I recently attended the launch of Basement Speak at Lola Jean’s in Newcastle. For those of you who don’t know, the original Lola Jean’s bar in Tynemouth has been a cult hangout of über cool folk from the North East since it’s launch and naturally, building on the success of the first bar, a second was opened in the former GodFather restaurant site in central Newcastle and although the decor has the same eclectic feel to it inside, the venue is smaller and never quite received the same rave reviews as it’s sister bar in Tynemouth.
The bar prides itself on its extensive range of cocktails and the mixology expertise of its bar staff however, a quick look at most review websites will give you an indication of which Lola Jean’s bar is more highly regarded – you get where I’m going with this. I’m not usually one to publish a negative review however I feel that this one is justified. It’s not a review of the bar itself or the new Basement Speak as a venue, but more a review of the actual launch night. Anyone who knows me knows that I can’t resist a speakeasy, in fact I seek them out and I love the secrecy that went into planning and running the original speakeasys of the prohibition era. Now the speakeasy trend has been around for a while with some really cool venues and club nights popping up in and around London involving secret doors, secret passwords and even secret knocks, when it’s done right the effect is fantastic. So, when I heard that Basement Speak was launching, it got my attention.
This was a launch I was excited about, I threw on a vintage denim button through skirt and a leopard print blouse with more than a subtle nod to the seventies and headed over to Lola Jean’s bar with ideas for this post already whirling though my head before I’d even set foot in the place. As you head into the main bar area, there are set of steps down to the basement just to the left of the bar and this is how you enter the Basement Speak. There’s an amazing (and huge) hand painted sign announcing your entry to the Basement Speak on the way down the staircase – not very covert at all but beautifully painted nonetheless. At the bottom of the stairs, you head through a door that has a look of a confessional about it and then you’re in….
The space is small and cosy and there’s exposed brick with alcoves for candles, it’s kind of like a secret cave where the cool kids hang out. We were handed a lavender infused tequila shot which was completely amazing and I headed to the bar to find out whether, given the bar’s interest in mixology and infusions, this was infused on site or bought in. I asked a barman who simply told me that “You would have been told the answer to that when you were given it”. There were various cocky and rude comments, all from the same barman and we weren’t the only people to be a bit miffed about it. It’s not the level of service you’d expect from an upmarket venue like Lola Jean’s, especially given the hype surrounding the Tynemouth bar (justified BTW), it’s this type of venue, the bar staff almost have an element of entertainment to their role, you want to see them putting their skills to use, you want the spectacle and ultimately, service is a huge part of that. It’s kind of an unwritten rule that on launch night you put on a happy face whether you’re happy to be there or not, it’s opening night after all and you want people to be wowed and to want to come back for more, Basement speak at Lola Jean’s just didn’t manage to pull this off.
So that’s why this review is short and sweet; I didn’t stay for too long after that, put off by the rude comments and repeated eye rolls of one particular member of bar staff, despite the attempts of his colleagues to apologise for him, it really put me off and that’s a real shame. I’m such a huge fan of the speakeasy scene and I wanted so bad for it to be good but it just wasn’t. The price of the cocktails and the level of crap you’re given from seemingly entitled (in my case one specific) bar staff in there just don’t stack up and that’s why I won’t be back.
If you’re really into the speakeasy scene and want to find out what basement Speak is all about, then go check it out, you might just enjoy it, but if you don’t, don’t say I didn’t warn you….
To find out more about Lola Jean’s Newcastle visit their FaceBook page: https://www.facebook.com/lolajeansncl