Vintage has never been bigger and with the release of The Great Gatsby movie last year, it appears the roaring ’20s have been… well roaring again. There is now a host of Art Deco and Speakeasy-themed bars in London as entrepreneurs catch on to the soaring popularity of drinkers wishing they were in another time.
Taking the 1920s theme a step further is The Candlelight Club, a touring pop-up nightclub featuring live music, cocktails, dancing and overall ambiance from yesteryear. I had wanted to get tickets for some time, but finally got round to booking them when I was tasked with organising a hen party recently. The Candlelight Club takes place on sporadic dates in various secret London locations – with them only being revealed a few days before the event, so you need to keep an eye on the website for dates.
A group of nine of us booked our £20 tickets quite far in advance and were able to take advantage of the early bird deal. In addition to your entry, there are options to dine or have a table for an extra cost. As expected the dress code was 1920s so lots of fringing, pleats, spaghetti straps, feather boas, long pearls and Mary Jane shoes. Although hen parties – such as our group – are welcome, try to blend in with the theme so no bright pink sashes or inflatable genitalia! We bought our bride a ‘bride to be’ rosette badge which was the same colour as her dress which was a subtle and simple. The venues of The Candlelight Club tend to be different and all the time, and on the night in question we attended, was a stunning building built in the 1920s in West London lit by candlelight.
In addition to the Twenties theme, The Candlelight Club also has a further theme each night – ours was the Excelsior club, a grander version of the usual club with sweeping staircases, waiters in full suits and a grand venue. Leading the entertainment was Champagne Charlie and his Bubbly Boys with dancing by the Bee Knees. We arrived about an hour after opening and missed out on any unreserved tables, but managed to get a few chairs for our group. It was rather quieter than expected at first before the live music started and with many people eating, which left guests soaking in the atmosphere, having costume envy and sampling the vintage-themed cocktails or bubbly. I particularly liked the bubbly being served in coupé champagne glasses, which nestle in your hand a lot easier than regular champagne flutes.
The atmosphere really changed once Champagne Charlie came on stage with his band. His mix of cheeky humour and singing soon got the crowd going. He also came over to our group and teased the bride with some risqué jokes. We were also treated to several performances by the very glamorous Bee Knees dancers. When the band weren’t performing, there was a vintage DJ spinning tracks so you could attempt the Charleston. In between shimmying, we could be found at the bar which was staffed by very dapper and friendly mixologists and barmen.
I can highly recommend Candlelight Club for a unique night out. The entertainment was brilliant and the venue was totally stunning. It was a refreshing change to my usual weekends to step back into the 1920s for the evening.
- The Candlelight Club takes place on various dates in various secret locations. Tickets highly recommended to be booked in advance. Check out the Candlelight Club website for dates and tickets.
For a guide to other 1920s bars and venues in London, click here.
Or if you fancy a trip to the 1950s instead, check out Metro Girl’s review of the Jive Party at the Rivoli Ballroom.
Secret Cinema events usually stays off-radar, fulfilling the ‘secret’ element to the title. Since it was first started 10 years ago by founder Fabien Riggall, it has hosted immersive experiences and screenings of classic films such as Shawshank Redemption, Grease and Casablanca. However, with the announcement two months ago that Secret Cinema were going to host the biggest live cinema event in the UK, it brought the company to a whole new level of publicity. I have long wanted to go to SC event, but have been waiting for the right film. When I found out they were presenting my favourite film Back To The Future, I knew I had to go. Admittedly, SC did experience some negative press in the run-up, with ticket problems and having cancelled the initial week of screenings, Thursday’s launch in East London easily proved the doubters wrong.
In the run up to Secret Cinema’s launch of ‘Secret Hill Valley’, my friends and I were each assigned our own characters. I was a student at Hill Valley High School, where the movie’s characters of Marty, Lorraine, George and Biff all went to school in the either ’50s or ’80s. We were given a list of props to bring to round out our character, such as sunglasses, a family photo and homework. Although SC’s BTTF screenings had been in the national press, the premise is to keep as many details secret as possible so not to ruin the experience for subsequent visitors. In my review, I’ll only give away what has been covered in the national press and the photos included so I don’t ruin the many surprises of the evening.
The dress code is 1955, so my friends and I all gathered at an East London train station dressed in petticoats, crisp white shirts with high ponytails and gelled back hairstyles armed with cushions (to sit on during the screening) and our various props. At the entrance, we handed in our cameras and phones to try to preserve the secrecy of Hill Valley. Although my friends and I kept reaching for our phones when spotting great photo opportunities, we soon got used to not having them, which gave us the freedom to truly immerse ourselves in the experience. Anyway, no one had mobile phones in 1955, so that would have spoiled the look.
