[30th June 2009: Updated review with changes here!]
There's a new milonga every Sunday evening, from 8 to 11, at 33 Portland Place. [Edit: not every single Sunday, may be closed in August and around holidays, check Tango-UK]. The house belongs to Lord Edward Davenport, who courteously hires it out to 'οι πολλοι, and it's billed as a "celebrity hotspot". My interest in hotspottery is quite a long way below zero, so I didn't go for several weeks, then I overcame such weak-minded prejudice and went to have a look.
Layout and atmosphere: This venue is remarkable. Finding the little A4 notice on the giant door, you peep inside and are greeted by a very small organiser, from behind a very large and good-but-battered desk, in a hall that reminds me of a thousand fine old London houses butchered into awkward flats, only seven times the size and twelve times finer. You pass the foot of a Wedgewood stair, follow the music through a dark, narrow corridor with miscellaneous flooring and an achingly ugly lift, and enter a noble but dimly-seen room where you can leave your stuff. There's nowhere to hang it up, so take a bag big enough for your coat, preferably in a colour you'll be able to find in darkness. Flickering lights from a doorway invite you into a cosy, shabby-splendid, L-shaped room, with a dark wood floor, and a lowish ceiling that's nearly all skylight. The walls are deep red-brown, flaking, with little stencils in a corner, a fireplace for the barons, and wonderfully comfortable gilded chairs. If you want to sit on a properly battered, gilt, velvet chaise longue while you're waiting for your dance, you can. The room is lit by diffuse evening light, and by strings of LEDs and many, many candles. The floor has the right amount of grip, but some uneven boards - choose your shoes accordingly.
I really felt I should have been more inventive with my clothes; my usual mishmash of Jane Norman, Dorothy Perkins, and Topshop, while simple and effective, just doesn't quite do the job in this room. I should be wearing something remade from Oxfam, with my great-great-grandmother's emeralds. Or maybe just black. Not having had the kind of great-great-grandmother who had emeralds, I shall have to think it over and be a bit more creative next time.
The place could probably do with a fair few million in restoration, but it was built to last; the paint may be peeling, the plaster may be flaking, and electric light would surely reveal a sadness like the fall of Rome, but it's magnificent, truly interesting, and utterly perfect for tango.
They sometimes have the dancing in a bigger room upstairs, with balconies onto the street; I looked at that room as well, and it is very fine, but I agree with the organisers that the downstairs one is better, at least for anything up to 30 people.
What I thought of the DJing: The laptop in the corner started out very traditional, then at half past nine started attracting attention to itself by playing the occasional surprise cortina and some rather more challenging music. There was quite a bit near the borderline between slow milongas and fast tangos (which I like), and a little, but not much, vals. I didn't want to dance to everything, but I was very happy to watch the people who did, and some of them were well worth watching. A few people, at various times, used the stuff-room to go and puzzle out or discuss a move together, which I thought was rather nice.
Hospitality: Very good. Wine of two colours, bottled beer, crisps, water biscuits, orange juice, and adequate if not plentiful water are included in the price. The hosts are charming. I have to mention the ladies' loos, which are downstairs, are larger than my living room, and contain two giant gilt-framed mirrors, over six feet tall, standing against the wall. Only as I turned to leave did I notice that one of these had come out of its frame, and was merely leaning on it as an old, old friend. Clean, dry, working, well supplied with paper.
The website: there isn't one, but there is one for the building. It looks nothing like the pictures in real life - it's far shabbier, and much more interesting. [Edit: there's a facebook group.] [Edit 20th Sept: now it has a website, which requires flash - or doesn't display at all - and makes a noise. It does tell you what you need to know, though.]
Getting in: £6 dancing, £10 with class (beginners, 6:30), non-dancers £2. [Edit 20th Sept: increased by 33%, now £8 dancing.]
Getting there and getting home: short walk from Oxford Circus. It's Sunday, so check your train times home. Take Exit 1, walk up Regent Street towards All Souls' church (circular portico, pillars, stiletto spire), bear left around it and around BBC Broadcasting House. The numbers are large and clearly marked on the buildings. Number 33 is on the other side. When you get to where it seems 33 should be, cross over at the lights and look at the numbers again.
How it went: I had some dances with people I knew, and some dances with people I didn't. The crowd was mostly but by no means exclusively young. There was a good mix of levels and I saw some lovely dancing, and some inexperienced dancers having a good time.
Highly recommended, especially if you are a visitor to London. You will not see the inside of many houses like this, least of all being put to such good use.
Monday, 19 May 2008
[30th June 2009: Updated review with changes here!]