There are many cabaret clubs in London,but Café de Paris off Piccadilly Circus is one of the oldest. It’s celebrating its ninetieth anniversary this year, which by London standards – whereby it isn’t uncommon for short-lived ventures to pop up and down in a matter of months – is practically venerable. Despite the club’s sparkling history and my great love of burlesque, drag and dark, dirty comedy, I’d never visited before, partly because of a deep distrust of anything within pissing distance of Leicester Square. (And, to be fair, this is justified. We were hassled to buggery and back by club promoters when we left and it was nigh on impossible to get a cab home.)
That said, I was very excited to visit when Sarah from the Prosecco Diaries asked me along to one of her blogger events. We started the evening with a private burlesque class from The Cheek Of It and then moved out to the balcony to watch the show. (Carla and I obviously pegged it like the arseholes we are to get the best view.)
Whereas many cabaret clubs in London are very small and intimate – CellarDoor at Zero Aldwych was once a public toilet, and has a capacity of 60 – Cafe du Paris is huge. The first thing you see once you walk in to the Titanic Ballroom (!) is the enormous chandelier about the stage, which although beautiful and opulent was a bit of a ballache during some of the acts as it obscured the view. If you’re not eating and sitting on the mezzanine level, the best place to sit is actually slightly off-center so you don’t miss anything.
Bar the chandelier, though, the show was fantastic. Led by an Australian, seven foot tall, high-heeled compère who could well have been the fabulous, bastard love child of the Joker and Cruella de Vil, it was a variety performance of graceful burlesque dancers (who made our comparatively clumsy attempts before the show really quite embarrassing), acrobatic comedy strongmen with bulging…muscles, and an unimaginably beautiful young Adonis twirling on an aerial hoop (damn that chandelier!) There was also a girl who did a fire-eating act, although I was more impressed by her magnificent abs than her pyro. Impressive though it is, once you’ve seen someone swallow a flaming sword, that’s sort of it.
There was also a fantastic magician who went around entertaining people before the show and during the interval. I’m a total slag for magic, so perhaps I’m biased, but he was a highlight for sure.
For me, it was the ringmaster who stole the show. As well as belting out a ludicrously camp rendition of A Land Down Under, he also had a knack for picking on the audience members who most desperately did not want to be picked on, invariably strait-laced middle-aged men whose tickets had been purchased by their more fabulous halves. Spurred on by the uproarious laughter of the wives and girlfriends, he flirted with, sat upon and ritually humiliated at least four balding victims throughout the show.
Overall, it was a fantastic evening, although we didn’t stay for the club night (after the show they clear away the tables and the ground floor becomes a thumping great big nightclub). To be honest, it didn’t really seem like my cup of tea; the organisers make a big thing out of its popularity with reality TV nobodies and employ a horrible door policy (‘entry not guaranteed, no all-male groups’). Bugger that. The show really is fabulous though, so go and see that, even if you head somewhere else afterwards.
We visited Cafe de Paris on a Friday night and stayed for the show after our event with the Prosecco Diaries – full listings are available online. General admission (i.e. show only) tickets can be purchased in advance for $15-25 depending on the day. You can find it in between Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, at 3-4 Coventry Street, W1D 6BL.
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.