London’s theatre scene has been well established for centuries and in some ways still denotes elegance and glamour as well as a treat day out. I have long bemoaned the rising price of a theatre ticket, but it is easy to forget that with the price of your ticket you are also given an entry pass to some of the most exclusive and glamorous drinking spots in town; theatre bars!
Reading Guardian theatre expert Lyn Gardner’s recent pondering on what makes a good interval, I found myself reflecting on how much I relish spending some time in a theatre bar that allows me a reasonably priced G&T, or more realistically a cool glass of house white, in lavish or chic surroundings.
In celebration of Official Theatre’s love of a nice drink (ice and a slice!) in a good theatre bar, we have put our heads together with a few other regular theatre goers to come up with our ultimate top ten theatre bars! Bottoms up!
10 – Stalls Bar, Palace Theatre
With its stand out canopy, the Palace Theatre is not only one of London’s most architecturally iconic theatres, it is also steeped in history and plays host to a fabulous interior, with even more fabulous drinking areas. Restored in 2004, The Stalls Bar holds particular Razzle Dazzle for patrons enjoying the show from the, er, upmarket seats! With very ornate replica Victorian architecture, including pillars and a beautifully painted ceiling, revelers can soak up the history of the building (built in 1891.) The room is plush and spacious with a long bar, which makes obtaining a drink a pleasant experience. As far as I am aware the Palace hasn’t yet embraced London’s love of cocktails, but there are usually some nice wines on offer (although a glass is likely to set you back £7.50) Sometimes when I am here I like to pretend I am Victorian Royalty. Just saying…
9 – St James Bar & Brassiere
The newest theatre on the block certainly sets the standards for modern builds to come and definitely highlights the growing importance of a bar/ social area for patrons. The St James seems to be pioneering the venue more as an arts space, rather than a get in, watch your show and get out fandango. The bar is in fact open from 10am to 11pm (11.30 on Fridays and Saturdays) so there is no need to try and gulp down an interval wine in ten minutes, instead you could indulge in a coffee (or something stronger) before the show and/or discuss the show over an aperitif after; my kind of bar! Whilst the surroundings in the St James Bar may be less steeped in culture and gold leafing than other West End drinkeries, the surroundings are booth cool (airy) and COOL (trendy!) Hello fashionable Espresso Martini Cocktail, how’s about we make friends! Cocktails here will set you back around £8.50 and for those who prefer a classic ale, the St James Bar is one of the few West End venues that serve what my boyfriend would call “real beer.” Hurrah!
8 -Kings Head Theatre Pub
I love going to the pub almost as much as I love going to the theatre! Thankfully the Kings Head Theatre Pub has married the two concepts so I can enjoy both at the same time! Yippee! And talking of “real beer,” the Kings Head certainly knows the score! There are plenty of ales and authentic ciders on tap which can of course be taken into the intimate theatre space too. The pub is cosy and welcoming and, as I discovered in the interval of a delightful Thornton Wilder double bill at Christmas time, it has a genuine log fire to help keep chilly revelers warm in the winter months.
Like the St James Theatre Bar, theatregoers can make a proper night of it by meeting friends for a drink before the show or burning the midnight oil with wine and post show discussions. Open until 1am most nights (later Thursday – Saturday), there is a good chance theatregoers will run into cast members after the show. The venue also puts on regular free music, so it’s a bit like getting two shows for the price of one!
7 – Dress Circle Bar, Gielgud Theatre
Located on London’s stagiest street, there is a buzz on Shaftesbury Avenue that spills into the Gielgud Theatre. Yeah okay the Dress Circle bar is not the roomiest of theatre bars in the world on account of the whopping great hole in the middle of the floor, but my goodness it is beautiful! I love a good chandelier, and the Gielgud certainly provides on this front! On account of the grandeur, this is another bar wherein I like to pretend I am some kind of early 20th Century Queen whilst peering regally over the mezzanine. The bar also looks uncannily like a saloon that could have been part of the HMS Titanic, so one could also pretend to be a lusty Kate Winslet should they so wish, of course without the fear of sinking.
6 –Elixir Bar, Apollo Victoria Theatre
Hubble bubble, toil and trouble, the Elixir bar is one perfect potion! Need I say more than SMOKE MACHINE? And errr…its GREEN! Seriously, I love a novelty bar, especially when it completes a theatrical experience, and a trip to see my favourite spell binding musical would NOT be the same without a cheeky cocktail in this emerald delight. Also, good news, not only do they open early so you have time to properly enjoy the cocktails on offer, but between 6 – 7pm you can get TWO cocktails for £10. If you really want to make the most of this bar I would get there early to secure a seat.
5 – “Onstage” Bar at the Phoenix Theatre
An ONSTAGE bar I hear you cry? So, you can actually have a drink whilst pretending to be Hamlet and looking into the bright lights of stardom from the stage? Yes siree! If that wasn’t enough you will be treated to an up close and personal pre show gig from some of the Once Cast! Hurrah! Honestly, you haven’t lived until you have supped from a plastic beaker on the stage of the Phoenix Theatre! The only reason this fine drinking hole isn’t top of the list is because if and when the show moves venue, the Irish bar will go with it. Travesty.
