In anticipation of a return to seasonal festivities after two credit-crunched years, bars and pubs are getting their Christmas marketing in early and inviting the likes of this bar reviewer to sample their Christmas packages.
So even though it’s only September, you find yourself drinking mulled wine and nibbling on little sausages wrapped in bacon. This - even for a lover of all things Santa-like - seems a little early to me.
The Sterling Bar in the Gherkin lept on this bandwagon and gave me the chance to revisit what has become a City favourite, especially amongst the insurance companies that surround this already iconic building. The Sterling is part of the wine bar group Balls Brothers, a good but slightly dated chain that has been superseded by the Corney & Barrow crowd in the hierarchy of City drinking. As part of their counter-offensive, they launched the Lewis & Clarke gastro-bars throughout the City which are pitched as 'lively and modern with an emphasis on quality and comfort'. The jewel in that over-PR'd crown is the Sterling, and they were pulling out all the stops on the Christmas promotional night when I dropped by. Prosecco flowed and canapés were carted out on giant platters. They even gave the punters goody bags full of Christmas delights at the end of the night. (Although most of the goodies were in the form of vouchers. For the Sterling.)
The Sterling’s looks reflect the building that it's housed in. The interior is modern and understated, with dark brown woods, stainless steel, and floor-to-ceiling windows. Similar to an All Bar One but better. The venue itself is divided into a large downstairs public space and an upstairs mezzanine area, which can be hired for private parties and dinners. It also has a large outside terrace, which given it’s a sun-trap, is very popular in the summer. The crowd is pure City of London - suits and office-wear are the attire of choice - and very male. This is not a place for setting or spotting trends, something that is reinforced by the music which is incidental rather then inspirational.
However, The Sterling is not without merit. I honesty can not remember the last City bar I visited where the staff were so genuinely friendly. Some might even say flirty. However you perceive them, the team pull off the trick of being ultra-efficient and charming at the same time (something I had thought only Americans could do). There is a large selection of good wines and decent lagers, and the food that I sampled on the Christmas platters and noticed walking by was good, gastropub fare.
The Sterling Bar is blessed with its location, and has fully capitalised on it to become a very good, very City bar. One that is on a par with, or better than, many of its rivals. If you’re looking for a place to celebrate Christmas with your friends there are probably better options both in and outside the City. But if you want to go somewhere with your work colleagues, The Sterling Bar is as good a place as any.
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