The Chiltern Firehouse is a restaurant in London that belongs to André Balazs, a proprietor of eating establishments and hotels…

Whether it’s by dint of the boss Balazs’ preference or because he used the same interior designers, the inside of the restaurant bears a remarkable similarity to Balazs’ Standard Grill in New York’s Meatpacking District.

Both are warm and friendly… Both of them, albeit in different ways, resemble each other in terms of the seating, the open kitchen and the divisions.

The similarities stop at the prices though! The Chiltern Firehouse in London is a lot harder to swallow than The Standard Grill in Manhattan!

Place to both dine and chat

There’s nothing to complain about in terms of the fare and the service. But it’s not possible to write home about any food that’s different or tremendously delicious. If you were to ask, “Which plate is different and superior to anything you’ve had elsewhere?” I’d be at a loss for an answer. The Chiltern is more a restaurant that’s about coming together to “socialize.” It’s a convenient place to both dine and chat thanks to its level of business and comfortable seating arrangement.

There’s a cute garden at the entrance to the restaurant. It’s perfectly delightful to sit here – London’s notorious weather permitting – and enjoy an apero and a bit of a chat.

The restaurant is extremely popular in London, but the actual “in” place is its bar!

The bar, which has a separate door at the entrance to the restaurant, is much in demand, just like The Boom Boom, the bar at Balazs’ Standard Hotel in New York. But when things are like that, they don’t accept just anybody. To gain entry, the men and women at the Maître D’s post have to know you. Naturally, your attire and gender are of supreme importance in this regard. Offering something like, “I just ate in your restaurant and paid a pretty penny, so let me in,” isn’t going to cut it. I went to the restaurant with my wife and son, who lives in New York. Upon hearing of our plans to head to the Chiltern, a young and beautiful lady we know recommended that we also go to the bar but warned us of the difficulties in getting in. “A beautiful smile might do the trick,” she made sure to add.

After finishing our meal and downing our espresso, the time came to check out the bar – or, in actuality, attempt to check out the bar. Our young and beautiful lady friend succeeded in entering after smiling at the male Maître D’, but if I and my wife – now north of 70 – looked into his eyes and attempted a smile, he would have, in the best-case scenario, declared us to be off our collective rocker. So it was up to our son. I don’t mean to brag, but he’s a strong, handsome and hirsute Mediterranean man. Even if he’s lost a bit of hair, one smile at the woman Maître D’ would have her beckoning him to come in, not stop him! And if it’s only the male Maître D’ at the door at the time? Actually, some male personnel move heaven and earth to get on the radar of such a powerful look, but given that our son doesn’t swing that way, it wasn’t going to do us a whole lot of good.

Can we come in?

Which plate is different…

From our seat, we could see the door to the bar. It did not escape our attention that most of those who were attempting to enter were being turned away. I asked the waiter:

“Can we get into the bar?”

“It’s pretty hard, unfortunately.”

“What do we have to do to get in?”

“You have to talk to the Maître D’.”

“Can you have a word with him?”

“Unfortunately, I can’t do that, sir!”

I don’t know how, but my son was so sure we would be able to get in; he remained relaxed without wading into the fraught conversation, snickering at my efforts that had been consumed by agitation. Soon after, he got up, went to the door of the bar, exchanged a few words with the snooty person on duty and then returned.

-“What happened? Didn’t it work?”

-“You’ll see in a sec.”

Wouldn’t you know it, but not five minutes later, the haughty Maître D’ came right to our table and told our son, “Your place is ready, sir.” What on earth is going on?

How did you manage to get in?

We’ve worked and toiled our entire lives, we’ve gone here and there, but we couldn’t get into a bar; our son, though, got in just like that. It must be because he hasn’t left a bar his whole life!

The Maître D’ led the way, ushering us into a salon with couches and chairs near the entrance to the bar. Further along there was the main hall featuring a round bar and standing room only.

…There is often a Turkish hamam in luxury hotels that functions like a small washing facility. In truth, though, Turkish hamams are found in neighborhoods and welcome many customers. They possess areas for washing, as well as a post-bath area that is known as the “soğukluk” (cooling room) in which one can relax and enjoy tea or coffee. After the searing heat of the bath, relaxing in this room is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the hamam experience. In times past when there were no showers at home, families would all go to the neighborhood hamam to get clean. There were different hamam days for women and men, while male children would go with their mothers to the “Women’s Hamam.” When the child got a bit older, it was customary for the mother to receive a warning from the other women: “Madame… Madame… Wow, your son has grown as big as a post, but you’re still bringing him here. Maybe it’s time for his dad to bring him!” These words, offered always amid a barrage of erotic jargon, signified the good news of promotion for male children – the good news that he had finally grown up, moved up a level and that he would now be able to come to the hamam as one of the guys… After getting a good clean and freeing oneself of all the sweat, toxins, heat and steam, one used to sit in the cooling room with friend and family alike for a bite to eat and a sing-along. In the neighborhood hamam, the cooling room was basically the place to socialize with neighbors.

The front section with couches that we were shown into at the bar was a lot like the cooling room of a Turkish hamam. The standing-room-only section in the interior of the bar was soon packed to the gills, becoming as hot as a hamam. After relaxing with a digestif with my wife in the de facto “cooling room” while watching those coming and going, we went on our way.

The day after, I finally got a chance to speak with my son, who woke up toward the afternoon after staying at the bar much longer than us.

“Really, how on earth did you manage to get in, just like that?” I asked.

“Dad, I think you’re forgetting that I live in New York,” he reminded me. “They know your son well at the New York version of this bar!”

As a man, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t just a bit jealous!