For a updated 2018 guide to London’s best speakeasy bars, click here.
Tonight sees the gala première of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby movie at the opening of this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Out of all the decades of the 20th century, the 1920s is the one which appears the most decadent, stylish and hedonistic. Personally for me, it’s my favourite decade of last century, I just love the fashion, the architecture and the cocktails. It’s safe to say, the impending release of the F Scott Fitzgerald adaptation has kicked off Gatsby fever, with many shops, bars and restaurants embracing the 1920s with themed menus, events and fashions. So if you’ve got a taste for the period and want to have your own Gatsby night (or day), here’s Metro Girl’s guide to both pop-up and permanent 1920s and Gatsby-themed venues and events around London.
1920s and prohibition themed bars and club nights
- Bourne & Hollingsworth Bar
Intimate basement cocktail bar in Fitzrovia looks like a grannies’ tea room, yet serve some strong cocktails which pack a punch. Bourne & Hollingsworth, 28 Rathbone Place, Fitzrovia, W1T 1JF. Nearest station: Goodge Street or Tottenham Court Road. For more information, visit the Bourne & Hollingsworth website.
- Cellar Door
A former Victorian men’s public toilet at Aldwych has been converted into a basement bar. Features a range of cocktails, bar snacks, snuff (!) and a range of entertainment, including cabaret and burlesque. Open from 6pm until 1am nightly. Cellar Door, Zero Aldwych, WC2E 7DN. Nearest station: Covent Garden or Temple. For more information, visit Cellar Door’s website. Read Metro Girl’s review following a recent visit.
- Evans & Peel Detective Agency
Basement speakeasy bar and restaurant in Earl’s Court. With cocktails being the main draw and 1920s experience, also features occasional live music. Booking in advance recommended. Evans & Peel Detective Agency, 310c Earls Court Rd, Earl’s Court, SW5 9BA. Nearest station: Earl’s Court. For more information, visit the Evans & Peel website.
- 69 Colebrooke Row
Twenties-style cocktail bar in the backstreets of Islington. Billed as ‘The Bar With No Name’, it’s a tight squeeze with only 30 seats. Includes experimental cocktails, an occasional pianist and the chance to take a cocktail masterclass. Reservations highly recommended. 69 Colebrooke Row, Islington, N1 8AA. Nearest station: Angel. For more information, visit the 69 Colebrooke Row website.
- Beaufort Bar @ The Savoy
You’ll be spoiled for choice from this extensive cocktail menu at the stunning black and gold, Art Deco bar in The Savoy Hotel. Excellent service, frequent live music with cocktails averaging £14.50 each. The Savoy, Savoy Court, The Strand, Westminster, WC2R OEU. Nearest station: Charing Cross, Embankment, Covent Garden or Temple. For more information, visit the Savoy’s website. Read Metro Girl’s review of the bar here.
- Happiness Forgets
Cocktail bar in a Hoxton Square basement. Reservations recommended. Happiness Forgets, 8-9 Hoxton Square, Shoreditch, N1 6NU. Nearest station: Shoreditch High Street (overland) or Old Street. For more information, visit the Happiness Forgets website.
- The Lucky Pig
A speakeasy-themed basement bar in a Fitzrovia backstreet. Featuring Art Deco décor, red velvet curtains and an extensive cocktail list. Open Tues-Sat. The Lucky Pig, 5 Clipstone Street, Fitzrovia, W1W 6BB. Nearest station: Great Portland Street or Goodge Street. For more information, visit the Lucky Pig website. Check out Metro Girl’s review of The Lucky Pig.
- St James Bar @ Sofitel London St James
Hotel bar inspired by Coco Chanel’s 1920s Paris apartment. Features vintage and signature cocktails, champagne and bar menu. Sofitel London St James, 6 Waterloo Place, St James, SW1Y 4AN. Nearest station: Charing Cross or Piccadilly Circus. For more information, visit the Sofitel St James website.
- Rise 46
A 1920s-inspired bar in Clapham, featuring live music and entertainment. Open daily from 5pm, closing times vary, but 2am on Friday and Saturday nights. Rise 46, 46 Battersea Rise, Clapham, SW11 1EE. Nearest station: Clapham Junction. For more information, check out the Rise 46 website.
- Various dates : Prohibition 1920s Parties
This company has been hosting 1920s-themed parties in the capital for several years in various secret locations. Dress up in the 1920s-style to drink cocktails from tea cups, dance to live bands and DJs, gamble and watch silent cinema. Tickets: £20. For more information, visit the Prohibition 1920s website.
