The Betsy Smith, Kilburn – Opening night

(photo: courtesy of Kai Reysenn)?

The Betsy Smith opening night last Friday attracted the crowds. The bar staff, vying for the Artful Dodger lookalike prize, were struggling. At one stage the crush at the bar was seven-deep and getting a drink took upwards of 40 minutes. Bluntly, the place was heaving.

A cunningly worded press release had set the scene earlier in the week. This sister venue of The Winchester in Islington and Ealing’s Lodge Tavern was already being referred to as the “Narnia” pub although it struck me more as Alice in Wonderland.

The front of the bar, in what used to be Osteria del Ponte, is heavy on seating and a little crammed. As my companion commented on arrival, “It’s about 15% All Bar One”. Ouch.

Force yourself through to the back, however, and the décor, ambience and style change gear. Here, the tables are more secluded. There’s a mezzanine level perfect for private hire and below that a small area where a band was setting up. This was clearly the place to be. It’s darker, quirkier and far more seductive, especially on a night when the hordes were clamouring for their cocktails at the bar.

The drinks list is laden with contrived idiosyncracies, with cocktails categorised by their degree of whackiness. Parsnip and blue cheese? Really? More standard cocktails and of course beer, wine etc. are also available.

The Betsy Smith has aspirations to be almost 24-hours, opening 8am-midnight Sunday through Thursday, and closing at 3am on Friday and Saturday. On opening night there was finger food being passed around, which was certainly better than average and bodes well for the quality of the kitchen.

The Earth Lights Boogie Band, led by Spencer Kennedy, cranked up the volume and blasted everyone’s eardrums through the wardrobe or looking glass or somewhere into the nether regions of Cricklewood at the very least. They were good. Very good in fact. Playing a mix of boogie and funk covers at full throttle, with a few poptastic tunes thrown in for good measure, the surprisingly (and pleasingly) mixed crowd settled in to listen for the first set. At such decibels, talking was pretty much out of the question.

By the time the second set kicked in, numbers had thinned slightly, it was possible to get a drink within just 10 or 15 minutes (!) and the small dance floor was getting its first workout. In the dark, with the multiple lampshades on, any All Bar One-ness from earlier in the evening had vanished. Revelling continued into the early hours with Louisubsole on the decks.

(photo: courtesy of Kai Reysenn)??

The Betsy Smith looks like it will be a success as long as it can keep appealing to a mixed Kilburn crowd. It’s too far from the entertainment core of Kilburn (Tricycle/Good Ship/Luminaire/Powers) to draw many drinkers from there, but close enough to The Westbury to be direct competition. It will need local support as well as to lure people from beyond Kilburn for its DJ nights. Midweek reports since opening night have suggested it’s been quietish and coupley rather than meat-market sweat-on-the-dancefloor, but if it can get both groups in it might just last. If it hopes to turn NW6 into Shoreditch, it might face a revolt.

For more details on what it offers, check out its Facebook page, along with loads of photos from opening night
The Betsy Smith
77 Kilburn High Road
NW6 6HY
T: 020 7624 5793

  • Petef

    What's it got to do with West Hampstead?

  • WHampstead

    Um… well, lots of people who live in West Hampstead (such as me) also go to Kilburn’s pubs, bars, music venues, shops. I’m not interested in drawing distinct boundaries in the area that I cover as that’s not how people live their lives. On top of which, there was specifically a lot of interest from West Hampstead people in the week leading up to the opening, and plenty of people from West Hampstead were there that night. So, I think it’s of interest to the local community.

  • petef

    No objection to you covering Kilburn, just don't see the point of calling your blog `West Hampstead' if you're going to do so.

  • WHampstead

    simply because the focus remains West Hampstead, even thought I also sometimes write about things in Kilburn or Swiss Cottage – both places that life in West Hampstead tends to encompass. Brace yourself for the next restaurant review – that's in Kilburn too! 🙂

  • Anonymous

    so happy the Osteria del Ponte closed and I love this swanky new place.

  • Anonymous

    The Betsy Smith is such a refreshing addition to Kilburn and is definitely a destination bar so I will be visiting regularly and I live in West Hampstead. It has such a great atmosphere and the food is delicious. I have visited a few times now and It has been pretty busy with diners every time.I think the staff are all settling in well and that this is going to be a great place for everyone. I wish them all the best with it and think that people should be thankful that there is something fun in Kilburn rather than having to settle with a rather pretentious crowd down the road.

  • Anonymous

    Lots of us who live in west Hampstead also go To the west end. Why not review a few bars in Leicester sq?

    Exactly…. Stick to the west Hampstead brief please!!!

  • Anonymous

    I was pleased to read this review at least! I agree that many West Hampsteaders visit Kilburn for the nightlife and as long as it's NW6 it's all good with me.

  • Anonymous

    i heard the bouncers beat one publican to a pulp around the corner away from any cameras

  • Anonymous

    My God I cannot believe one or two people are so negative as to be troubled by a West Hampstead blog covering a pub across the road in Kilburn. Grow up! Scores of people are interested in neighbouring venues and events.

  • DottyinLondon

    WE MUST NEVER LEAVE. Now do excuse me, I'm off to the Clifton in STW. Toodleoo.

  • @Petef – if you've got time to make daft critical but useless comments, may I suggest you get out more? It's not like Kilburn's in Scotland, it's right next door. Anyway, it's not your blog so if you don't like it, you can always 'blog off'!

  • Surely the point is that if you live or work in West Hampstead you can go to neighbouring Kilburn for a drink. Do you think its OK to cover South Hampstead?