Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Tango @ 33 Portland Place

[Update 25/01/10: The milonga at this venue is CANCELLED, probably permanently - it's looking for a new one]

This milonga is on Sunday evenings, generally from 8 till midnight, at 33 Portland Place, five minutes from Oxford Circus. I've been there a few times recently, and realised my review needed updating. Be aware that it's normally closed for the whole of August [Correction: Naomi emails to say it will be open for August 2009 with a slightly different format, check the website for details. Apparently a jacuzzi is involved.] They also have a practica on Thursdays at the moment, check the website (plays music!) for details.

The Class: I didn't take the class. People seem to find it safe-and-friendly and to stick around afterwards. There are comments about it on my previous review.

Layout and Atmosphere: Beautiful. The venue is stupendous, I've described it before but it's an eighteenth-century private house next door to the Chinese consulate. It currently belongs to Lord Edward Davenport, or at least a company managed by him, and they courteously hire it out to 'οι πολλοι on Sunday evenings.

You push open the huge front door with the little notice on it, and you come into a hallway that feels a little like the hallways of a million fine old London houses butchered into awkward flats, except that it's much bigger and much finer and hasn't been butchered. The person at the desk always seems tiny, partly because it's often Alex or Naomi, and they're both actually quite small, but mainly because the desk is huge and the room is the same as many you've seen, but on a bigger scale. The first time I went there I felt it could probably do with a dozen or so million in restoration; I now have the impression that some of this has been spent and there are plans for more. The history page on the house's website suggests the same thing, that gradual restoration is in progress.

They normally have the two beautiful rooms upstairs which are connected to each other in an L-shape and have glorious pink, green, and white plaster ceilings. Some people treat the two as seperate dancefloors - usual when it's crowded - or when there's room some people navigate between them. The carpets you see on the house's website get rolled up out of the way. Then they have either one or two rooms downstairs, the one at the far end with the skylight, or the one at the front, or sometimes both if there is going to be a performance. All of them are lovely and you can sit on a beautiful battered gilt velvet chaise longue or a lovely little gilt blue chair. When you go in, just follow the music through any door that's open.

Now, because this is an eighteenth century house, the people who built it took light seriously, and on a summer evening, all the rooms are full of evening sky. There is a light-well down the centre of the building and there are magnificent floor-to-ceiling sash windows onto the street and onto the lightwell. Be careful not to trip over and fall out of the window. Chairs are placed in the way to prevent your decease. When the windows onto the street are open you can cool off on the balcony with the music coming out behind you, smiling at curious passers-by and looking like the cool guys.

The floors are good old wood, but not up to the punishment of regular tango. Take care, they're uneven, with sticky bits and little holes and dips and even a few splinters. I gather there are plans to repair or replace them all, starting this August. In the meantime, you might avoid your newest or spikiest shoes. If you find yourself reflecting that the floor is a bit dodgy, just look up at the ceiling. But the staircase is stone, and well-worn, so if you're going to admire the plasterwork above you there, stand still and hold the handrail while you do so.

The crowd tends to reflect the organisers and be on the younger side, which I like. I also like the chaises-longues and sofas upstairs, which I find make it very easy to start conversations.

Hospitality: Good. Plastic cups, and a marker to write your name on them. Help yourself to lots of water, some wine and some lemonade, crisps and nuts. More than enough coat racks with more than enough hangers. The Ladies', downstairs, is rather spectacular, always perfectly clean and well supplied, and in keeping with the house. The only problem with it is that the Twentieth-Century-Stupid design of the sinks tends to splash water all over the floor, and on this occasion it made it difficult to dry my hands. Don't lean on the sinks. Careful with your choice of shoes; the floor, pre-repair, is uneven, with some small holes, larger dips, and even the odd splinter, and if anyone has an argument with the sink they could get wet.

Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: Nothing, thank heavens. Not a sausage. No performance, nothing. I had uninterrupted dancing, and it was lovely.

What I thought of the DJing: They play mostly traditional music both upstairs and down, but downstairs gets a bit more modern later in the evening. They know what's popular and makes people want to dance. If you like a lot of variety and adventure it may not satisfy you, but it contents me. On this night all my favourite milongas were included, and there's always an adequate dose of vals.

Getting in: £8 on this occasion. The front door can lock accidentally when people go outside to smoke, in which case you might have to knock to attract the attention of the person at the desk. Check it isn't August before doing so. It's closed in August. [Correction: it's open in August 2009.]

Getting there and getting home: Take exit 4 from Oxford Circus and walk up Regent St. towards Broadcasting House and the round portico of All Souls' Church. Continue on the same side of the road as it curves round the Langham Hotel and keep going till you get to 33, which is next door to the Chinese Consulate and just after a conspicuous sign for number 27. Careful getting home, because it's Sunday; the last Tube is half an hour before the milonga closes. Leave at 23:00 or get a bus from Oxford Street. Be warned that some night buses don't start till an hour later. Plan your homeward journey with the Journey Planner; the house's postcode is W1B 1QE.

The website: www.tangoat33.co.uk. Pretty. You have to wait for the Flash to load, and it plays music with no Mute button while that's happening, but once it's loaded all the information you actually need is right there in front of you - what's on, what time, and how much it is to get in. There's also a Facebook Group.

How it went: I had such a nice evening I had to update my review. I stood on the balcony with the music coming out behind me, feeling like the cool guys. Danced fun dances with fun regulars and plenty of space. I wish I could go there more often (I have to work on Mondays). I'd definitely suggest this one to visitors to London, especially in summer, and maybe as a place to bring a non-dancing friend as the venue is so special and the music is reliably all right. Because no matter how your dances go - and they're about as likely to go well here as anywhere - you don't often get the chance to inhabit a house like this.

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