Dark, dingy and laden in graffiti, Leake Street is the sort of place you’d normally be advised to avoid while exploring an unfamiliar city. But London is no ordinary city, and this disused road tunnel, which runs for 300 metres below the platforms of Waterloo train station, is quickly becoming one of the hippest places in the capital for food, drink, music and art.
The latest opening is a Banksy-inspired speakeasy called Rat Bar, which showcases Giant Rat, an original piece of street art from the legend himself. (Or herself. No one has quite figured out the artist’s true identity yet.) The bar is themed on rats, naturally, and has created a signature cocktail menu which includes tempters like You Dirty Double Crossing Rat, El Raton and Black Death. It also serves pizzas (though unfortunately not curry, so no possibility to order a rodent josh). The graffiti-covered interior has been designed by Gary Alford, official artist of Wu-Tang Clan, and the venue will host regular live music, including Tunnel Vision Unplugged every Thursday, when up-and-coming singer-songwriters will do their thing.
The bar is a suitable nod to Banksy, who in 2008 organised the Cans Festival, which saw Leake Street transformed into the kaleidoscopic marvel it is today. In Banksy’s words, the aim was to turn “a dark, forgotten filth pit” into “an oasis of art – in a dark, forgotten filth pit”.
Since then, Leake Street has been better known as ‘graffiti tunnel’, and while a niche attraction in itself, is only just beginning to fulfil its potential as a hub for venues. Rat Bar is one of six businesses to have set up shop in the last few weeks. Others include Banh Bao Brothers, where you can find Vietnamese food and cocktails; Aures London, an installation which aims to indulge all your senses, right down to the vibrating floor; and Draughts Waterloo, the sibling of London’s first board game café in Hackney of the same name.
Rat Bar is a pop-up, scheduled to be open until mid-September 2018. As with any pop-up, if it’s a success, there’s a possibility it could remain open. Either way, Leake Street isn’t going anywhere, so the area is worth visiting for the street art alone.
By Will Jones