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TOULOUSE LAUTREC: ILLUMINATING KENNINGTON WITH THE PIANO BAR

Watching American movies growing up, I was always intrigued by the thought of the Piano Bar. It seemed that guests would go along with the intention of having a Very Important Conversation; the music would soften right at the crux of their argument and then rapidly increase in volume to fill any poignant silence or pauses. The song played over a scene would almost certainly have lyrics reflective of the conversation in question and the singer would intermittently deliver knowing glances, as if he were some sinister daemon who existed solely to melodise patrons’ emotional turmoil.

Thankfully, no such melodic malevolence occurs at Toulouse Lautrec, a Brasserie and Wine Bar situated on a rather unassuming corner between Elephant and Castle and Kennington stations. The venue is comprised of a restaurant on the lower level and the piano bar itself on the second floor, where guests can order from a varied Bar Food menu in addition to a wide selection of cocktails and wine. We opted for the charcuterie and cheeseboards which, while steeply priced, were the perfect choice to lightly snack upon through evening. The cheeseboard was a particular highlight and comprised of all manner of high quality cheeses that one would expect to find in a Cheese Hall of Fame, if you will. Despite the seemingly elevated price for food, it is also worth remembering that there is no cover charge to enjoy the music. A welcome change from the live-music bars that lure you in and then warn you that your attendance will require a nine-drink minimum and the soul of a centaur before you may leave.

The music itself is predominantly jazz and blues yet styles range from the classic to contemporary. Think Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Chet Baker etc through to the soulful harmonies of Norah Jones or Diana Krall. I can only speak for the night I attended but the band - the Karl Charity Quartet -  were exactly as I hoped they would be. The performances from the Great American Songbook were charming and sounded effortless in their delivery; the latter aspect, specifically, ensuring a relaxing atmosphere. There’s nothing worse than hearing someone hit a certain note while giving the impression that they’d assaulted every one of their vocal chords to get there.

The atmosphere certainly isn’t conducive too a rowdy or unruly Friday night; I’m aware that there are a number of piano bars that encourage audience participation with everyone singing together in glorious harmony. I visited one such bar in Miami once where everyone joined in a rowsing chorus of Piano Man and the piano player displayed a deadened stare of one who had played the Billy Joel favourite more times in his short life than is humane. Toulouse Lautrec is suited to a more passive crowd where the music volume is positioned perfectly such that you can just sit and enjoy the performance yet still continue a conversation with your companion(s). As long as you don’t mind making the trip out to a quieter neighbourhood, Toulouse Lautrec is a delightful place to sit and listen to some world-class music while snacking away on some French delicacies. Moreover, if you’re looking for some more original ways to spend your evening, this is a wonderful alternative to a heaving bar or pub, the likes of which usually have - my second least favourite combination of words - ‘standing room only’. In case you were wondering, the first is 'Sold out of cake'.

 

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