London’s Top Burlesque, Cabaret and Comedy Clubs
Making a list of the best burlesque and cabaret clubs in London is in part a fools errand. The requirements of say a middle aged American tourist from the Mid West is going to be very different from that of say a young metropolitan burlesque aficionado or a hen /office party for that matter. And that’s before getting into supper club vs theatre style club vs bar style club, gay vs straight or the whole traditional vs neo burlesque debate. Below are what I call my five “best of breeds”. I make no attempt to crown one “best of show” – continue my canine simile – because to do so would be errant nonsense.
A must for everyone not just because it is the Daddy of the burlesque cabaret scene but because through its superlative programming it caters for almost everyone from my American tourist (go for the weekend shows) to my burlesque aficionado hipsters (go for the showcases and some of the midweek shows) not to mention having some rather good club nights (but that’s for another article). If anything the only groups not well catered for I would say are UK hen and office parties who might find the weekend shows too dumbed down (well you try and find humour that can encompass 20 different nationalities – including Japanese - that isn’t!) and the midweek show / showcases a mite inaccessible. Wonderful architecture and a convenient location caps off a great overall package . Other grumbles might be the high prices and the so so food and drinks but that’s not really the point is it. My main criticism is that it leans far too heavily towards traditional burlesque /cabaret forms and is looking increasingly dated for it relative to its more avante garde rivals – shades of The Royal Academy of Art there perhaps in the mid 90s which go so left behind by the likes of Goldsmiths College with the whole Brit Art thing. Still should one expect a venerable Grande Dame to be anything else – I mean would you want your Great grandmother to be break dancing and “getting it on” with the kids Particularly well suited for tourists
Again situated conveniently in the West End albeit in a somewhat uninspiring (but well decked out) basement Volupte is my preferred London supper club. Escellent burlesque programming with a good range of both traditional and neo burlesque performers and for that matter a great website too with not a flash of err flash. What I especially like about the programming is that its both sophisticated and accessible at the same time something which from my own experience is quite hard to achieve. Everything is just right from the ever so crisp white linen table clothes to the faux Edwardian table lamps. Good food and drinks service too with a large stage (albeit somewhat obscured behind pillars for some tables so do make sure to check when booking!). Grumbles unfortunately as a supper club the atmosphere can be bit restrained to say the least and with a Holborn address very office party dominated (the yards of white linen only surpassed by the acres of white shirts and ties of the office workers who descend pack like) so the audience is somewhat less sophisticated than the shows (the management by the way are to be complimented for ignoring the “I want more tits and arse” brigade). I am not a great fan of the standing tickets either and as with all West End venues yes the prices are high. An excellent late licence caps off a great night out. Oh and please do avid expensive imitations like Pigalle’s which I have heard nothing but bad reports about (Vince Powers should really stick to rock and roll!)
The legendary gay cabaret haunt which has launched just about every gay /transvestite crossover TV comedian and host in the UK and beyond for the last 20 years which tells you something of the quality of the acts here. All this in a venue unparalleled anywhere in the UK for its grossness from the sweat stained black walls to loos indescribable in their filthiness - all which of course provides the perfect backdrop for the b*tch queen from hell style of acts that predominate here (hecklers beware!). Unfortunately this venue is strictly gay so not accessible for the majority of us. People often write of how Lost Vagueness, avante garde performers like Leigh Bowery and clubs like Torture Garden helped spark off the neo burlesque movement . However I suspect the Vauxhall Tavern had a far greater indirect influence than any of these. So for any gay or bi sexual people from overseas visiting London don’t leave till experienced at least one night at The Vauxhall Tavern. But a word of warning do avoid the legion of cheap and expensive imitations from Clapham to Camden – none of them are the patch on the real thing. Finally the Vauxhall Tavern is obviously much more a cabaret than burlesque venue – you won’t be seeing too many girls in feathers not unless they are drag queens that is. Grumbles its gay only and really could do with a tiny bit of a clean and maybe a tiny bit of air conditioning too without of course wanting to in any way change the character of the place. Oh No! Particularly well suited for metropolitan gay and gay friendly customers
Bethnal Green Working Mans Club.
I am not entirely sure why I am including this venue because its not actually a burlesque or cabaret venue at all - it is as the title suggests a working mans club in a really rather unpleasant part of London. It’s also rather unpleasant inside although possibly of interest to sociologists as you do feel you are walking back in time to the 1950s - from the ancient cashier at the front door to the aging beehive haired harridans who pass for bar staff (serving some of the most uninspiring drinks I have seen. Lets just say the mixology revolution forget to get off at Bethnal Green tube) not forgetting vinyl and carpets so decrepit that you wonder it does not stick to your shoes (oh and does on busy nights). The programming is however inspired and its home to some of the best roving neo burlesque club nights (Wham Bam Club for one) and performers (Chocolate Delicieux for one). However do check listings in advance and do ring in advance too or when you arrive you might be very disappointed when you find there is no show and only warm beer in plastic glasses and checkers for entertainment. Particularly well suited for metropolitan sophisticated burlesque aficionados and clubbers
Now I have to confess to some bias here as I book the club and helped create it. However in my defence Peacock Bar has been rated Top London Burlesque Club, Top London Cabaret Club as well as Top Birthday Party venue by ViewLondon [plus won just about every other award under the sun in the last six months including Top London Small Venue from Function Fixers. Our programming is very much neo burlesque – really musical comedy sketches /social commentary in the finest Kinks style. We also specialise in being interactive and bringing audience members on stage with a lot of improve as well as being a bar club rather than a supper club. All of which we believe creates a much livelier, exciting and dynamic atmosphere than you get at either supper clubs (although we do of course provide food) or traditional burlesque shows (well just how many girls in feathers can you see in a lifetime). We also try and program seasonally so for Christmas we are presenting “ Christmas Lunch and Christmas Dinner with a difference with free burlesque and cabaret – put your boss on stage and humiliate him! Particularly well suited for birthday party, Christmas party, hen party and stag party bookings.
That completes my review of the Top Five Burlesque and Cabaret Clubs. Please feel free to contact me with any criticisms or praise and also with any venues I may have missed