4 – The Cinderella Bar, London Palladium
For many reasons The London Palladium is my favourite Theatre in the whole of the West End, and it certainly has the most glamorous connotations of variety and vigour! Anybody who is anybody has performed on the Palladium stage, and of course supped champagne in the Cinderella bar! Now I KNOW that the Palladium has a lovely new bar area, the Val Parnell Suite, which is great for corporate events and IS very roomy, but for me history and grandeur wins; the Cinderella Bar, situated at Royal Circle level, is just better. Aside from evoking connotations of being a Disney princess, this bar is beautifully decorated with ornate pillars, a cheeky little balcony and several glittering chandeliers. Plus Bruce Forsyth’s sculpture resides in the Cinderella Bar, and who doesn’t fancy a drink with Brucey!
3 -The Terrace Bar, National Theatre
The Terrace Bar at the National Theatre is a delight for many reasons, one being that like a few others on the list, you have the flexibility of enjoying this bar without having to see a show at the venue. Whilst of course I thoroughly recommend supping from a cool beverage on the terrace before, during or after a wonderful show at the National, sometimes people simply don’t have the time that day.
Secondly, yes, the National theatre was built in the 1970’s, so doesn’t have the same historical charm as some of the golden oldies, but this has given the venue the opportunity to create a modern, chic bar. The Terrace bar is nice, relaxed and pretty trendy; full to the brim with arty types AND the drinks are reasonably priced. For example wine is around £5 a glass and cocktails are a more attainable £6.50-£8.50.
Best of all you ask? The views. You can sup your pre/post/whenever theatre drink looking over the Thames and the rest of the London skyline, and at night this means many a twinkling light! The stuff of fairy-tales guys!
2 – Grand Saloon, Theatre Royal Drury Lane
The word “saloon” on its own is pretty appealing and the Theatre Royal Drury boasts the saloon to end all saloons! This is one pretty, long and luscious bar AND you get to walk up a pretty awesome staircase to get there (another Kate Winslet/ Titanic moment!) Bar aside for one moment, as the oldest theatre in London the Theatre Royal Drury Lane is steeped in real history and even has a few ghosts walking about. So as you can imagine, having a drink in this BEAUTIFUL building is a true pleasure for lovers of theatre history. Also, since the theatre’s big £4 million restoration prior to the opening of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the bar has a perky pastel vibe, and from the newly revealed Rotunda window you can see right down into the cobbled streets of Covent Garden. Not only is this bar spacious, so one is in no danger of being cramped, it is also somewhat like supping wine in an art gallery! No really! Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber has brought in £600,000 worth of statues so one can share a drink among stoney friends! Excellent news! The only real downsides to both the Grand Saloon and the Cinderella bar at the London Palladium, is that they are pretty expensive… but hey ho, sometimes its worth making a down payment on a beverage to enjoy it among such finery!
1 – Mahogany Bar, Wilton’s Music Hall
I could not be more in love with this absolute beaut of a theatre! This grade II listed gem is the world’s oldest surviving Grand Music Hall, having opened in 1828. Basically this theatre has all the history but none of the funding of its West End theatrical counterparts. Some trivia for you, Wilton’s Music Hall was originally known as “The Mahogany Bar,” which tells you how important the drinking section of the venue is! There is a really lovely atmosphere in the bar here and it’s weird, but you really get the feeling that you are part of something special. There is usually live music in the bar, which serves a charming selection of local beers and other drinks. I must say that, whilst this post is not about food, the bar snacks are OUT OF THIS WORLD at Wilton’s. Oh god. Wilton’s is listed as one of the worlds 100 most endangered sites, so get there while you can, it may not be around forever. You can support this Romantic Era beauty by hopping on down and buying a bevvy! Yep, that’s right, you can support a good cause by drinking…WIN WIN!
Word on the Street
In order to become more learned in what theatregoers besides myself and my gin guzzling colleagues like of a theatrical tipple, we decided to put the word out there on twitter to see which venues other culture vultures enjoy a glass or two in. The results were rather mixed! First we received outpourings of love for traditional theatres:
“Sure,” we thought “sounds like some pretty solid choices there.” But then came an influx of tweets confessing theatre goers undying love of the theatre pub, where interval drinks can last all night! Responses included the following:
Then Lyn Gardner reminded me that it isn’t all about the booze, sometimes one can love a “bar” because of its well blended tea or fresh coffee and delicious cakes (and who doesn’t love a cheeky bit of frosting!)
If you fancy joining the bar banter, then please do tweet us your thoughts!
Do you like your vino at the Vaudeville or prefer to sup your prosecco at the Palace? Are you more into beers at the Barbican or do you prefer cocktails at the Cambridge? Let us know by leaving your comments below!