- Various dates : The Candlelight Club
A pop-up vintage nightclub which appears in various secret locations. Customers are asked to dress in 1920s-themed costumes, but nothing too flammable as the venue is lit entirely by candles! Includes one-off cocktail menu, special themes, live jazz bands and vintage DJs in a secret London location. For more information and tickets, visit the Candlelight Club website. For Metro Girl’s review of a Candlelight Club night, click here.
- Every Saturday : Kit Kat Club @ Proud Cabaret City
The City branch of the Proud Cabaret chain is transformed into a 1920s speakeasy on Saturday nights, featuring 1920s menu and burlesque performers. £49 inc three course meal and show. Reservations highly recommended. No.1 Mark Lane, City of London, EC3R 7AH. Nearest station: Tower Hill or Monument. For more information and booking, visit Proud Cabaret’s website.
Specials events during the film’s release (Spring 2013)
- Now until 20 May 2013 : 1920s-themed pop-up bar at Harrods
The folks at Knightsbridge’s iconic department store have transformed the underground tasting room and wine shop into a 1920s-themed bar in honour of the film’s release. Includes cocktail-making demonstrations and special creations by Courvoisier, Hendrick’s and Johnnie Walker available for consumption. Open during store hours. Harrods also features themed cocktail recipes and inspiration for fashion on their online ‘Summer Of Now’ shop. 87-135 Brompton Road, Knightsbridge, SW1X 7XL. Nearest station: Knightsbridge. For more information, visit the Harrods website.
- 16 – 19 May 2013 : Whiteleys Goes Great Gatsby
To celebrate the opening of the Great Gatsby film, Whiteleys shopping centre is hosting four days of 1920s-themed events. Includes Charleston performances, swing dancing lessons, 1920s-inspired fashion shows, beauty boudoir, piano playing, photo booths and a speakeasy bar. Following the launch night on Thursday 16th, the event will be running from noon-5pm on Friday until Sunday. Whiteleys Shopping Centre, Queensway, W2 4YN. Nearest station: Bayswater and Queensway. For more information, visit the Whiteleys website.
- From 1 May 2013 onwards : Roaring ’20s Afternoon Tea @ Harvey Nichols
Season at The Fifth Floor restaurant of Harvey Nichols will be serving a unique Gatsby-inspired afternoon tea experience. Includes lobster rolls and peanut butter roll-up ‘Gatsby’ cigars as well as scones, macaroons, served with a glass of Champagne with gold leaf or prohibition cocktail. Available daily from 3-5pm. £30 for afternoon tea, or £40 including cocktail or Champagne. Harvey Nichols, 109-125 Knightsbridge, SW1X 7RJ. Nearest station: Knightsbridge. For more information, visit the Harvey Nichols website.
- 23 May 2013 : Gatsby night @ Libertine
The Fitzrovia club is hosting a one-off 1920s-themed night featuring cocktails, champagne, canapés, jazz beats and special performances. Dress code: 1920s glamour. Tickets: £30. From 8.30pm – 3am. Libertine, 4 Winsley Street, Fitztrovia, W1W 8HF. Nearest station: Oxford Circus. For more information, visit the Libertine’s website.
- Every Thursday in May : Great Gatsby Nights @ The Montagu
The Montagu restaurant at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, The Churchill is laying on a 1920s-inspired three course set-menu, including a coupe of champagne on arrival and live music from the hotel’s resident band Hot Dog Corn Dogs. Guests are encouraged to dress in themed fancy dress, with the best dressed winning free tickets to a screening of the film and the chance to win a three night stay at The Grand Hyatt New York. Price: From £35 per person for set menu and a glass of champagne. 30 Portman Square, Marylebone, W1H 7BH. Nearest station: Bond Street or Marble Arch. For more information, visit The Churchill’s website.
For a look at what London looked like in the ’20s, watch this amazing colour video shot in 1927.
If the coverage of the Cannes Film Festival inspires you to visit the town, read Metro Girl’s blog post on my trip to the French Riviera last summer.
Watch Claude Frisse-Greene’s amazing footage of the capital in the 1920s.
A rare colour film of London in 1927 has been making waves on the internet in recent weeks. Uploaded by Tim Sparke on Vimeo three years ago, it’s audience has suddenly soared, with over 500,000 views so far. Shot by early British film pioneer Claude Frisse-Greene, it uses colour techniques that his father William had been experimenting with. The just under six-minute film shows the hustle and bustle of city life, with footage filmed at the Thames, Tower Bridge, Tower Of London, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens and Whitehall. It also includes shots of traffic going over the old London Bridge – designed by Victorian John Rennie – which now stands in Lake Havasu City in Arizona. Open-top buses, cars and horse and carriages are seen trotting past the relatively new Cenotaph in Whitehall, where a few pedestrians are seen bending down to read the wreaths. One thing I love about this film is so much looks familiar – but yet there’s no traffic lights or road markings, with policemen controlling the traffic. Marble Arch stands behind some ornate gates which no longer exist – presumably an exit from Hyde Park before the busy road was cut into it, marooning the arch as a polluted traffic island. The Thames looks incredibly busy with so many barges and tug boats. The river is a lot more accessible, with Westminster Pier embarking passengers on tiny boats compared to the Clippers today. Petticoat Lane Market in Spitalfields is as busy as ever, with more men than women it seems, with fur stoles and stuffed rabbits amongst the goods on sale. The men are predominantly wearing flat caps, while some very stylish women in 1920s fashion are seen walking through Hyde Park.
