In the Beginning
Café De Paris, in London's Piccadilly is one of the most famous and durable venues in the world. With a glittering history, spanning nine decades, the Café has consistently played host to a wide variety of powerful and absorbing performers and guests, members of the aristocracy, eminent political figures, dazzling pop stars, captains of industry, superstars from the silver screen and even royalty.
Opening its doors in 1924 under the control of London impresario Harry Foster, the Café de Paris quickly established itself as one of Europe's premier nightspots. Much of the early success was due to a visit from the Prince of Wales, who after an impromptu midweek visit became a regular guest bringing with him the crème de la crème of European society. The fusion of a beautiful and elite audience with energetic and groundbreaking cabaret performances separated the venue from its rivals. The main aim of the Café De Paris was to see and be seen-a trait that continues even now.
The success of the Café continued right through the 1930's, with a whole new host of powerful and successful figures joining the Café Society. The Aga Khan became a frequent visitor as did Lord and Lady Mountbatten, who nearly always ordered the same dinner of "a dozen and a half oysters and steak Diane". Due to its burgeoning reputation, the top vocalists and cabaret acts from around the world became easy to lure to the Café De Paris. The legendary Cole Porter became a regular, and used the venue not only to entertain the top singers of the time, but also to showcase his new songs, often for the very first time.
In 1939 the Café was allowed to stay open even though theatres and cinemas were closed by order. People gossiped their way through the blackout and the Café was advertised as a safe haven by Martin Poulson, the maitre d', who argued that the four solid storeys of masonry above were ample protection. This tragically proved to be untrue on March 8th 1941 when two 50K landmines came through the Rialto roof straight onto the Café dance floor. Eighty people were killed, including Ken 'Snakehips' Johnston who was performing onstage at the time and Poulson whose words had come back to haunt him. Had the bomb been dropped an hour later, the casualties would have been even higher.
Café on the Silver Screen
Café De Paris' reputation was only enhanced by providing the backdrop for one of the greatest films of its time.
Made in 1929 by cult director Ande Dupont and one of the pinnacles of British silent cinema, 'Piccadilly' is a sumptuous melodrama seething with sexual and racial tension.
Chinese-American goddess Anna May Wong stars as 'Sosho' a scullery maid in a fashionable London nightclub (Cafe) whose risque routines catch the eye of sauve club owner Valentine Wilmot.
A delirious evocation of sultry, jazz-age London, 'Piccadilly' boasts dazzling cinematography, a stunningly atmospheric score and the debut performance from Charles Laughton as a gluttonous diner.
Long neglected in the dusty vaults of film buffs, Piccadilly has this year been selected for extensive restoration by the BFI, complete with blue and amber tinting. It will also premiere Neil Brand's dramatic new score, especially commissioned by the BFI and performed by some of the UK's leading jazz players.
The BFI National Film and Television Archive's restoration of Piccadilly received its world premiere to rapturous acclaim at a special screening of the New York Film Festival on 4th October 2003.
Picking up the Pieces
After the war, in 1948, £7,500 was spent on refurbishment to counter the damage caused by the blitz. Things soon started to move smoothly again with Princess Margaret and the Duchess of Kent becoming regular visitors. Indeed, the continuing visits from members of the Royal Family cemented the Café's reputation as the smartest and most exclusive place in London. The 'Society of Guinea Pigs' was introduced, a collective aimed at introducing young blood to the Café and members had to be twenty four years and under to join. The idea was a great success and numbers reached over the 5,000 mark.
As such, the Café de Paris continued to be the most fashionable nightspot in London for the next ten years. Continuing to attract the worlds glamour set, visitors and performers read like a who's who of the golden era, with diversity continuing to add to the mystique and allure. Frank Sinatra rubbed shoulders with Tony Hancock, Eartha Kitt with Spike Milligan, Grace Kelly with Noel Coward. Anyone who was anyone was seen at the Cafe.
