London's best small venues

Londoners might live in Europe‘s biggest city but they know the best things often come in little packages. So,in celebration of all things small and beautiful, Time Out‘s crack team of critics duck down into the most intimate performance spaces in town

  • Pubs and bars

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    Rocking out at the eclectic – and compact Betsey Trotwood in Farringdon

    Betsey Trotwood

    Capacity 150
    The mood here is suitably arty and eclectic. Stretched over three floors, entertainment includes comedy, poetry, readings and gigs.
    Betsey Trotwood, 56 Farringdon Rd, EC1 (020 7336 7326) Farringdon tube. Sun-Wed 12noon-12midnight; Thur-Sat 12noon-1am; first show Mon-Fri 8pm; Sat-Sun varies. £3-£6.


    Capacity 60
    This former Victorian loo has had a stunning refit and is now London’s dinkiest cabaret. Performers range from West End stars to the edgy postmodern likes of Bourgeois & Maurice.
    CellarDoor, Zero Aldwych, WC2 (020 72408848/ Covent Garden tube. Mon-Sun 4pm-1am; first show 9pm. Free.

    The Defectors Weld

    Capacity 320
    A quirky, loungey, gastro venue by day, which morphs into a drinking den/DJ spot by night.
    The Defectors Weld, 170 Uxbridge Rd, W12 (020 8749 0008/ Shepherd’s Bush tube. Mon-Thur 12noon-12midnight; Fri-Sat 12noon-1am; Sun 12noon-11pm. Free.


    Capacity 180Subterranean, stylishly chic members-only bar/club where punters feast on a staple diet of live gigs, comedy nights, films and DJs.Ginglik, 1 Shepherd’s Bush Green, W12 (020 8749 2310/ Shepherd’s Bush tube. Mon, Tue, Thur 7pm-1am; Wed 7pm-12midnight; Fri-Sat 7pm-2am; Sun 7-12.30am; first show 8pm. £5-£6.

    Public Life

    Capacity 60Affectionately nicknamed ‘the toilet’ due to its former incarnation as a public loo, this barcum-club is about as underground as it gets.Public Life, 82a Commercial St, E1 (020 7375 1631/ Aldgate East tube. Mon-Wed 11am-12midnight; Thur-Sat 11am-1am; Sun 12noon-11.30pm. £5-£15.

    12 Bar

    Capacity 120Rough-and-ready music venue, so intimate that four on stage is a squeeze and the balcony’s in touching distance of the mic. Visiting acts andaspiring artists alike cut their teeth here.12 Bar, Denmark St, WC2H (020 7240 2120/ Tottenham Court Rd tube. Mon-Thur 7.30pm-1am; Fri-Sat 7.30pm-3am; Sun 7pm-12.30pm; first act 7-7.30pm. £3-£6.

    Fringe theatre

    Bush Theatre

    Capacity 81Veteran new-writing theatre above a pub which has discovered a whole range of talent from Victoria Wood to David Eldridge. The auditorium no longer requires members of the audience to crawl up banks of foam seating and sit with their knees firmly planted in the back of the person in front of them. Now under the artistic directorship of Josie Rourke.Bush Theatre, 2 Goldhawk Rd, W12 (020 7602 370/ Shepherd’s Bush tube. Mon-Sat 8pm. Currently showing ‘tHe dYsFUnCKshOnalZ!’ until Dec 22. Show Mon-Sat 8pm, Fri, Sat mats 3pm. £10-£15.

    Finborough Theatre

    Capacity 50Artistic director Neil McPherson has a nose for sniffing out neglected plays. The pub’s now quite stylish but the theatre remains much the same – a black box with few creature comforts which manages to stage more hits than flops.Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Rd, SW10 (020 7373 3842/ West Brompton or Earl’s Court tube. Currently showing ‘The Six-Days World’ until Dec 22. Tue-Sat 7.30pm; Sat & Sun mats 3pm. £9-£13.


    Capacity 54This famous Islington fringe venue has become one of those legendary gigs for stand-ups with some huge names having performed here fromEddie Izzard to Harry Hill. Situated above a pub, the atmosphere is always warm and friendly and it has a regular programme of theatre andcomedy and often hosts extended sets by comics pre- and post-Edinburgh.Hen & Chickens, 109 St Paul’s Rd, N1 (020 7704 2001/ Highbury & Islington tube/rail. Mon-Sun 7pm; Sat mats 3pm. £5-£12.

    Old Red Lion

    Capacity 60The room above this Angel pub was used for rehearsals before it became a theatre in 1979. Wooden pews line two sides of the room. Thereare no in-house productions but since Helen Devine took over as artistic director the standard of work from the visiting companieshas been high.Old Red Lion, 418 St John St, EC1 (020 7837 7816/ Angel tube. Currently showing ‘The Slow Sword’ until Dec 8.
    Show Mon-Sat 7.30pm; Sun 6pm. £10-£12.

