Enjoy attentive service and well thought-out design in the world’s most glamorous power plant with a visit to the new cocktail bar Control Room B.
Battersea Power Station was constructed as a coal plant during the 1930s, providing electricity to countless London households until she was finally decommissioned in 1983.
Her striking exterior lay poised but unused for almost four decades, until eventually the stars aligned, investment was sourced and great plans were laid out to restore and enhance the building as something new.
There has been a gradual wave of development and gentrification along the southern bank of the River Thames in recent years. Starting around the Tate Modern and Southbank Centre and subsequent local improvements from the turn of the millennium, it spread to Vauxhall with the construction of the new United States Embassy and has now become firmly established in Battersea with the relaunch of the power station.
Apple is opening its London campus here, a wave of luxury flats have been developed and numerous shops have opened up in the revived building and its environs. The Northern Line tube even has a new extension built purely to accommodate the anticipated influx of people.
The construction of Battersea Power Station began at the height of the Art Deco age, hence her fine lines and geometric aesthetic. She is as Art Deco architecture should be: big, beautiful, functional and made for the masses.
Some people have criticised the transformation of this building from something constructed to serve the people into a temple of capitalism, lined with shops and other commercial ventures. However, for me, if that is the price to pay for the care and restoration of this building, I am satisfied. We can all wander around and admire Battersea Power Station without paying a penny if we like, and the alternative was gradual disrepair and inexorable decay. Either way, I recommend you visit and make up your own mind.
An elegant journey
With specific regard to my visit, it began just before sunset at Shakespeare’s globe theatre. I thought the time of day would provide beautiful lighting for the journey. My mother and I jumped onboard one of the Uber Thames Clippers – arguably the most gorgeous mode of transport in London.
We travelled West past some of the most striking riverside monuments of the city, just as the day turned to twilight and the violet hour began.
Upon reaching the pier at Battersea Power Station, the sun had set. From now on is the best time to see the exterior of the building in her renovated prime.
There is one thing in the modern age that brings Art Deco to life in a way that did not happen during its golden era: effective exterior lighting. A drive or stroll along the north bank of the River Thames around Chelsea or Pimlico allows you to appreciate what I consider the best thing from the Battersea Power Station renovation: its illumination.
Words can’t do it justice. Photos can’t really either, despite my poor attempt, but credit is due to the designers (and accountants) who saw this through.
Control Room B is located, as the name suggests, in one of the original control rooms in the heart of the power plant. It also retains a surprising amount of (decommissioned) equipment, showcasing some wonderful preservation work.
As regards all the newly added features, a playful amount of nostalgia has been designed into everything from the glassware to the menu designs.
The theme is not art deco of the 1930s but instead, the organisers have gone for sophisticated post-war kitsch from the 1950s, evoking the year 1955 when electricity was nationalised in the United Kingdom (a great advancement in the timeline of Martini Socialism, bringing the possibility of electric freezers to all). Some of the bar staff also wear white coats to evoke the engineering vibe of the former occupants.
The bar retains its original floor and wall tiles and has been brightened with lighting that makes it feel like an exciting, metallic, retro diner, with mid-century Americana playlists to accompany. I was assured that it had a lift for accessibility but otherwise there is a small flight of stairs you need to climb.
The menu has been thoughtfully crafted to continue the theme, and is contained in a metallic, engineering binder. It also contains humorous artwork in the style of Cold War era instructional pamphlets containing historical insight on the building. It actually left me wanting more. I wanted embellished details, eyewitness accounts and the stories of the many talented brains that kept this facility running for so many years – perhaps something for future iterations.
And now, the martini…
A classic martini is not actually on the menu (although other classic cocktails are). When I booked ahead (and booking is recommended by the way) I stated in my request that I wanted to order a classic martini. Nonetheless, even if I hadn’t, the bar staff were more than happy to mix one up for me. I was asked if I wanted it with gin or vodka, with olive or a twist of lemon. It was shaken with ice and served cold – not to Duke’s bar or home freezer standard cold but still very pleasantly chilled. The staff also really made sure to squeeze in flavoursome citrus oil from the lemon peel when they prepared the drinks.
Across the board the bar staff were attentive, organised and friendly, offering water on arrival and regularly checking our table and topping us up. They would occasionally stop by and explain aspects of the venue to us, like the machinery and interior features which was lovely. Everyone felt engaged.
The martini was not served in a traditional, geometric martini glass but the cocktail glassware was retro and evocative nonetheless as mentioned above, enhancing the feel of the bar. The taller cocktails were served in glasses that resembled the power plant chimneys.
I will mention that the snacks on the menu were very tasty, particularly the rosemary nuts. This, plus the olives went delectably with the drinks.
I found the pricing to be in-keeping with London cocktail standards. Many people are feeling the pinch right now amid record high inflation and the initial stages of a recession, but if our bill went towards staff wages it will have been well worth it.
I don’t think it would be too much of a logistical stretch for the bar to add classic martinis to their menu given how straight forward it was for the staff to prepare. A martini is also infinitely compatible with both the Art Deco building and the post-war American diner style of the establishment. To stick to the coal power plant theme they could even offer the smokey variation (with a smidge of whisky).
So if you’re in London, it’s well worth a visit.
The clipper ride to get there is completely optional but also recommended at any time of day, especially at sunset from central or east London.