Somewhere in the years after Baudelaire expired from an excess of absinthe and poetry and before Proust had everyone madly eating madeleines as a memory aid, it became fashionable for your average Haute Bourgeois to keep a mistress, who he'd visit on the way home from the office. The French, having no truck with our mimsy, pursed-lip disapproval of infidelity, coined a phrase for these two relaxing hours wedged between the responsibilities of work and the duties of family: 'Le Cinq á Sept' entered the language as a little lost time in the early evening when one could indulge in some 'no-questions-asked' philandering.
Lately, it's struck me that this incredibly louche phrase should be revived for the twenty-first century. I'm not advocating adultery - after all, who has the time or energy - but I wonder if le cinq á sept could be repurposed to mean a stolen hour where one can go off grid. My days are spent ricocheting between one meeting and another, the tiny gaps between meetings punctuated by frantic blackberrying just to stay on top of the demands of the job. Then I hurtle home to wrangle the infant Trefusii into bath and bed and make dinner by the end of which I'm too wrung out to do more than snarl at Mr Trefusis before collapsing gratefully into bed. How much more agreeable I might be if I carved a little Cinq á Sept into my day, a very modern take on 'me-time', and - switching off all mobile tracking devices (because as far as the blackberry or the iPhone know, I could be stuck on the underground) - idle into a smart bar for a reviving cocktail with a good book or in the company of an interesting friend. Please don't take 'friend' as a euphemism: to be properly relaxing, my take on le Cinq á Sept is easier if the agenda is uncomplicated. But the sweetest pleasures often need an illicit element, and in the case of my Cinq á Sept, this means home thinking I'm still at work, and work thinking I've gone home...when all the time I'm lounge-lizarding.
THREE OF THE BEST PLACES TO CINQ A SEPT
Why? For the super-chic euro-crowd and the unbelievably flattering light after dusk.
Where to sit: At the bar, no one interesting sits at the tables at this time of day.
What to drink: Better Negronis than any bar in Milan
5A Burlington Gardens
T: +44 (0)20 7434 1500
Why? For the Gatsby-esque glamour and Bollinger by the glass
Where to sit? The tables nearest the bar are perfect if drinking a deux
What to drink? A Sidecar - it's not on the menu, but Bar Americain's alchemy turns this classic mix of Remy Martin, Cointreau and lemon juice into something spectacular
20 Sherwood Street
London W1F 7ED
020 7734 4888
Coburg Bar, The Connaught
Why? Sink into the warm embrace of one of the Coburg's velvet armchairs and you'll never want to leave.
Where to sit? The table near the fireplace under the Julian Opies offers good people watching opportunities
What to drink? The extremely comprehensive cocktail list reminds one why 'cocktail' is a verb as well as a noun.
The Coburg Bar at The Connaught