London’s Theatreland isn’t short of celebrity hangouts or private members clubs. Along with The Ivy, The Groucho Club and Soho House there is also a plethora of night spots further west in uber-trendy (and uber-expensive) Mayfair, where you might bump into the likes of Prince Harry, Rihanna, or if you’re really unlucky, Girls Aloud.
But why waste your hard earned cash when there are more authentic places to chat theatre over a G&T or toast Oscar Wilde with a Guinness? Places where you will find the producers and actors, the stage hands and orchestra….London is packed with many and varied thespian hangouts that won’t break the bank. Here are our top tips for where to hang out pre or post show, some because you might rub shoulders with the stars, and some just because we love them.
Phoenix Artist Club
Phoenix St, just off Charing Cross Road
Perhaps the West End’s best kept secret (until now), the Phoenix Artist Club is secreted away down an inconspicuous side street used in the opening sequences of ‘Harry Potter’.
The club has featured in many films and TV Productions and claims Princess Michael of Kent, Kiefer Sutherland, Jude Law, David Soul and John Hurt amongst previous patrons. More usually, you’ll find the bar propped up by frazzled theatre staff from across the West End.
Before curtain-up, it’s open to the public for a pre-show drink. Later, it becomes a private members club. As the theatre lights dim and stage doors close, theatre staff make their way to ‘The Phoenix’ but you can join in the late night fun – simply produce your theatre ticket at the door – and if there’s room – you’re in!
The Nell of Old Drury
Catherine Street, Covent Garden
“The Nell” of Old Drury is one of the oldest pubs in Covent Garden and is an oft-visited haunt of the cast, crew and stars of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane opposite as well as the nearby Fortune, Duchess and Novello Theatres and Royal Opera House. An underground tunnel connects the pub and the Theatre Royal opposite which was allegedly used by Charles II when visiting Nell Gynne during the late 1600s.
As pubs go, you’ll find cheaper, prettier, bigger pubs with more seating elsewhere…but few are so often frequented by literary and theatrical figures, and none of them have a tunnel specially built for illicit royal affairs!
The Lemon Tree
Located on Bedfordbury, The Lemon Tree is tiny inside, so you might be lucky to find a space (especially when they’re showing a big sporting event), but on a warm evening it’s pleasant to stand outside watching the comings and goings of the cast and crew of English National Opera. The pub is right beside the stage door and with the wind in the right direction, you may even hear the occasional waft of one of the nation’s great operatic voices warming up in their dressing room around the corner in May’s Court. Like lemonade, it’s best enjoyed outdoors in summer.
The Player’s Bar
The Arches, Villiers Street
Inside the Charing Cross Theatre, The Players Theatre bar is warm, welcoming and open to all. Sadly that means it is increasingly attracting a post-work city crowd of suits which is, like so much of London, gradually edging out those with more flair but less cold hard cash. However, you can still find lots of theatrical types here once the shows kick out, not least because it’s open until 2.30am, long after most of the West End’s bars and restaurants have closed their doors. Singer/pianists (and often very good ones) play most nights from 11pm, and are occasionally joined by West End chums for an impromptu performance.
Theatricality *** (more when suits aren’t clogging the place up)
Old Vic – The Pit Bar
Waterloo Road (beside the Old Vic)
The Pit Bar is a very relaxed affair, situated on the lower level of The Old Vic. A favourite with theatregoers and artistic types alike, the bar is open Monday through Saturday.
Every Friday, whilst productions are playing you’ll find the Pit Sessions, where specially selected music acts perform after the show. Along the road you’ll also find the buzzing and even more trendy Young Vic bar “The Cut” http://www.thecutbar.com/ although, like The Players, suits can make The Cut Bar a bit homogenous.
The (other) Nell Gwynne
Bull inn Court, running between Strand and Maiden Lane
Down a rather grotty looking alleyway between the Adelphi and Vaudeville Theatres, you’ll find another pub paying homage to King Charles II’s mistress, Nell Gwynne. This Nell is a little more secretive (we can’t even find a website) and so hidden away as to really be one for the theatre cognoscenti. Tourists are very welcome – there just won’t be many of them! The alley itself provides much needed space for summer drinkers (or those brave enough when it’s colder), and tucked away as it is, means you won’t have people hurrying along the Strand bumping into you all the time. You might have to hang on to your pint if you’re there around 10pm as it’s right by one of the exits for Dress Circle patrons leaving the Adelphi. Not a problem if the show is a flop and no-one’s up there of course…
The CAA (Club for Acts and Actors)
Bedford Street, Covent Garden
Equally tucked away, you will probably never find the notable institution, the Club for Acts and Actors http://www.coventgarden.uk.com/directory/entertainment/clubs/club-acts-and-actors . Stepping inside is like taking a trip back 30 years. The place even smells musty, but in a quite magical way. It’s not open to the public, but if you’re a “turn” (a deliciously archaic term for an actor or variety performer) you can apply for membership provided you can find another member still alive to nominate you. Everything about the CAA rejoices in times past, including many of the members who frequent the place. But in a fast (and not always for the better) changing city, it’s a wonderful reminder that there are some things money can’t buy. There is a website, http://www.thecaa.org/ but it doesn’t work. Probably because inside, it’s still 1985, and the internet hasn’t been invented.
Near Piccadilly Circus Tube
It almost pains me to give this one away, but one of the best kept secrets is actually located on the top floor of Waterstones, Piccadilly. Possibly the UK’s largest bookstore (although Foyles on Charing Cross Road is more famous), Waterstones has a very elegant bar and restaurant on floor 5, with plenty of seating and some tables overlooking the rooftops of Piccadilly. It can get crowded, but often it’s easy to find a table, and prices are pretty reasonable considering what a fantastic location it occupies. It’s a great place to meet for a quick bite to eat, a drink, or even just a tea or coffee before braving the busy streets of Theatreland. It’s also pretty easy to find, occupying a prominent position on Piccadilly itself. You won’t find stars here, but its great place to meet up and, on a clear night, gaze at stars of a more heavenly variety.
The Theatre Cafe
Finally….we really must mention new kid on the block The Theatre Cafe. Slap bang in the middle of it all at 66 Shafterbury Avenue, It really does do what it says on the tin, and it’s all over twitter so you can follow them here https://twitter.com/thetheatrecafe right down the yellow brick road and back!