Just like our hero Marty McFly (Michael J Fox) did in the movie, we walked through the country lanes approaching the town of Hill Valley, past the houses of some of the famous residents, such as the Baines, McFly and Tannen families. SC has recreated Courthouse Square with great detail, full of the familiar shops and businesses from the movie, such as Lou’s Café, Roy’s Records and the Hill Valley Telegraph. The town was also full of residents (played by actors), many familiar from the film, such as bully Biff Tannen cruising the square looking for trouble with his gang of cronies. Admittedly there were a lot of queues for the eating establishments, but with a couple of thousand people in attendance, this was inevitable. Visitors had 3 hours to enjoy the sights and sounds of Secret Hill Valley before the main event – the film’s screening – took place. This is where is helps to bring a cushion or blanket so you can park yourself on the grassy square of Hill Valley and watch the action on the big screen of the Courthouse – complete with its clock frozen in time at 10.04pm when it was struck by lightning. Following the screening, there is a chance to rock your socks off at the Enchantment Under The Sea dance in the High School, where George and Lorraine finally kissed for the first time in the movie, ensuring Marty’s existence ahead in 1985.
Tickets for the event are £53 which does sound steep – but this is more than a film screening. When you enter the life-sized town that SC have created and the large cast helping to transport you back to 1955, you soon realise why the pricing is such. However, all five people in my group of friends who attended and myself all agreed we would happily pay to return – it was such a brilliant experience.
- Secret Cinema Presents Back to the Future runs until 31 August 2014 and tickets are available for dates from 14-31 August via Secret Cinema’s official site.
For a review of Secret Cinema’s screening of The Great Dictator, click here.
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.
Over the past 10 years, partially thanks to Strictly Come Dancing, there has been a huge rise in partnered dance classes and actual dances as evening events. Salsa and Ceroc appear to be two of the most popular. Personally, I’ve always felt more comfortable dancing solo and freestyle, so haven’t really attempted to learn such dances… until now.
A dear friend who I have known all my life is getting married and decided to have a hen party. However, she was insistent she didn’t want anything tacky or showy, so no penis-themed paraphernalia, L plates and butt-grabbing claws. So for something a bit different, she decided to have a 1940s/1950s-themed vintage hen, which would culminate on a night out at the monthly Jive Party at the Rivoli Ballroom in Brockley, South East London.
Ahead of the actual night, I had to launch a search for my outfit. Although you don’t have to dress in vintage style at the Rivoli, there are plenty who do, and as we were on a hen ‘do it was only right we showed some unity and had some fun by dressing up. I already had a strapless prom dress with a bit of netting underneath, which I bolstered with a second net skirt (a huge selection is available from Amazon). Many in my party had opted for polka-dot and halterneck dresses or twin sets.
On the afternoon before the Jive Party – which started around 8pm – we all gathered at the bride-to-be’s home to transform ourselves into 1940s and 1950s divas, while sipping on bubbly and Mojitos. The bride’s future sister-in-law had organised for a visit from Lipstick & Curls – a vintage hair styling team – who spent several hours styling our hair into braids, victory rolls and beehives and painting our faces with winged eyeliner and red lipstick. I personally only had my hair done, but I can highly recommend the company, who were fast, friendly and left us all happy with our final look.
The Rivoli Ballroom is a unique gem in London in that it’s the only intact 1950s ballroom in the capital. Located on Brockley Road opposite Crofton Park train station, the large Grade-II listed ballroom includes a huge dancefloor, lots of plush seating and a separate bar area – but remember ‘no drinks on the dancefloor’! I’m a sucker for restored, period interiors so loved the ballroom immediately upon entering and were early enough to grab a table directly near the bar and the band. The variety of the crowd was surprising too – I have to confess I was expecting a predominantly middle-aged group, but it ranged from people in their 20s to 60s.
We were attending a monthly night organised by Jive Party. The night starts with a dance class for all those (like my hen group) who didn’t know what they were doing, some with a little experience, and experts who were happy to share their knowledge with the likes of us newbies. The jive routine was broken down into short sequences of moves and after learning a few steps, we were told to move along to change partners, so it gave everyone a good opportunity to meet fellow newbies or get some advice from an expert and also established a ‘we’re all in this having fun together’ vibe. I found the class a bit tricky, although got the main gist of the moves, but at this point had had a few flutes of bubbly so perhaps wasn’t in deep concentration!
Following the lesson, you’re free to hit the dancefloor and show off your moves to the sounds of the Jive Party band Oo-Bop-Sh’Bam, who played a mix of RnB, boogie, Jive and Rock ‘n’ Roll and really got the crowd going. Despite our hen party being (obviously) all women, there were no shortage of partners on offer, although we often danced with each other, which made deciding who was leading very difficult.
All in all, we all had a really fun night, which I highly recommend and suggest anyone making a big event of going to the Rivoli for a hen or landmark birthday should hire the team from Lipstick & Curls to make your retro evening complete. While I’m far from a Jive expert, I had such a laugh I will definitely be heading back.
- Rivoli Ballroom is located at 350 Brockley Road, Brockley, London SE4 2BY. Nearest train station: Crofton Park (20 minutes from Blackfriars). For details of what’s on visit the Rivoli’s website or to find out when the next Jive Party is, visit Jive Party’s website. Tickets for Jive Party, which included the lesson, were £15.
For more hen ideas in London, read my blog post on two hen ‘dos I organised earlier this year: Cluck cluck: Tale of a London hen weekend