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Barrio Central is an exciting Latin inspired cocktail bar, kitchen and basement club spread over two floors, located in the heart of London’s Soho. With a warm and welcoming neighbourhood vibe, this relaxed venue draws on an eclectic mix of Latin cities, cultures and quarters to create an extensive range of exquisite hand crafted cocktails, fantastic DJs all week round, plus fresh Latino and Caribbean cuisine.
Located on Poland Street in the midst of Soho, Barrio Central is already surrounded by a riot of colour, eccentricity, and a hint of tongue-in-cheek fun. This attitude continues as you pass through the door into the bright, candy coloured interior. A flashing, Vegas-inspired neon sign welcomes you to ‘the Fabulous Barrio Central‘, and the ceiling seems to be a fiesta of tropical hanging tat – pineapples, woozy-looking parrots, multi-coloured garlands and even a donkey piñata. There are Mexican wrestling masks and hand-painted tiles brightening up the walls, and the seating is either turquoise padded booths or primary-hued stools. The tunes are easy listening reggae and Latin American grooves. But despite the clashing colours, there’s something unmistakably chilled about this place. There’s a good vibe – it’s fun, happily kitsch, and puts a smile on your face as soon as you enter.
A ‘Barrio‘ is an urban district in a Spanish speaking country, and also, according to this bar, a place to gather and ‘sip cocktails, shoot tequila, eat pinchos and booty shake to ghetto beats.’ It promises to eschew any of ‘the pretentiousness that Soho is no stranger to’… you know who you are! it seems to nudge and wink.
Barrio Central has a passion for community, a warm welcome, and a friendly smile. This is obvious upon arrival, where the staff call across and wave. The bar area is tiny – in fact the whole upper floor is relatively long and thin. Up here is more for sitting, while there’s dance floor and further space for mingling at the second bar downstairs. I imagine at the weekend this place is pulsing, but I came on a quieter evening and get to appreciate the good-time crowd.
In fact, when I did arrive it was Amigo Hour, where cocktails are only £4.50. Finding a good deal like this in central London should be grabbed when the opportunity arises, and so my drinking buddy and I perused the menu. They offer the standard mojito, but being surrounded by such quirky decor I fancied trying something a little more crazy. In the end I plumped for a Hula Colada – Santa Teresa rum, Blue Curacao, coconut and pineapple.
My cocktail arrived a slightly lighter shade of aqua than the booth I was sitting in, topped with a shining ruby of a glace cherry. I’m sometimes wary of drinks with coconut and pineapple – they can go too heavy on the juice and it ends up being as sickly as a Julia Roberts Rom-Com. Not so here – a lovely balance of refreshing pineapple and smooth coconut that made for just the right amount of sweetness. My friend tried the Samba Smash – cachaça with blood orange and lime, a kind of jazzed up caipirinha. Again, very nice and potent. Neither were particularly strong on technique or execution – they didn’t blow us away – but we were too busy admiring the gilded Mexican skull wallpaper to care much.
Next we moved onto the main cocktail list. There’s a nice, graspable selection of about 12 different ones to choose from. I was drawn to one of two served in a martini glass – the Brazilian Lady, an ‘exotic seduction’ of Abelha Organic cachaça, passion fruit and lemon, all shaken with egg white to give it a luxurious texture. It was very pretty when it arrived – a pale yellow colour, with a passionfruit gracing the rim. The taste was lovely – delicately sweet, smooth, and with a delicious punch from the cachaça. I’d say it was the cocktail of the night for me, and I could have easily drunk another. My partner decided she’d have the Ol’ Dirty Bastard, which is a twist on an Old Fashioned and is stirred with care. I gave it a taste and have to admit it packed a huge punch – well, it is purely booze, containing the house blend of Four Roses Bourbon and Santa Teresa Rum with a hint of orange. She assured me it was delicious, and waxed lyrical about the oaky finish. We hadn’t thought our moods could improve, but these cocktails were doing a grand job.
I chose the next cocktail purely because it caught my eye at the bar – flames will tend to do that. The Tropical Plunder is a mix of house rum blend, Pisang Ambon banana liqueur, passion fruit, and mango, before being given a float and set alight. The smell of burning booze had me intrigued – it was certainly a bit of theatre, and the taste was good too. I thought the slightly charred element worked well with the banana liquor. And there was no denying it had a fair amount of alcohol in it too.
My friend decided she would ask the bar lady about her favourite, and was recommended a Return to Cape Fizz. If you like a bit of pisco then go for this – it also combines pear liquor, grapes, egg white, and a top-up of cava for an indulgent and decadent treat. I gave it a sip and really enjoyed the sweetness combined with the nose-fizzing bubbles.
There are plenty of other delights to give a go, and the menu has a frivolous, tongue-in-cheek vibe. There’s the Hand Grenade Hiball, the Malibu Stacey, and you can even have a twist on Del Boy’s favourite tropical cocktail in the Gingerbread Colada. If you do get a case of the munchies then there’s a simple but tasty looking menu compromising of Latin bites such as quesadillas, tacos, nachos and burritos. And you might actually find yourself craving something a bit savoury and salty, since the cocktail list does comprise mostly of sweet options.
Downstairs continues the vibrant, over-the-top and quirky essence. There are Frida Kahlo-esque murals, more wacky decor made from reclaimed materials, and even a sherbet-hued beach shack. There is always plenty going on at Barrio Central, from live music to DJ’s, and this is certainly a place where the staff would remember your name and your order.
At the end of the day, Barrio Central is all a bit of fun, really. It’s a fabulous place to sit with friends, and you can’t help but be put in a good mood. It’s tempting to turn off your phone, sit back with a margarita and pretend you’re on holiday. The bar certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously – as a result the cocktails are tasty but don’t have the wow factor, and the pervading sweetness can be pretty filling. There’s a risk that the overwhelming fruitiness can get a bit boring after a while, but the ambience will make up for it, and you won’t mind that you’re steaming through jazzed up juices at a rate of knots, because this is the Fabulous Barrio Central and there are upside down flamingos hanging from the ceiling.