Match Box is located in a really great spot. It's about as central as you can get and a mere 3 minute walk from Reading Train Station. I walked over to Match Box from Revolution (now owned by The New Inventive Bar Company instead of their former name, "Inventive Leisure") with a few friends and I won't lie to you, we had had quite a few wines and maybe a few shots before we rocked up. Match Box was running a student night (yes, I'm too old, but yes the drinks are going to be cheap) so I was quite shocked when the guy on the door slapped us with a £6 entry fee. £6 in Reading on a Thursday AND a student night is quite a hefty price to pay when #LUX at Sakura (an established and well attended night run by events company Clique) charges £4 or £5 and only go up to £6 when it gets pretty late.
Reading is really heavily saturated by events companies that all spend a great deal of time trying to be innovative around what they offer on each "club night" they run at each bar. We did some research from the smoking area of Revs (classy) and uncovered that the spectacular in play that night was named Playground and the drinks deals were as follows:
- £2 Jagerbombs
- £2.95 Student Cocktails (no, I have no clue what the hell a student cocktail is)
- £3 Double Vodka mixer
- £2 Single mixer
The venue makes a really good first impression when you walk in. The designers have gone for a Berlin-esque yellow and black finish with exposed brickwork, factory lighting (exposed hanging bulbs), a lot of black gloss and brushed metal New York barstools. There's a photobooth at the front of the venue near the large glass windows which is free to use (a BRILLIANT marketing ploy by the business). The photobooth acts as a free photographer for the venue as all of the photos are published to the Match Box Facebook page the morning after. It encourages students to hunt their photos down and get tagging and actually serves as a great promotional tool. The photobooth also prints out physical copies if you can be bothered to wait 20 seconds for the printout. I had a clutchbag full of them by the end of the night and I'm not sure what sort of look I was going for but I'm pretty sure I ruined about 90 potentially lovely photos.
The DJ was actually very good (I don't know who he is) and the venue got pretty busy by about 00:30am. So busy that we decided to venture upstairs to the smoking/seating area where I quite literally took my life and personal well-being into my own hands. The staircase upstairs is like some sort of Crystal Maze Challenge and I was quite surprised when I reached the top and wasn't handed a pretend crystal orb by Richard O'Brien. To summarise, there isn't enough room for a flow of people to head up at the same time as the people who want to come downstairs. This creates a sort of shit Hunger Games scenario where girls in heels pretty much throw themselves against the walls with their clutch bags and wine glasses and piledrive down the stairs onto the dancefloor. This situation is made worse by the fact that both sets of toilets are located halfway up the stairs. The busier it gets, the longer the queue for the ladies toilets and the more dangerous the tiny dwarf-width staircase becomes. I watched 3 girls fall up (or down) these stairs in the space of about 45 minutes, I feel like it's a matter of time before something more serious happens.
The owners of Match Box have clearly spent a decent amount of money in all the right places. I think the grand opening was dulled slightly by the opening of RYND across town (a BBQ restaurant and cocktail bar which boasts an eerily similar refurb that includes exposed brickwork and a lot of American influence) but the students of Reading have clearly embraced Match Box as a great night out and students have a lot of choice when it comes to nights out in Reading, Berkshire. The bar staff are completely adequate and the speed of service now is much quicker than it was back in September but they lack the personal touch. The bartenders at RYND and All Bar One and even Sakura seem to be having fun behind the bar and there may even be a cheeky bit of flaring going down but the Match Box bartenders are a bit timid and perhaps not friendly enough. That being said the glassware was clean, my drink was poured properly and the price was good whereas the prices at RYND are bordering on ludicrous for certain drinks.
I'd like to see Match Box do a bit more in terms of a night that isn't marketed at students. I've not been in there for an evening of cocktails or wine because the thought of a thousand students descending on the bar is very real and possible, and I think they're potentially missing a trick there especially as Match Box is closed on a Tuesday and Wednesday. Half price cocktails and 2 bartenders would cover them for a quieter and older audience who typically have more money to spend in general.
TL;DR? Match Box is a strong stamp on the jumble that is Reading nightlife. They've secured a good base of regular students and the venue is quite impressively renovated. I'm excited to see how their next few months pan out...