London may be a bland, grey, inequality-ridden, overwhelmingly white city, but at least there's a bar scene — right?
Despite our fair city's reputation as a booze-lover's paradise, there are painfully few compelling options for a drink. The problem, for me, is a simple one: it's just too damn loud.
If you want to head downtown with your friends, you have a few options. One: an hour-long wait in the freezing cold with a $5 cover to gain entry to one of Richmond Row's caves of wonders, where you can gyrate alongside first years and local drunks alike, and where your feet are glued firmly to the syrupy floor as the speakers rupture your eardrums.
Or you can pay even more to go to some upscale, stuffy restaurant where throngs of old, white businessmen hobnob and talk about the Dow Jones. That's it. Those are your two poles: nightclub or networking.
Look, I'll take my licks. The occasional night of debauchery, pounding music and overpriced booze is fine by me. I take my vodka shots like medicine and wake up beside a stranger's toilet in due course — such is college.
But more and more — and I don't know if this is aging or if I've always been such a curmudgeon — I just want a place where I can order a drink, sit down with some friends and have a conversation without screaming the whole time. Every bar that caters to younger people (and, more importantly, features younger prices) blasts their top-40 trash so loudly that talking to somebody is impossible.
This has even extended to restaurants now: I went with a few friends to Warehouse recently for the cheap apps, and they parked us next to the speakers. It was like eating dinner in a jet turbine: HOW'S THE CALAMARI?!
There's actually a business-savvy reason for this. Studies show that loud music means less talking, less talking means more drinking and more drinking means more money. Ultimately, my ears are suffering so their profit margins don't have to.
Isn't it time we ushered in a more moderate, socially-focused drinking culture? I have no quibble with binge-drinkers — to each their own — but it strikes me that one simple preventative measure is to turn down the damn music.
Even practically, let's think longevity here. I'm more likely to return to a place where I feel comfortable and to spend more money there in the long term. Dedicated clientele are an investment.
For a while, I was convinced that this was simply the standard, that drinking and talking was just an impossibility in the contemporary Canadian bar scene. But then I went to Toronto, and lo and behold, there was the Imperial Pub: featuring comfortable couches, reasonably-priced drinks and, most importantly, quiet music — just loud enough to be heard and soft enough to allow for conversation.
The Imperial is usually full of college kids who are obviously there for the same reason. So it is possible, and it is sustainable. If you build it, they will come.
So come on, London. I'm begging you. Take it easy with the decibels, and give me a decent bar I can talk in. Or I'm doomed to frequent the goddamn Poacher's Arms for the rest of my drinking life in London.