by Carmen Allan-Petale
London has a large burlesque and cabaret scene, from drag queens to sexy dancing troupes who take their kit off in strip-show fashion. To go to a burlesque event, you need to leave your inhibitions at the door, and if you consider yourself a prude it’s best to steer clear.
1. The Crazy Coqs: Best for French cabaret
When I went to The Crazy Coqs it was to see the Las Vegas-styled ‘comedy cabaret chanteuse’ drag queen Miss Hope Springs. The venue is beautiful – hidden downstairs from French Brasserie Zédel off Piccadilly Circus, the ceiling in The Crazy Coqs is domed and mirrored. The theatre has been built in Art Deco style and Miss Hope Springs was so inspired by the venue she wrote a song about it. With a name like ‘The Crazy Coqs’, you can imagine how the song went. During the performance the waiters will take your drink and food orders, and the menu is reasonably priced with wine at about £4.50 a glass.
2. The Peacock: Best for a hen do
This is probably a more low-brow cabaret or burlesque venue as it’s an opportunity to get rowdy rather than to appreciate dancing and singing talent. When I went it was for a hen do and the audience was probably 90% women. Hen dos must be The Peacock’s target market, as for each act a different hen was brought onto stage to participate in a sing along. The food served is the bog standard party food which is great for lining the stomach when washing down a cocktail or five. We had a cocktail making class at the start of the night which included two cocktails of our choice and that was probably the highlight of the night. The Peacock is located in Clapham Junction.
3. Proud Cabaret: Best for atmosphere
Proud Cabaret is a chain of three with two venues in London and one in Brighton. I went to the City venue, located in a random spot amongst skyscraper buildings and office blocks. Like the Crazy Coqs, the venue is underground and when stepping inside it feels like you’ve stepped back in time. All the waiters and waitresses dress in 1920s flappers outfits or burlesque costumes, and tea light candles on round tables enhance the sexy mood. Machines pump out smoke every five minutes or so – smoking indoors was commonplace in the 1920s after all! The acts we saw were diverse; a handful of them were brilliant and gifted signers, while there were a couple that were borderline weird, and not in a good way. (I’m talking about a woman dressed up as a man –moustache included – doing a strip to reveal women’s lingerie).
4. The Box: Best for celeb spotting
One of the newest riské burlesque clubs in London, The Box opened last year under a lot of media hype. Known as a haunt for A-listers (including Prince Harry, no less) The Box is the sister club of a venue of the same name in New York. You can find The Box behind two nondescript wooden doors in Soho, where the show starts at midnight, but good luck getting past the bouncers. It’s difficult to get in unless you mix in the right circles and if you want a table you can expect to pay at least £1,000. My friend Larz got in last year through someone he knew from work and he described it as ‘something unlike anything he’d ever seen before’ and a cross between a ‘high class sex show, strip club and burlesque circus’.
5. Madame Jojo’s: Best for history
Probably one of the oldest cabaret and burlesque clubs in London, and certainly in Soho, is Madame Jojo’s. It opened in the 1960s when Soho was a sleazy sex shop ridden red-light district, and its art deco interior has remained untainted to this day. There’s an array of events on each month from jazz singers to transvestite performers and there also are club nights, with music including ’70s, ’80s, funk and soul, held throughout the week.