NB: Since this post was written, the original video was taken down, but I have found this extended version – without the modern soundtrack – instead.
For more blog posts on London history, click here.
Like the 1920s? You may enjoy these London blog posts…
The history behind the blue police telephone posts in the City of London and Westminster.
One afternoon strolling through the City Of London, I happened upon an old Police Telephone Post, on the junction of Queen Victoria Street and Friday Street outside Bracken House. I had very rarely seen posts and the larger Police Telephone Boxes in the capital – in fact most are so well hidden you may never even notice them. After taking a photo of the well-preserved one near Mansion House tube station, I was intrigued to find out the history of them.
Of course, when most people see a Police Box today they are likely to think of the Tardis from the Doctor Who TV series. While the Time Lord’s Tardis is a huge time travelling machine with lots of space inside to move around (and fictional!), the real things managed to squeeze in a telephone, first aid kit, a stool, fire extinguisher and small heater.
Police boxes and posts were important tools for the Metropolitan Police from the late 1920s until the late 1960s, when they began being phased out with the advent of personal radios. From a peak of 685 in 1953, there aren’t many left in London today. However, some have been left in the city’s streets as a reminder of the world before mobile phones and radios came along and changed modern policing. Generally they remain a sky blue – their official colour in the City of London, however some have been painted different colours.
Police Telephone Posts and Boxes aren’t unique to London and were actually introduced in Glasgow in 1891. However, while English posts were blue, Scottish ones were red. It wasn’t until the late 1920s that they were introduced in London by the Metropolitan Police.
Posts and boxes were for officers on the beat and the public to use to contact the police – an alternative to 999 when people didn’t have access to their own telephones or mobiles.
At the top of the post is a red lantern, which would flash when police were required to contact their station. It’s thought the square frame surrounding the bulb was inspired by Sir John Soane‘s lantern feature on the mausoleum of the Dulwich Picture Gallery.
In a bit of nostalgia, a new police phone box was erected outside Earl’s Court tube station in 1996 to keep an eye on the area’s undesirables, although is now longer manned. It does contact CCTV functions for watching over the action outside the station and continues to be maintained by the police. Unsurprisingly it attracts a lot of Doctor Who enthusiasts in search of the Tardis.
All the Police Telephone Boxes I found in the City appeared to be well-preserved, with a sign informing the public they can no longer use them to contact emergency services. It reads: ‘An original police telephone. Free for use of public. The telephone is no longer operational. Please use nearby payphone.’ Given that hardly anyone uses payphones these days, the signs were obviously written some time ago.
However, in the City of Westminster, it appeared the council aren’t so bothered about the state of their old posts. The post in Piccadilly Circus – on the junction with the northside of Piccadilly – was looking quite sad. It has been incorrectly painted a wrong shade of blue and due to its location on such a busy thoroughfare in terms of both foot and vehicle traffic, it’s taken a battering over the years. (Watch footage of the Piccadilly Circus box being used by a policeman in 1946).
The telephone post located in Grosvenor Square in Mayfair is also looking rather neglected. Although it’s the same shade of blue as the ones in the City, the black ‘Police Public Call Post’ sign near the top is missing. However, the old sign on the door still suggests you could use it to call for help. It reads: ‘Police telephone free for use of public. Advice and assistance obtainable immediately. Officers and cars respond to urgent calls. Pull to open.’ Perhaps a bit misleading to a visitor from out-of-town… no one is going to come if you try to use this post!
A completely different style of telephone box to the Tardis ones appears in London’s iconic Trafalgar Square. Many would have passed the circular box, which has been described as ‘Britain’s smallest police station’. It was built in 1926 out of an existing lamp plinth (the lamp fitting dates back to 1826) so police could keep an eye on demonstrations in the Square. It was created to blend in with the walls of Trafalgar Square after public objections to previous designs. Inside was a phone line direct to Scotland Yard and whenever it was picked up, a flashing light in the ornamental light on top would flash alerting nearby officers to trouble. No longer in use by police, it’s now used to store cleaning equipment for City of Westminster street cleaners.
For Metro Girl’s blog post on another tiny police station in Hyde Park Corner, click here.
For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.