If you subscribe to the belief that life is a cabaret, old chum, you’ll fall pretty heavily for burlesque. The Victorian art form shimmied back into vogue in the 90s and its popularity shows no sign of waning just yet. The London burlesque scene offers everything from quick dance performances as a side event to dinner and cocktails, to full-blown events involving snake charmers, fire-eaters and circus acts. So don a pair of long satin gloves, grab an ostrich feather and join the show. Your table’s waiting…
Proud Embankment | Embankment
High-kicking its way into Londoners’ social lives in 2018, Proud Embankment puts the noble art of cabaret centre-stage at its two-storey club under Waterloo Bridge. There’s fire-breathing, there’s drag, there’s aerial acrobatics, there’s burlesque. And it doesn’t stop from the second you take your seat until you emerge back on to the street sometime after 3am. You can choose to sit stage-side downstairs, with performers twirling about above your head, or up on the balcony. There’s the option to add dinner to the experience, too.
Details: 8 Victoria Embankment, Embankment, WC2R 2AB | Book here
The Candlelight Club | Secret Location
There’s nothing like a bit of secrecy to add a little frisson to your night out, so you’re already on to a winner before you’ve stepped through the doors of the Candlelight Club. The 1920s speakeasy-style parties are laid on at different venues throughout London, with the location revealed only two days before. It’s no secret you’ll have a rollicking good time once you’ve tracked down the party, with burlesque performances, jazz bands and electroswing DJs on the bill at each one.
Details: At a secret London location | Book tickets
The Crazy Coqs | Soho
Descending the stairs from the ZL Café on Sherwood Street to the world of Zédel is to leave the 21st century and time-travel to the 1930s. There’s the frothy marble and gilt wonder that is the French brasserie, and the grown-up Art Deco cocktail bar, Bar Américain. And capping it all off is the Crazy Coqs, an intimate theatre and cabaret venue that frequently stages burlesque performances, as well as jazz, swing, magic and comedy.
Details: 20 Sherwood Street, Soho, W1F 7ED | Book tickets
House of Burlesque | Covent Garden
Image: Ali Wright
If you’ve seen enough burlesque to feel inspired to reveal your own inner sass (and possibly a bit of outer skin), sign up for a course with the House of Burlesque in London’s most famous dance studio. Performer Tempest Rose runs drop-in dance classes at Pineapple Studios on a Thursday evening, and regular courses and workshops at Clean Break in Kentish Town. For a taster, try the Intro to Fan Dancing; once hooked, move on to the four- and six-week courses, and you’ll soon be shaking your tail feather like a pro.
Details: 7 Langley Street, Covent Garden, WC2H 9JA | Book classes
Louche | Soho
Louche by name, louche by nature. Bursting on to the scene in late 2021, this bar and performance venue, spread over a three-storey Greek Street townhouse, has an unwavering purpose: to revive “everything from the glitz and the glamour to the misbehaviours and the underbelly of Soho”. Burlesque is an important part of the revival, with dedicated shows regularly popping up on its two stages and roaming dancers making an appearance on themed party nights.
Details: 5 Greek St, Soho, W1D 4DD | Book tickets
Gin House Burlesque | Hoxton
Joyous abandon is the name of the game with Gin House Burlesque. Inspired by the hedonism and debauchery of the Prohibition era, artistes Jolie Papillion, Miss Betsy Rose and Missy Fatale host a rip-roaring night of dance, fire-eating, snake-charming and magic at their residency at the King’s Head Members Club. The approach is full-on, unapologetically vintage, with swing bands in attendance and audiences positively encouraged to dress as is for a clandestine shindig circa 1930.
Details: The King’s Head Members Club, 257 Kingsland Road, E2 8AS | Book tickets
Courtesan | Brixton
Come to Courtesan for its modern interpretations of dishes first cooked at China’s Imperial Court, with dim sum ranging from spiced pumpkin bao to sesame rice balls. But be sure to stay for some of the best burlesque in south London, performed on a teeny tiny stage several nights a week. Inspired by the “courtesans of ancient China”, the dark, atmospheric cocktail bar and restaurant are effortlessly sultry even without the presence of a headdress-topped, hip-twirling dancer…
Details: 69-73 Atlantic Road, Brixton, SW9 8PU | Book here
The Parlour | The City
Head to The Parlour, the moody basement bar & restaurant in The Ned, on a Saturday night and you’ll get your entertainment from the Black Cat, which is not the bar’s resident singing and dancing pet, but one of London’s best cabarets where singers, comics and burlesque acts dazzle in their weekly High Society show; a performance for the ages that melds modern circus shenanigans with a bit of risqué burlesque.
Details: The Ned, 27 Poultry, EC2R 8AJ | Book tickets
Phoenix Arts Club | Covent Garden
A little slice of West End history lies behind the nondescript doors of the Phoenix Arts Club. The drinking den occupies the old rehearsal and changing rooms of the Phoenix Theatre, and its theatrical heritage is immediately apparent, with show posters and stage props on display anywhere there’s room to put them. There’s an anything-goes feel to a night here, not least when one of the frequent burlesque and cabaret performances take to the stage. You’ll need to book ahead but, after that, don’t make any plans – you’ll only end up breaking them.
Details: 1 Phoenix Street, Covent Garden, WC2H 8BU | Book tickets
East London Burlesque | Hackney Wick
Learn the proper art of elegantly peeling off a glove or slipping down a stocking at East London Burlesque’s rehearsal ‘boudoir’. A new dance routine is taught at drop-in classes every Wednesday night, with professional performer Evelyn Carnate showing newbies the ropes. If you get a taste for it, there are four-week courses, too, covering striptease, fan dancing and neo-burlesque moves. You’ll be coming up with your own burlesque name before you know it.
Details: 92 White Post Lane, Hackney Wick, E9 5EN | Book classes
In search of somewhere special to eat before with a date? Take a peek at the most intimate restaurants in London…
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