east london. the place where hipster business owners try to outdo each other with their complicated cold-brew coffees, and de-constructed pub dinners, and seedy basement hideaways. the pretentious place you pretend to hate, forcing an eye roll when anyone suggests a restaurant in hackney for brunch, but in the back of your mind secretly hoping that new season of pop-up bars has pushed the boundaries of "entertainment" and "dining" further than ever before; we thought we'd seen it all with the cereal killer and board games and crazy golf cafes, but wait, there's more.
tucked away underneath the rio cinema in dalston, little nan's rio bar's biggest pull on paper, the one thing that stood it apart from every other niche/faux retro/quirky bar in the area - and the one that had me stop reading the email invite to re-read that one line to make sure i had read it right, was: unlimited pick-and-mix and fairground popcorn. yup. a bar... in a cinema... that offers unlimited popcorn and movie-night snacks... while you drink your cocktails from teapots that were sourced from the local oxfam shop. *thumbs up emoji*
on paper, it sounded a bit "done" and nothing i hadn't really seen a hundred times before; the pull of cinema-style popcorn and unlimited pick-and-mix literally was the clincher that had me responding to the email in record time, and rounding the troops last thursday - on the night that will forever be remembered as "the night that torch rode the overground and got really scared".
we were met at the door by a young man asking if i was "lady erica", who proceeded to show us downstairs to the underbelly of the cinema, into "little nan's house". let's play a game. close your eyes right now - or maybe don't actually, because you won't be able to read on. imagine instead for me, what your own grandma's front room looks like. you know that room where she keeps the nice plates and the silver she keeps for good, and those special china tea cups she's had since her wedding day. that room, with the floral wall paper and the yellowing pictures of you as a baby. the room with the bowl of fruit pastilles sat in the middle of the table, and a vase of carnations in the corner.
yeah, it looks nothing like that. it was honestly one of the most insanely decorated venues i have ever had the pleasure of being in, and i loved every. single. corner of it. from the prince shrine in the hallway to the cult film posters from the 90s plastered up on every wall, it was everything you've ever wanted your nan's house to be. some of the memorabilia was so niche (troll dolls, anyone?!) it had us in fits of laughter while surfing amazon trying to scout one down for emma's birthday this week, while dying from jealousy at some of the pieces of china on the help-yourself-to-a-cup shelf in the entry way.
then there's the soundtrack. when you think 90s anthems you don't quite think "hallelujah" or "come as we are" and yet, there they were, nestled between "spice up your life" and "don't let go", and there wasn't a single song that came on the cd player (for real - at one point it skipped and then froze like the good old days - so authentic!) that we didn't have some great story about or that didn't have claire and i lip-syncing at each other from across the table or that didn't compel us to get up and dance. which is just as well, as the dance-floor-room just so happens to also be the "props room", which is essentially, every photo boother's dream come true.
we're talking horse heads and novelty glasses and a legit wind machine, with many, many boxes of coloured wigs and film props and just about everything else you could need to take the perfect photo. well, except for good lighting, that is, but that can be forgiven based on everything else i have mentioned.
the bad news is kind of also the good news: entry is timed, so you can't spend all night in there like we did. you can either pay in advance for a block of time - £39 for two hours of bottomless cocktails in teapots, prosecco, beer and cider (and pick and mix don't forget!), or £10 pay-as-you-go. when we're talking about £20 for a teapot, £39 for unlimited booze for two hours, plus delicious snacks and the most fun you will ever have seems pretty fricken reasonable, don't you think?!
i want to say a massive thanks to nan's family over there in the rio bar, who were the most gracious hosts, who were more than happy to look the other way when milly broke the prettiest teapot, and who suggested the most amazing cocktails. they're also genuinely the types of people you want running your business. warm, welcoming and well-informed. i can 100% recommend little nan's as a fun and quirky party bar, so if you get the chance to check it out before it disappears in august, then do.