23 October 2015
When the Crystal Maze returns to our screens, I do hope an all-new ‘Peckham’ zone joins Aztec, Medieval… and whatever the others were. Contestants could rattle around a grim multi-story, searching for light at the end of the tunnel in the form of Frank's Campari bar. Ordinarily a room (or roof) with a view comes with sky-high prices and/or a roaring mass of tourists, but not Frank's. As you will have gathered, it’s a bit different. Given you genuinely have to negotiate the seedy underbelly of a carpark (including unreliable, less-than-fragrant lifts and several flights of stairs), it’s hardly the most accessible place. When you emerge, the premise is basic: picnic tables, a makeshift chef shack, canopies that lash wildly on a blustery day, a notable security presence and shedloads of hip young things. The atmosphere is upbeat of a late afternoon (even for old timers like me) and drinks are a pleasant surprise, with plenty of change from a tenner for a rustic (read: generously boozy) cocktail. There’s food too, and it’s not bad. Specials like succotash or globe artichoke are oh-so ‘new Peckham’ but also unexpectedly tasty. Fish of the day (sardines with tricolour tomatoes, for instance) is sometimes worthy of top-notch restaurants, albeit served on paper plates and occasionally tepid having battled the elements to reach the table. So far so good, but - as per the last reviewer - approach the loos with caution. At first glance, the rickety-split doors have a Huck Finn vibe. On closer inspection, you’ll clock the monstrous corrugated plastic urinal and unisex set up… Captain Corelli it ain’t. Unlike the vicarious pleasure of a country pee, at Frank's you can expect to be primed in terror of passers-by over 5ft 7 because only the feeblest splinter of a door separates you from the masses. Tip: make a dash for the end cubicle to avoid accidental peeping toms. Scratch that… just hold it in. (I do wonder whether future generations will question our penchant for congregating in pee-strewn car parks for kicks, but hey). Despite this, Franks is a bit of a local institution during the warmer months, or at least a novelty worth considering with adventurous (and limber) friends. Simply make a beeline for seats on the bar’s northerly side for a spectacular and oddly serene view across the city, then head elsewhere for a comfort break. Frank's season may be over for 2015, but I'll be popping by next summer on a cool, overcast (and therefore less rammed) afternoon to see what the latest revival brings.