There’s more to cabaret than lounge-singing crooners. With niches ranging from retro-style burlesque to drag queens, satirical wordsmiths to avant-garde situationists and polished character comedians to spine-stretching circus acts, no two shows are quite the same. Such diversity within the cabaret scene begs one question: where can you find the good stuff?
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The best cabaret clubs in London
The sticky red carpet and broken lampshades perfectly suit the quirky dress-up parties, cabaret line-ups and prop-themed nights at this cradle of the retro boom. Dancetastic troupe Sink the Pink host off-the-wall shindigs and the club is home to adventurous nights such as the all-female Blue Stocking Society and David Lynch-themed Double R Club. The mood is friendly, the playlist upbeat and the air full of arty playful mischief.
The scandalously successful New York nightspot established a London branch in early 2011. You won't get in unless you have deep pockets (we’re talking thousands) or know someone but they've remodelled the iconic former Raymond Revue Bar site a treat, if you like decadence. The skills-based turns are very strong; others lean toward the titillating or prioritise production values over originality. Stand-out is the extraordinary transgendered performer Rose Wood.
Some staggeringly clever design means that although there’s room for just 60 in this subterranean converted Victorian loo, CellarDoor never feels claustrophobic. Musical-theatre cabaret crooners, drag queens and snuff parties (as in taking snuff) are the order of the day, giving this sleek establishment a vintage feel. Nearly all shows are free and often great fun – EastEnd Cabaret regularly appear and Champagne Charlie’s Tuesday open-mic night is an institution.
The successor to the institution that was Pizza on the Park, this jazz and cabaret venue is also part of the Pizza Express stable. The bright, spacious basement space has something of a cruise-ship feel (where does that staircase actually go?) and sight-lines aren't always great but it's the city's premier platform for New York-style jazz-singing and musical-theatre-influenced cabaret work, often attracting big names from the West End and across the pond.
Tucked away in a corner of the City, this cabaret outpost from the Proud stable is one of the lushest dinner-cabaret spaces in town, with a well-positioned thrust stage nestling below plush, cosy booths. The modern British menu is good too, particularly at special-offer rates, though the shows aim for spectacle rather than substance: often high on technical skills, they tend to be low on character or provocation. A popular choice for hen parties.
This legendary queer performance pub has a star-studded past (the gay Kray used to drink here, Regina Fong held court and Lily Savage got her start behind the bar) and insistently eclectic line-up. On Saturday there’s seminal club night Duckie, with Amy Lamé hosting turns that range from live art to porn puppets; other staples include the raucous Sunday show from the DE Experience and regular runs from the legendary David Hoyle. It's also home to the Hot August Fringe festival.
A major 2011 refurbishment of this bastion of new theatre included the launch of Downstairs, a dedicated comedy and cabaret space. Its hard lines, low stage and packed table seating arguably favour the former over the latter but it consistently books outstanding talent from the international cabaret circuit, from Justin Vivian Bond, Meow Meow and Caroline Nin to our own David Hoyle, Bourgeois & Maurice and the Tiger Lillies.
This louche, intimate basement venue serves up some of the best burlesque in town beneath writhing absinthe-inspired arabesques. The focus is on glam, accessible nights hosted by the likes of Ivy Paige and Agent Lynch, with regular rounds of afternoon tea – what could be better than nipple tassels, Champagne and freshly made scones? Killer cocktails and late-night dancing too.