    New End Theatre

    Capacity 84Famously, this theatre started out life as the mortuary for the now defunct New End Hospital. Since 1974, however, the only deadbodies have been actors dying a death on stage. The programme is a mix of cabaret, one man shows and the occasional small-cast play.New End Theatre, 27 New End, NW3 (020 7472 5800/ Hampstead tube. Currently showing ‘Happy Christmas’ until Dec 23. Show Tue-Sat 7.30pm, Sat, Sun mats 3.30pm. £13-£17.

    Open-mic nights

    There are plenty of great, small places to discover the best new talent, or have a go yourself. Here’s a few of the best, with some words of advice from the people who run them…

    Spoonful Of Poison

    Capacity (main room) 250Anything goes from music, poetry and comedy to storytelling or art. The only rule is no covers, unless they’re mind-blowingly original. Boss’s tip ‘Have fun and enjoy yourself. And don’t do covers unless they are extremely unorthodox such as singing songs from “Oliver” in a dress while sporting a massive beard.’ Spoon, Spoonful of Poison.Spoonful of Poison, The Rhythm Factory,16-18 Whitechapel Rd, E1 (020 7375 3774/ Aldgate East tube. Every Mon from 8pm. Free.

    Sharp’s Folk Club

    Capacity (bar) 50Long-established, friendly and intimate acoustic singing night where you can try out your own stuff or maybe a sea shanty or two. Previous guests have included Roy Bailey. Boss’s tip ‘Say you are a beginner and just get up there. You can’t go to a class to learn how to be a club singer, it is just from experience. You can learn a lot from listening to the other performers. We don’t mind politics but nothing too obscene.’ Sheila Finn, Sharp’s Folk Club.
    Sharp’s Folk Club, Cecil Sharp House, 2 Regent’s Park Rd, NW1(020 7485 2206/ Camden Town tube. Every Tue from 7.30pm. Adm £2.50 or £3.50 with guests.

    Open Mic

    Capacity 150A night for homegrown talent so try to avoid going down the karaoke route at this amplified night where anything goes. Boss’s tip ‘Bring your mates down for moral support and don’t be scared of the mic.’ Robert Harrison, Half Moon pub.
    Open mic, Half Moon pub, 10 Half Moon Lane, SE24 (020 7274 2733/ Herne Hill rail. Every Tue from 8pm. Free.

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    Converted toilet Cellar Door

    Trash Tuesdays

    Capacity 60
    The host Champagne Charlie will get everyone up and singing at this fun night. Belt out classics, jazz or showtunes accompanied by the house pianist. Boss’s tip ‘Have no fear and don’t worry about looking silly because the whole point is giving it a go. People will always help you out if you forget the words. Choose well known songs first, before you banch out to more obscure numbers as the crowd can join in.' Kate Berman, CellarDoor.
    Trash Tuesdays, CellarDoor, Zero Aldwych, WC2 (020 7240 8848/ Covent Garden tube. Every Tuesday from 9pm. Free.


    Capacity 250An acoustic night for unsigned singers/songwriters/musicians to perform material in front of a warm and receptive audience and a good sized crowd. Mainly prebooked showcases with an open mic at the end of the night but anyone can apply for a slot via the MySpace page.Boss’s tip ‘Know your material inside out, don’t stop mid-song, be prepared to play up to five songs, if playing acoustic guitar make sure you’ve got a built-in pickup and finally relax – it’s only open mic!’ Jamie Mortimer, LiCKS:Unplugged.
    Belushi’s Bar, 28 Hammersmith Broadway, W6 ( 8748 5285) Hammersmith tube. Every Sunday from 7.30pm. Free.

    Virtually Acoustic Club

    Capacity 50All styles are welcome at this friendly night. Mainly singer-songwriters but there is also a piano if you think you’re the next Jamie Cullum. Boss’s tip ‘Try and play your own compositions and if you are going to do covers, be original. Get out of your bedroom and come on down. It is the perfect place to meet possible new bandmates or duo partners. Check out for open mic listings.’ David Sherwood, Virtually Acoustic Club.
    The Perseverance, 11 Shroton St, NW1 (020 7723 7469/ Marylebone tube. Every Mon from 7.30pm. Free.


    Capacity 50Acoustic Night of mainly guitar-based solo or group performances. There is also recording equipment if you want to make a live demo. Boss’s tip: ‘Open mics are great practice for both microphone and instrument techniques, and stage presence.’ Joel Armsden, eARmusic.eARmusic, Monkey Chews, 2 Queens Crescent, NW5 (020 7267 6406/www. Chalk Farm tube. Every Tuesday from 7.30pm. Free.

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