Over on the Soho borders, a certain iconic bohemian club celebrates its 30th anniversary today. And it’s one of those places that we’ve all ended up in at some point on a night out ‘up West’.
Can’t picture it? Seriously, you really do know where it is: just off the Charing Cross Road, underneath the theatre of the same name – and down some steps into a basement that evokes a days-gone-by glamour. Often there’ll be someone on the door, asking you a question or two before they let you in. And it might depend on how many beverages you’ve had already.
Once the rehearsal rooms of the theatre above (where Noel Coward, Gertrude Lawrence and Laurence Olivier rehearsed the play Private Lives in 1930), the walls of the late-night drinking den are lined with memorabilia from past productions, autographed headshots and signed posters. Tables and chairs – usually all occupied at all times of day and night – are scattered about the parquet floor, the atmosphere rowdy.
The Phoenix Artist Club opened in 1988 as Shuttleworths, the brainchild of one entrepreneur John Mahoney. It soon became a space used by comedians to try out new material. Not to mention an after-hours hangout for West End actors, musicians and singers, too amped to go straight home after an evening performing. Some names? Ian McKellen, Jude Law, Rupert Everett, Keira Knightly and many more.
So you see the venue swiftly earned the reputation of the place to be once the curtain fell. Overseen by the extravagantly waist-coated and gin-powered Maurice Huggett, the loved (and sometimes loathed) proprietor steered the Phoenix through several turbulent years, not always on an even keel, but staying open as rival venues closed, neighbourhoods changed, and rents spiralled.
When Maurice died in 2011 there were doubts whether the old Phoenix would ever rise again and be restored to its former glory.
But – yay! – current owners Ken Wright and Colin Savage took over six years ago – and while the kitsch decor remains, they’ve spiced things up a bit, introducing membership starting at a tenner a month, ticketed live entertainment, and a revamped food offer.
Want to join in? As part of the year-long birthday, you can enjoy two courses from their modern European menu and a glass of fizz for £19.88. See what they did there? Clever old bird.
Main photo: PR