Wednesday, December 19, 2001

The Retro Bar is the best damn pub in London. And Wendy is the best landlord in London. It is wonderful to find a bar where the staff clearly love the place, love making their customers happy. Too many other pub landlords seem to forget that's what hospitality is all about - enjoyment.

And, boy, did we enjoy last night! We had never been to their annual panto before, but you try stop us going next year.

By the time we arrived just before nine, the party was already in full swing. The place was packed. Rammed. Fuller than a very full thing. The party spirit was much in evidence. The party beer, too. We found Dave and Scally and Iain, wearing silly hats and munching mince pies at the centre table, so the four of us - me, Marcus, Ian and Darren - squeezed in too.

When I heard last week that the staff were going to put on a pantomime, I imagined something dreadfully amateur. And it was - but it was fab, fab, fab! The cast - bar staff and regulars - had put a hell of a lot of work into it.

The plot of Cinderillaz, of course, was familiar. Ish. All ended happily with Cinders marrying Buttons rather than the prince. Cinders, you see, was played by a lesbian barmaid, and Buttons was Wendy in swashbuckling, thigh-slapping butch get-up. We booed the ugly sisters. We chanted all the stock phrases of panto: "Oh no you're not" and "It's behind you!" And a new one to me: "fuck off you slack-arsed old cow" every time the evil stepmother appeared.

Then came the carol service: a veritable greatest hits of Christmas - one verse each of all your favourite songs.

When we were all Gloriaed in Excelsised out, Father Christmas arrived and it started snowing. [OK, so it was someone chucking handfuls of polystyrene out of an upstairs window, but the effect was heartwarming. Yes, I'd had a few pints by this point.] Santa handed out gifts and then Wendy handed out awards to regulars - most embarrassing moment, service above and beyond the call of duty, etc. Sadly, no award for best quiz team.

Oh, there was a late licence, too. We all got very drunk and had a bloody fabulous evening. Finally, I actually feel like Christmas is coming.

And what did all of this cost us? One pound, which went to charity. The Retro Bar is the best damn pub in London.

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