The New Blitz Spirit
Blame it on hyperbolic forecasts of economic doom and gloom, the implosion of the media and a sense of ennui when it comes to conventional nights out, but it seems like London is looking to the past for inspiration with a new (or maybe old) wave of retro-themed events hitting the capital. The 1930s and 1940s might seem like an unlikely era to emulate when it comes to partying, but the combination of swing music, kitsch Union Jack-bedecked decor and the chance to dress up in polka dots, stockings and pin-up icon make-up provide a hip escape from the monotony of daily life and drum and bass music! From cabaret bars to big band dances and interactive cinema, here’s a brief introduction to the retro revival evoking the romantic spirit of Blitz-era London.
The Blitz Party
Smudge on some red lipstick, paint on your stocking seams and grab a man in uniform for the Blitz Party, a 1940s-themed knees-up that kicks off at set dates in the suitably atmospheric Arches in Shoreditch. Jazz bands, cabaret acts and eye-poppingly co-ordinated swing dancers set the pace amid World War II posters, sandbags and provisions tins, with Union Jacks and bunting galore streaming above the dance floor. After having steadily grown in popularity throughout 2011, the recent New Year’s Eve event was packed out with hipsters putting their best foot forward in tea dresses, victory rolls and military threads, proving that the coolest way to spend a Saturday night is now more likely to involve Glenn Miller tracks and jitterbugging than dubstep and class A’s. Other swell touches included of-the-moment drinks like the Spitfire, an outdoors hog roast and newsreel and movie montages flickering across the brick walls – our tip is to grab a gin and a friend and emulate the semi-professionals waltzing across the floor. You’ll most likely look like an un-coordinated pair of toddlers spinning about, but letting go and getting in the mood (as Mr. Miller himself would have it) is what the Blitz Party is all about!
The next Blitz Party event takes place on Saturday 28th January, with tickets priced at £20 each.
What started out as a niche idea has now grown into a huge production spanning almost two months, with a massive cast and thousands turning up to participate in interactive screenings of movie classics. The unpredictable nature of Secret Cinema means that you could well end up in the future rather than the past, but the last few efforts from the SC team have centered around black and white cult favorites like The Red Shoes and The Battle of Algiers. Keeping the main event shrouded in secrecy until the reels start rolling, ticket-holders instead receive drips of information through mystic missives with only a few 0bscure clues to work from. Perhaps one of the most impressive elements of Secret Cinema is the covert collaboration between those who have been to keep it a surprise, and I’m certainly not going to be the one to lift the veil – suffice to say that the current production involved getting dressed up in 1940s gear, exploring an incredible 5 floor building with meticulous sets and actors merging in with the nervous crowds, and delving into a hidden world of murder, double-bluffing and smuggling. After getting chatted up by a Soviet officer, trading bottles with waitresses and singing happy birthday to a bemused lecture room within the first 15 minutes, I can safely say it’s one of the more unusual and memorable ways I’ve spent a Saturday night in recent months. One thing to remember is to throw yourself into the confusion, invent an alter ego (or three) and talk to everyone you bump into – spend the night at the bar and you’ve missed the point entirely!
Secret Cinema runs until the end of January 2012. Tickets are £35 each or £25 concessions.
A sense of the clandestine and risqué permeates the atmosphere at Cellar Door, a tiny cabaret bar hidden near the Aldwych Theatre in the heart of the West End. Situated beneath the bustling pavements of Theatreland, Cellar Door used to be an infamous gentlemens’ public toilet reputedly frequented by Wilde, Gielgud and Orton, and whilst the interior has now been suitably jazzed up with mirrored walls, a stellar cocktail bar and a series of glamorous cabaret singers and burlesque dancers, it retains a theatrical and uninhibited ambience that makes you feel like you’ve stepped from 2010’s London into 1930’s Berlin in the blink of a false eyelash. Vintage dress is not compulsory but it will help you get into the swing of things, as the ‘Fallen Angel’ performers belt out stage and old-school classics whilst pawing unsuspecting customers and pin-up burlesque dancers pep up the evening with a shower of sequins and feathers. Audience participation and singalongs are almost mandatory, so be prepared to come out of your shell! Old fashioned glamour aside, the bar is arguably one of the best in the city – choose from spirits classed as a Von Teese, Page or Monroe on an imaginative cocktail list that makes deciding a tricky process. I recommend the quirky Breakfast Martini (gin, marmalade, Cointreau and lemon juice), sipped from an idosyncratic china teacup and saucer.
About The Author: Olivia Squire is a London-based writer who currently writes for TubeHotels.com, a price comparison site for hotels in London, and in particular hotels near tube stations.