Because that’s what they said, back in 1954. ‘Come on chaps, it’s night-club time!’ It’s the title of this chapter of London Night and Day, anyway. Perhaps because central London didn’t offer that many nightclubs, the chapter also includes some restaurants and hotels, provided they offer some sort of musical entertainment. The proper members-only nightclubs charged anything between 10 shillings (50p) and 10 guineas (£10.50) to get in (£10 in 1954 = £250 in 2017). Then there was an annual subscription of maybe £2 (£50). So these weren’t clubs for the working masses. They were all supposed to stop serving drinks at 2.00am. Yeah, likely.
So where did the lounge lizards and rug-cutters of 1950s London like to hang out?
Gargoyle, 69 Dean Street W1
1954: ‘An old-established haunt at Soho rooftop level, with a private lift to the Queen’s room on the fourth floor. Opened this year and decorated in Tudor style. Down one floor to ballroom decorated by Matisse in 1928, Babylonian glass, mirror, gilt and brass, pink and gold wood. Roofgarden open in summer for lunches and dinners with view of St Paul’s.’
2017: It’s now the Dean Street Townhouse and hugely popular with Soho ad people. The maître d’ shakes her head at the mention of a roof garden, and when I ask about the Matisse downstairs she tells me there are only kitchens down there. For some reason I don’t believe her.
Cabaret Club, 16 Beak Street W1
1954: ‘Puts on the ‘naughtiest’ cabaret in London. The 20 showgirls are also hostesses. Run by one of London’s most experienced managers, Percival Murray, who was the first to put on a cabaret in London. Present club has been open in ’33, seats 110 and looks like the poop cabin of an Elizabethan privateer, with an incongruous cluster of spotlights over the dance floor. Band: Harry Lawrence’s’
2017: It’s now a Bryon, before that it was a pizzeria but I doubt anything will get rid of the whiff of scandal permeating its walls. The Cabaret Club was where 19-year-old Christine Keeler was introduced to a Conservative minister and a Russian spy, leading to the Profumo Affair and a tumultuous time for the government of the day. The club was favoured by everyone from Princess Margaret to the Kray twins. The ‘cluster of spotlights’ was apparently cobbled together by Murray’s son from car headlamp bulbs and tin cans. Quality.
Eve, 189 Regent Street W1
1954: ‘Old-timers may remember this basement hideout as the location of the Paradise Club and the Calypso. Décor reminiscent of jungle scene – tree trunks, creepers with large floppy leaves overhead, gaudy flowers and pink lighting. They aim for a French night-club atmosphere with the help of the 12 ‘Daughters of Eve’. Band: Eddie Whitebread.’
2017: On the ground floor, Lululemon sells £62 T-shirts to gullible runners. But what of the ‘basement hideout’? Don’t tell me it’s now a boring old stockroom. When I visit Lululemon, that’s exactly what they tell me. ‘But it’s big enough to turn into a nightclub. We sometimes have parties down there.’ I didn’t ask about the 12 daughters of Eve. It was just too weird.
Coconut Grove, 177 Regent Street W1
1954: ‘One of the old steady night haunts of London. Just the place to visit after a regimental dinner, or for a not-too-tired business executive to go on to, after dinner, with his secretary? Lots of fun. Band: Edmundo Ros.’
2017: ‘Hi, I’m wondering about a nightclub that used to be in your building, back in the 1950s. It was a really popular London venue called Coconut Grove.’
‘Sorry, none of the girls here are from London.’
‘Er. Right. Perhaps the club was in the basement. Do have a stockroom or something downstairs?’
‘We have three sales floors here. The lower ground floor, the ground floor, and (*guesses what’s coming*) the first floor.’
‘Can I help you with anything else today?’
La Ronde, 99 Regent Street
1954: ‘Name and décor inspired by recent and still popular film. Small cocktail bar (just inside the entrance) to tempt you just before you go downstairs to dinner. Main decorative feature is a wall-wide mural of Paris in the twilight. Décor generally is quiet and should make for a pleasant evening. Dancing under the coloured lights of the carrousel. Small band and solo pianist, Freddie Aspinell.’
2017: The business above La Ronde hasn’t changed. It’s still the Verraswamy, London’s oldest Indian restaurant. And downstairs there’s still a club, but Freddie Aspinell and the small band have been replaced by a DJ and sound system. The place is called the Cuckoo Club, describes itself as a ‘stylish split-level, members-only nightspot with rock-chic aesthetic and LED ceiling on dance floor’, and attracts dudes like this.
