collection of computers, myriad Macs dating back to the earliest commercially available examples. Apple anoraks will be fascinated. Anyone under the age of 30 might wonder how we managed in our jobs pre-Jobs. (Search 'IBM Selectric' 'carbon paper' 'jammed keys' and 'abacus'). Me? I'm instantly stressed out by the prospect of the very same Performas and Power Macs that, for all their shiny, sophisticated Californian state-of-the-art promise, would end in hissy fits as two weeks worth of work - my relationship with the floppy notoriously sloppy - were lost as 'bombs' that were definitely not "da bomb" appeared and the dreaded Sad Mac Face (pictured) indicated my much admired hardware was now about as useful as a five year-old Big Mac®. Talk about expensive landfill! Downstairs, the laid-back Natural Philosopher's living room-sized cocktail lounge is served by a funky, deep, sunken bar to one end, its tenders' heads barely visible above the surround that separates it from their customers. Step away from the ledge, Squiffy McGee! Falling face down into a mixologists' mosh pit is a social fail. Such shame should be rare: the house has a table-service only policy. A launch night menu, limited to a quartet of cocktails (normally £9), throws up a couple of hits: summery gin sour, Lord Kelvin and Zabarella, a cardamom-infused Ocho tequila and pomegranate margarita. The house signature is the Parmenides. Well-executed and attractively presented perhaps, but the lure of brandy, yellow Chartreuse, absinthe bitters and white wine is all Greek to me. There again, when I was at school in the first century AD, my favourite tutor was another ancient Athenian philosopher, Agrippa The Skeptic. 489 Hackney Road E2