Supper clubs revival
Supper clubs made an unexpected comeback last year – now we‘re spoiled for choice
You wait ages for a proper cabaret supper club, and then three come along at once. At least, they did last spring when Volupte, the Play Room and The Pigalle Club threw open their doors within weeks of each other. There was, admittedly, some behind the hand whispering about whether they would last (some nights were less than busy, you see). But summer came and went, and suddenly, you couldn’t get a table for love nor money; they were selling out in the blink of an eye, and even got busier in the lead up to Christmas. So much so that this year, Volupte is putting on two shows a night just to satisfy the eager cabaret beavers, the Pigalle Club now runs evening retro clubs after its cabaret shows, and the Play Room’s monthly cabaret supper club goes weekly from March.
The one-off and weekly shows – think Bonobo Presents, Flash Monkey presents Cabaret Casbah, Teatro… – are also already off to a cracking start this year, not to mention jazz mecca, Ronnie Scott’s refit.
While most people can get their head around vintage threads and burlesque acts, cabaret still means very little to the wider nightlife audience. For those whose closest supper club experience is munching on popcorn at a movie, what’s it actually like? In a word: fantastic. It doesn’t matter if the act is breathtaking or cringe-worthy, either. From jazz and funk-fuelled crooners at the Pigalle to Volupte’s love for all things burlesque and camp, through to a seemingly endless line-up of stand-up comics, spoken-word poets, sassy singers, burlesque starlets and firebreathers at the likes of Bonobo Presents, the key word ‘variety’, and London’s got no shortage of entertainers.
‘The great thing about a variety show,’ says Richard Atherton, director of Bonobo Presents which is at the Play Room on February 1, ‘is that some acts people like, some acts people don’t, and it immediately creates a conversation. Whether you like them or not, the acts have to be capable of grabbing an audience, they’re fighting for people’s attention who are already eating, drinking and talking. An act has to interrupt them to perform, and that takes strong stage presence.’
It’s not all about the performers, though. ‘It’s equally about the food and the show,’ says Vince Power, owner of the Pigalle Club, ‘that’s the supper club experience.’
All very well and good if you’re a City boy with a bonus to burn, but at around £40 a head, surely supper clubs aren’t for the man or woman on the street?
Mark Walsh, the Pigalle’s marketing manager, disagrees. ‘We’re not a spit and sawdust place serving £1.50 pints but we’re deliberately open to everyman; we wouldn’t turn anyone away. It’s a nice juxtaposition – everyman can walk into somewhere that’s plush. We recently introduced a bar menu, so you can order a burger or salad for around £9. We don’t have a door charge, so you could come in, drink water and watch the acts for free.’
While the Pigalle Club and Volupte have sit, sup and swoon cabaret most nights of the week, the Play Room has carved out a niche for itself in the West End by offering R&B and house nights, too.
‘It’s a tough market in the West End,’ says Natalie Rous, the Play Room’s marketing manager. ‘It’s very hard to get the mix right.’
Everything at the venue screams kitsch – from the divine zebra-covered walls and sofas to the glittering chandeliers – and when it comes to dining, well, that’s kitsch too. ‘We’re not a proper restaurant with candles on the table and cutlery laid out. It’s more like TV dinners, with a three-course gourmet meal served on a padded tray. It’s fun and formal, and that’s what sets us apart.’
Despite London going from a barely-there cabaret supper club scene to having top quality shows most nights of the week, its strength lies in the difference between the operators. And with promoters pursuing wider and more interesting acts, it can only get better.
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