There so many newfangled things to try in London, it can get a little overwhelming. You can go to a London escape room any day of the week (if you’re into being locked in cramped spaces with only your intelligence to save you), take a weird fitness class or sleep beside the lions in London zoo. But every now and then, a classic London activity renters the fold – and right now, it’s bingos time to shine.
There are 'alt' bingo nights of every description (music bingo, drag bingo, brunch bingo – you name it, they play it). But dabbing for a full house is no trend, just ask the regulars who file into giant cinemas-turned-bingo halls across London.
As a brand new bingo venue opens its doors in east London, we seek out the best places to make your mark. Eyes down – we’re feeling lucky…
The best bingo haunts in London
There are no greater vessels for time travel than the escalators up to Palace Bingo in Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre. They take you to a vast chamber, with a ceiling chandelier and ’60s hypno-spiral carpet, that can pack in 2,000 punters – so there’s plenty of space for new members to join, if you play your cards right. It’s a social club, a community centre, a part of the south London tapestry. It managed to survive the smoking ban, but like the rest of the shopping centre, it’s facing the threat of bulldozers. Support it while you can. The London Palace, first floor, Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre. Tube: Elephant & Castle. Prices vary, register in advance.
Cinema-size screens and row upon row of pale Formica tables fill the gigantic main space of Buzz Bingo Stratford, a former Gala Bingo, and the east London regulars sitting at them do not come to play, they come for some serious bingo, which means no messing about in the main hall. It’s all very high-tech now: you can use a touch screen (where the computer does most of the work), go analogue with a paper book or do it all at once. The screen doubles as a menu, so you can order food straight to your table (ham, egg and chips with a pint for less than a tenner – oh yes). On our visit, after a plate of fried mozzarella sticks and a £9 win, one Time Outer said ‘I think this is… the best night of my life.’ We reckon it’s worth a look. 341-351 High St. Tube: Stratford. Prices vary, paper bingo from £1.
Mecca Camden Town is one of the five surviving Mecca Bingos in London. Hackney’s Mecca shut its doors in 2015, a blow for the locals, who relied on the venue as a space to socialise. Camden doesn’t always fill its 1,200 capacity, but it does retain its diehard regulars and the odd group of millennial blow-ins in search of cheap pints (the Christmas party deal is bingo and a two-course meal for £16 per person, just FYI). As with the Buzz halls, bingo lingo isn’t really used these days – the game moves too fast for calls like ‘two little ducks’ – but Mecca is still the real deal. 180 Arlington Rd. m Camden Town. Prices vary, paper bingo from £1, register in advance.
It’s hard to imagine a bingo hall that serves bowls of salted edamame and espresso martinis when so many of London’s bingo haunts have closed to make way for… places that serve bowls of salted edamame and espresso martinis. But the people behind brand new venue Dabbers Social Bingo say the aim is to reinvigorate the game while ‘respecting the roots’. You’ll still have crowds clutching bingo cards, but think comedians instead of callers and burlesque dancers instead of fruit machines. Each day of the week will bring a new theme: it’ll be cranking up the UV for Disco Bingo Saturdays, poaching eggs for Family Brunch Bingo Sundays and hosting Vintage Bingo Tuesdays. There’ll also be an ‘immersive bingo lobby’. No balls will fly at anyone’s face, but there will be DJs, a bar, a custom-made bingo blower and enough tat to fill the set of ‘Phoenix Nights’. If you really want to put it to the test, bring your grandparents to the opening night. 18-22 Houndsditch. Tube: Aldgate. Open to the public from Mon Dec 3. Prices vary.
Venue says Bringing back bingo with a bang, Dabbers is open seven days a week and boasts incredible line-ups, huge prizes and delicious dining.
Buzz Bingo Tooting is another artist formerly known as Gala (and before that, as a Granada Cinema). Call it what you like – the impact of this Tooting sanctuary stays the same. The cathedral to the talkies opened with a screening of ‘Monte Carlo’ in 1931, and went on to stage shows by Frank Sinatra and the Rolling Stones. Today, its art deco arches echo with the sound of hot slot machines and the shuffle of Hush Puppies on carpet. Again, this is bingo for the big dogs, so if you’re going with a gang, don’t muck around during the main event. Even if you never get near a full house, you’ll be counting your lucky sevens you got to experience a night in this place. 50 Mitcham Rd. Tube: Tooting Broadway. Prices vary, paper bingo from £1.