Postcards from the World Cup #1: bongo drums, tramps and Caipirinhas in Camden
#1 MADE IN BRASIL, CAMDEN
12 INVERNESS STREET, LONDON, NW1 7HJ
It's bloody well started: the biggest party on earth, football's great showstopper. The month where grown men and women are reduced to giddy, alcoholic, gambling nostalgics with wildly ambitious accumulators, half-completed Panini sticker books and barmy dream team selections. A sunny window of optimism where such is the love that even salmon-chopped ginger nut Gordon Strachan can wear shorts and sunnies for his ITV broadcasts on Copacabana with only the mildest of Twitter backlashes.
And where better to gorge on this feast than in London, one of the globe's great multicultural broths where football is the universal leveller? Believe it: the capital is a smorgasbord of international treats – restaurants, bars, social clubs, festivals – and for one month, each and every single one of them has given up its calendar to football.
To explore this social phenomenon, FourFourTwo has donned its Panama hat and sports jacket to stride the streets in search of the great global shindigs, trawling dive bars and street parties in search of the universal spirit of a game being molested by FIFA's diamond-coated knuckles. And where better to start than with Selecao outpost Made In Brasil, a restaurant decorated with a large representation of Christ The Redeemer on its facade?
On paper, this isn't the most optimistic of choices. Made In Brasil's position in Camden might be considered a disadvantage. The north London enclave has been noted for its down-at-heel, sour-faced alternative scene and a community of shambling crack heads that slumber in shop doorways. There's also a neat line in market stalls selling knock-off "I Like The Pope, The Pope Smokes Dope" T-shirts. Well, they did back in 1991, when FourFourTwo used to sleep in doorways there.
But wait! Chuck that bloody paper away and wiggle your buttcheeks like Ricky Martin, because Made In Brasil is a burst of colour in a dreary black-and-white art house flick. Stuffed to the gunnels with girls dressed in Neymar shirts, blokes wrapped in Brazil flags and one camp-as-Copacabana stetson decorated with the national flag, this cosy bar and restaurant is a Technicolour explosion that kickstarts the World Cup like a Dani Alves volley to a Luka Modric nutsack.
Arriving so early to beat the rush (two hours before kick-off, it's still rammed) that a spectacularly bad Brazilian soap opera is playing on a big screen (think Neighbours, starring Sam Allardyce and Vicente del Bosque), the fun starts with the opening ceremony. The sight of Brazil's Lord Of The Rings-themed curtain raiser and Mr Dancing Football Head is offset by a samba party in the street outside, where shoppers and a tramp shuffle around with cans of extra strong lager to a pounding samba beat played out by a dozen drummers.
There is balance, however: some chatter among the boozing patrons of Brazil's current social predicament. Says Brazilian-born, Italian-raised 'Eric' of the situation: "It is sad, but the football will be unaffected. And England will have nothing to worry about in Manaus. Who will protest there? The crocodiles and monkeys? The birds of paradise? Pffft!"
Once the football is underway, the rhythm continues unabated, drums replaced by drinkers tapping their glasses with cutlery; a man leads the tempo on bongos (only in Brazil is this instrument not annoying), while the biggest celebration of spoon-playing outside a Royal British Legion tinkles away in the background.
Only does the mood drop when Croatia threaten to offend their hosts by scoring early. But as with all good parties, the black mood is temporary: a chuff in an elevator. When Brazil equalise the party resumes, and at half-time the commentary is muted and the music turned up as the bar turns into a pounding nightclub for 15 minutes. Even FourFourTwo begins to sashay its hips, though the look is more septuagenarian shuffling to the loo than a look that could strike love into Shakira's heart.
Once Neymar & Co. have been gifted their opening three points and Made In Brasil begins to party hard, FFT steps outside to catch breath. Camden's streets are eerily quiet. The law are scooping up one drunk who's fallen asleep on the pavement. The market stalls have closed. But in a side street (a minute walk from the Tube if you want to go, which you should) a little bit of Rio is getting it on.
The party's started, nutters.
WHAT WE ORDERED: Brazilian tapas: squid, chicken fish cakes, £15. Brahma beers, Caipirinha, £??.??. Haven't dared to look at the bar bill yet.
Matt Allen will be endangering his liver in the line of duty for the next month. His aim to find the best World Cup-themed parties in London. If you know of any and won't be offended by a shambling drunk standing in the corner, please tweet him.