It was perhaps inevitable that the times would change. London's socialites were travelling abroad in much greater volume and entertaining at home more regularly. The onset of rock and roll and the swinging sixties began to leave their mark and Café resorted to becoming a dance hall throughout the 60's and 70's-economically viable, but with little of the previous glamour.
Liberace performs at Cafe de Paris, 1951.
Back in the Spotlight – Briefly. . .
In 1983 the photographer Nick Fry discovered the venue and eventually persuaded the management to hold a club night on Wednesday's. The result was a return to the splendour of past decades but set in the consumer driven boom of the eighties. Models, fashion editors and popstars all congregated religiously at the Café every Wednesday. The current heavyweight stars of the day, from George Michael to Boy George to a fledgling Naomi Campbell mixed with other major names-Mick Jagger, Andy Warhol and bizarrely Claus Von Bulow to recreate the hedonism of the roaring twenties. Flying in the legendary DJ Albert from Paris on a weekly basis ensured that the appeal stretched across Europe.
Due to the strong media connections, the Café became a favourite setting for fashion shoots and films, being used as the prime location for Scandal, The Krays and Absolute Beginners. But the roaring decade soon burnt itself out at glamorous venues such as the Café de Paris were among those worst hit by the recession. There was talk of various takeovers, but negotiations proved fruitless. The Café lay dormant; its interior decaying and a shadow of its former self. That is until the venue was bought by its current owners and lavishly restored to the magnificence of the past.
Restored and Reborn
Café De Paris re-opened in 1996 amid a flurry of global publicity. It immediately became the place to be seen once again attracting A-list celebrities and London's infamously transitory 'in-crowd' on a previously unheralded basis of regularity. The hippest awards ceremonies-from MTV to GQ to The Brits-have all chosen Café as their venue of preference in the last few years as have major catwalk designers during London Fashion Week and the worlds biggest celebrities when they wish to throw lavish parties.
High profile events are attracted to a high profile venue and despite the increasingly competitive market place in London, Café De Paris has managed to attract some of the biggest parties of the last few years. When the worlds best selling recording artist Puff Daddy wished to celebrate the European release of his new album, he chose to do so at the Café. When Sony wished to celebrate 20 years of the Walkman, so did they. Prince wanted to throw a secret gig for the elite few-he got on stage at the Café. From the James Bond party to the Vivienne Westwood catwalk show to the Spice Girls party to Lennox Lewis celebrating his world titles, the Café De Paris is without doubt leading the field.
The club division of the Café De Paris has enjoyed similar success. The combination of an in-house promotional team with the best external promoters that the UK has to offer have maintained Café's position as one of the most desirable places for party people to attend. Finding its niche in an overly competitive environment, Café De Paris has consistently appealed to the glamorous and affluent end of the market. Regularly holding events from some of the most cutting edge promotional teams allows Café to sustain a credible edge while still catering for the more flamboyant and extravagant arm of the London party scene on regular evenings. In an often fickle and transitory world, the Café has cemented a place in the London night scene.
The Naughty Noughties
New owner , Brian Stein, took over Café de Paris in 2002, passionately committed to completing the restoration of this prestigious venue to the glory and glamour of her heyday. A fresh and dynamic team swiftly began to attract high profile events such as the Agent Provocateur 10th Birthday, Marie Claire's 17th, the Merchant of Venices premiere party and the spectacular Mastercard One Priceless Night.
The re-modelling of the VIP rooms in 2004 included decadent drapes, an Alice in Wonderland red velvet padded corridor and 5 huge red velvet beds. Stars such as Christian Slater, Kelis and the ubiquitous Calum Best were swift to test the bedsprings!
In 2004 Café de Paris proudly celebrated her 80th birthday, since then she has continued to host star-studied guests with Jamie Foxx performing his first showcase and the amazing Flash Monkey cabaret night appearing on a regular basis. With a few discreet nips and tucks and shiny new wardrobe she is still the most gorgeous girl in town.