Put on your red shoes and dance the blues.
This summer is set to be a release, an antidote to life lived according to the T&Cs. While one or two of the new rules linger on — a rain check issued for the promised jamboree of 21 June — there’s a spate of new openings dedicating themselves to the good times, to life lived for a glint of glamour, glitz and naughtiness, to shared glances over the salted rim of a dangerous last drink.
With dancing lately kept to the living room — or worse, bar stools — like the rest of us, restaurateurs are missing getting up to get down. The correction is a waltz into the world of disco dining where, while the food is still a thing, the thing is usually to be found downstairs, where the clacks of shots hitting the table tops compete with the beats from the DJ booth. Places like this have always existed, even in recent times — on Albemarle Street, lately Mayfair sorts full of prawns, Wagyu and wine have been tottering down the staircase at Latin-tinged Isabel for mortally strong cocktails and rousing tunes in its glorious den — but there’s a sense that a new wave of parties is just about to kick off. While London is still a while away from Ibiza’s love plates with a side of house (wilfully punny new opening Ibeefa Burger looks a hoot — patties with CamelPhat and Skream doing their thing in the background), the capital is getting its fair share of basement bars where just about anything goes. Let’s dance.
El Pastor, Soho
From the outside, the new El Pastor is a stone-clad understatement; this is dressing with false modesty. But the restaurant’s quiet, don’t-look-at-me-feel is, perhaps, a deliberate ploy to keep out the wrong sort of wrong’uns. Inside is a difference: it is a low-lit palace of faded grandeur, of wood and rust and the dense greens of tall palms. The Hart boys — brothers Sam and James — and Crispin Somerville keep the usual El Pastor themes of tacos, tostadas and tequila, but, through an archway with a jester’s hat of a lintel, there’s a staircase leading to a room of neon lights and smoked mirrors, Mezcaleria El Colmillo, which is named after a nightclub Sam and Crispin ran in the 1990s in Mexico City. Come for throat-tightening shots and the promise of ‘a house party vibe’.
Open now. 66-70 Brewer Street, W1 (tacoselpastor.co.uk)
When Andina lost its original Shoreditch home last year, it quietly pulled itself together and resolved to come back better. Now sitting near Spitalfields Market, the new site is bigger than its ill-fated predecessor, though the offering stays true to what it was: plates of colourful ceviche served in an easy, relaxed spot. The bit to buzz about is below ground — Bar Mistura. Styling itself as a ‘Latin-American speakeasy’, with a 1am licence on Fridays and Saturdays, Bar Mistura is promising a holiday mood and pisco poured in industrial quantities.
Open now. 60-62 Commercial Street, E1 (cevichefamily.com)
The Saxon, Clapham
It’s not just restaurants in on the fun. After a four-year wait — and a hell of a renovation — a once decrepit box room of a boozer has been unwrapped into a four-storey gastropub, with a terrace that runs like a moat around the outside. It’s usual pub life most of the week — small plates, pints, brunches, Sunday roasts — but owner Patrick Frawley is after fun on Fridays, when DJs will play and the licence runs late; this is when the Guinnesses become sharp hits of tequila. Here comes the hotstepper.
Open now. 50 Clapham High Street, SW4 (thesaxon.co.uk)
Ave Mario, Covent Garden
The Big Mamma group cast a spell over London first with Gloria, its Technicolor trat in Shoreditch, then repeated the trick with the chintz and glitz of Circolo Popolare. Now it is opening what is set to be the launch of the summer, another Italian, and this time it’s positively a cathedral of good times. Two terraces, two floors, 7,000 square feet, room for 295. And while the cotoletta Milanese, caviar and the mammoth, 60cm-tall stracciatella ice cream cake will draw in some, the real joy is surely to be found in the 1970s-themed mirrored basement, where the celeby crowd will stay up and party into the dark hours.
Opens 2 July. 15 Henrietta Street, WC2 (bigmammagroup.com)
The Windmill, Soho
Recent times have been hard on the city’s icons and one, London’s original strip club The Windmill, dimmed its lights forever. Its last days were marked by a seediness that — even by Soho’s appealingly louche standards — couldn’t continue, but the days of dancers doing what they shouldn’t are soon to be nothing but a steamy blur of a memory. A £10 million refit, just wrapping up, will see the Great Windmill Street site return as a 350-cover restaurant and circus-cabaret bar complete with a basement speakeasy, all set to run right into the AMs. Dancing will be encouraged — only make sure to keep your clothes on.
Opens this summer. 17-19 Great Windmill Street, W1 (windmilltheatre.com)
Lío, Leicester Square
It might have managed to dust itself down after a bombing in the Blitz, but Café de Paris couldn’t shake off Covid. It’s a place with a history — hosting the likes of Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Noël Coward — and another big name is set to move in as long-time Ibiza favourite Lío makes its first inroads into London. The Spanish club from the Pacha Group is famed for its riotous nights of contortionists and circus acts, and the Leicester Square outpost will be much the same; evenings will begin with grand dinners, dancers galore, before the place lowers the lights and raises the volume.
Opens late 2021. 3-4 Coventry Street, W1 (pacha.com)