Bagatelle, 1 Mayfair Place
1954: ‘Very central. Excellent cuisine and prices to correspond. Cheque-book. Seats 200. Band: Arnold Bailey. To greet you: Brunell.’
2017: To greet you today is the impressively-moustached Cossack-looking gentleman on the left. But rather than show you to Bagatelle, he’s more likely to direct you to reception where the staff will shake their heads at the mention of a night-club while looking at you with some apprehension.
The Embassy, 6 Old Bond Street
1954: ‘One of the oldest-established clubs of its type in london…food and service excellent and usually a very high standard of cabaret. Cheque-book. Subscription: 1 guinea. Band: Billy Sproud.’
2017: To be honest, this club sounded a lot more fun when Billy Sproud’s band of the 1950s gave way to the disco of the 1980s. But wherever in the building the Embassy used to be, all traces of it have now disappeared thanks to a comprehensive refurbishment.
Allegro, 16 Bury Street SW1
‘Unusual décor; excellent food and service and, usually, pleasant people. For the early birds, Ann de Nys at the piano is well worth hearing. Bands: Tibor Kuntsler (gypsy), Rudy Rome and Fela Suwande. To greet you: Luparia.’
2017: This is confusing. Of Allegro I can find no trace: the building is occupied by glitzy-but-seen-better-days restaurant Quaglino’s. But Quaglino’s is reviewed on the very next page of London Night and Day, with the same address and performers. Perhaps the author had reviewed one night club too many. So what did he think of Quaglino’s?
Quaglino’s, 16 Bury Street SW1
1954: ‘Still retains some of its pre-war, cosy, intime atmosphere. Food and service first-class, but not everyone likes fifty-fifty Gypsy music with their “swing.”‘
2017: A lady hoovering the stairs is fascinated by my old guide book. (I’m finding that people are either interested in the history of the place they work in, or they couldn’t really give a monkey’s. The posh shop workers mainly fall into the second category, with an added slice of deep suspicion as to my motives.) Anyway, the lady here lets me wander in and take the above photo. The place looks very inviting, but some friends have reported disappointing meals here. Back to Nando’s, then.
Four Hundred, 28 Leicester Square
1954: ‘Still London’s most exclusive night club. It is small, dark, hot and usually packed out. Manager, Rossi, is an autocrat and vets all applications for membership personally. Food adequate. Drinks at bottle-party prices. Despite overcrowding and discomfort, it has “atmosphere” and is still the only place in London night life which retains any form of snob value.’
2017: The Four Hundred club was a big deal back in the day, being one of Princess Margaret’s regular haunts (the others being all the other London nightclubs). Inevitably it went into decline, became Annabel’s (inspiration for Zappa’s Dead Girls of London), then the first location of London’s Comedy Store, more recently the nightclub Storm. That closed in September 2016. The sign says the space is now to let as an ‘A4 Nightclub’. Never realised it was that small.
Ciro’s, 39 Orange Street
1954: ‘Lots and lots of red plush and spindly wrought-iron work. One of London’s oldest and most reputable night-clubs. Tom in the Gent’s collect book matches and would welcome foreign specimens.’
2017: Was that some sort of 1950’s gay code? ‘I’m partial to foreign specimens, sir’. Probably not. Anyway, it’s a case of Ciro’s to zeros as the place was demolished years ago. It’s now the offices for the National Portrait Gallery.
Empress Club, 35 Dover Street W1
1954: ‘This place has a lot to offer, for, on the old-established residential side you may well meet elderly dowagers sipping ‘hock and seltzer’ whilst in an adjoining room a rumba band is hotting up the guests. There is nothing like it in London; entertainment for all vintages. Of course, you will need your cheque-book.’
2017: It’s now a shoe shop but my, what an illustrious past.
Siegi’s, 46 Charles Street W1
1954: ‘Small and intimate club where you can dine to music after other restaurants have closed. But there’s no dancing. The cuisine is French and Polish. Restaurant on the first floor, bar on the ground floor.’
2017: 46 Charles Street looks like a private house now, but it isn’t. It’s Mark’s Club, a private club for toffs where the dress code allows dark jeans to be worn but somehow prohibits denim at the same time.