Thursday 24 May 2018

Of Harrods and hoodies

It may surprise some of you to discover that I am not a regular customer at Harrod’s. But I hope that may be understandable when you see what the regular customers at Harrod’s are like these days. However, it was time for me to visit, because the Fine Wines and Spirits Rooms at Harrod’s have received “a conceptual and visual makeover”. Although the main concept still seems to be the sale of Fine Wines and Spirits.

I am delighted to see that the idea of a wine department has actually survived, whereas things like a shirt department have vanished. Like most stores, Harrod’s has succumbed to the power of brands, with each brand being given its own specific location. So if you want to buy, say, a tie, you have to trail around every single brand in order to see if they sell a tie – whereas once there was a thing of customer service and colourful beauty called a tie department, which gathered together for comparison all of the ties by all of the brands which the store was selling. May I suggest such a thing to the current owners?

Although to be fair, the store is now selling very few ties. In fact the wine room is sited in a disturbing location, at the back of a basement area offering three-figure baseball caps and four-figure hoodies, in what appears to be designer thugwear. Foolishly I had dressed up in my best bib and tucker, in order to get a bit of respect from the staff, whereas in fact I could have swaggered in looking like a mugger and been completely a la mode. (And if you ask what kind of mugger wears a £730 baseball cap, the answer presumably is a rather successful one.)

One of these gentlemen may have bought their outfit from Harrod's…

But unlike certain daunting upmarket wine merchants, where your entrance is announced with the ting of a metal bell, there are no doors here. You can just meander in to the wine department, as if you happened to have wandered past while looking at sweatpants – Hmm, perhaps the Magic Stick drop crotch sweatpants, which look to me like, well, sweatpants, but supposedly “transcend the classic style of the off-duty staple”, for just £525.

So in I drift, carefully dropping neither my crotch nor my aitches. First impressions are that this wine room is far less bling than its predecessor. Tasteful, limed oak shelving is discreetly lit, there’s a patterned marble floor, and there are “secret cabinets”, labelled with a winemakers name, which open when you touch them to reveal bottles within. (Unfortunately they are so secret that while I was there, an assistant went round touching them and leaving them ajar, because otherwise none of the customers realised they were there.)

The tables host absurd steampunk devices which look like something out of Professor Branestawm. Through these you can sample scents, like coffee. In case you don’t know what coffee smells like, you can stick your nose into a brass trumpet like Nipper the HMV dog and find out. Or visit the coffee bar.

Then there’s the wine. Of course a lot of it is preposterous ostentation. There are ridiculously expensive bottles here; not just the obvious DRCs, the predictable Petrus, Le Pin and pals, but a bottle of 1959 trockenbeerenauslese which is £28,000, or just under £1500 a character.

And the sizes! There are bottles here the size of milk churns, bottles like oxygen tanks, bottles which resemble household Calor gas cylinders.

But they’re not tucked away inside a daunting special glass room, as the finest wines were in the old Wine Department (or still are at Berry Bros). No, they’re on display alongside their affordable alternatives. And there are affordable wines, priced in the teens, for sale here. There are even wines which I consider laughable (Clarendelle? Mouton Cadet?? Really???)

So it’s worth a trip. You can drool at the cars outside. In fact, you can drool at the cars inside  – there’s a new Porsche currently displayed in one of the windows. (Either that, or there’s been a pretty upmarket ramraid.)

Saunter past the designer thugwear – sorry, “modern streetwear/luxe mash-up” – and into the Wine Room, with no door to dissuade you. And you can pass a pleasant half hour browsing, without obligation, imagining how you might spend £28,000 on a bottle of wine. Or you might actually spend a tiny fraction of that, one two-thousandth to be precise, and buy yourself a perfectly decent bottle.

Which will leave you change for some sweatpants.


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