Slim Jim’s LA Dive Bar in Islington


If you’ve ever been to an LA dive bar you’ll know that they’re far grimmer and grimier than Islington’s new designer take on the desolate drinking den. Slim Jim’s Liquor Store has taken inspiration from the downmarket watering holes of downtown LA, where a jukebox and hard liquor succeed glamour and pretence. But on first impressions it seems to have missed the point.

MAYBE it’s because such seediness simply can’t be replicated on affluent Upper Street. The dive bars of LA are a filthy genre of establishments renowned for their unashamed squalidness. Taking that philosophy and trying to translate it to Islington’s conventional professionals is like taking the Queen to a squat party.

On paper the whole concept of a dive bar in Islington seems a tad contradictory, yet somehow it actually works. It must be the Brits’ strange attraction to the underdog. Old men’s pubs, with their dartboards and vomit-stained carpets, will continue to thrive in this country long after the velvet-roped, guest-listed, slapper joints a la Mahiki and Funky Buddha have run their course.

Inside, Slim Jim’s plays up the dark and dingy interior with its black walls, ceiling and bar top, the only luminosity beaming from a neon Las Vegas sign and the barman’s lighter as he ignites the orange twist on my friend’s Cosmopolitan.

The cocktails are impressive. Of a list containing your staples: Singapore Sling, Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Suzerac and Daiquiri, the house specials are a must. In Slim’s Jim there’s one for the boys with a bourbon-based, Old Fashioned-influenced mix of maple syrup, orange peel and bitters served in a tumbler glass. It’s smoother than it looks and less potent than it smells.

For the ladies: Slim’s Jane comes with peach schnapps, rose vodka and peach purée in a feminine martini glass with a glazed cherry on top. Bar manager Adam Pervoe is also proud to flaunt his off-licence take-away cabinet, which includes a range of bottled bourbons for a steal at around £20.

The sounds are what you’d expect from essentially an American rock joint: The Rolling Stones, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Mudhoney and AC/DC. They have live acoustic sets on Sundays and monthly burlesque evenings will take place on the second Thursday of each month, starting in December.

Once you’ve settled onto your barstool or into your booth under the hanging wall hogsheads, it’s surprising how at home you can feel at Slim Jim’s. This venue has taken the best bits of the classic LA dive bar – the rugged interior and secretive congeniality – whilst updating the notoriously worn standards to that of a contemporary, cosmopolitan bar. It suits its well-heeled neighbourhood, and makes a welcome change to the glam clubs and indie pubs that are wearing tirelessly thin in this town.

First published on The London Word, November 2008.
© Abbey Stirling