UPDATE MAY 2010: Don't bother reading the rest of this, they seem to have lost this venue, at least for the time being. The one time I do a review the first time I go - knew it was a bad idea! Nice evening, though. See Golondrina for the current venue.
Having been turfed out of 33 Portland Place because of a court order about planning permission (same thing as Americans call 'zoning'), and after an interlude at Pushkin House reviewed by Golondrina here, the '33' milonga has found a new venue in Cavendish Square. It's closed the weekend of publishing this, but the intention is to run it every Sunday.
The Class: Luis Rodriguez gave a class on milonga. I arrived after it ended, but the organisers have a stated policy about classes, recently telling the 400 club:
"Yes, we have changed as now in every lesson we put more emphasis on floor craft, musicality and figures / movement that you can use in a milonga without interrupting the dance, 'flowing' in the line of dance. We are also inviting more guest teachers who reflect the Salon style in their own dancing and teaching."Layout and Atmosphere: The house itself isn't anywhere close to the 18th century Wedgwood-ceilinged battered fall-of-Rome tradgiquality of 33 - it's basically a grand Victorian do-up of a Georgian base - but it is in far, far better condition and more comfortable, clean and convenient, as Victorian versions of Georgian things generally are. It's a proper professionally run place. As you come in there is a reception desk on your left, but the money table is in front of you, and both I and the person in front of me got friendly greetings and orientation. To your left is a cloakroom (unattended, but under the desk's eye) with one or two stools, where it makes sense to change your shoes. The 'salon' room is opposite it, and it's a fine room, with red moulded ceilings, gold details, dark wood doors and panelling and chunky red velvet sofas. The dance floor is forced into an hourglass shape by awkward panels in the middle that project beyond the seating. It's fine if you keep to one lane and keep it going - but you need good awareness of the space around you and the ability to dance small and change direction without needing extra space. It's well-lit and there's quite a lot of big squishy velvet seating, and I also perched briefly on the padded rail around the fireplace. I like this room more than the one they used for this purpose at 33, because it feels more special and less camped-out, but the shape is challenging. The floor is good. The wobbly wooden statues are a little worrying.
Alternatively, you can go down the stairs past the cloakroom, and there is a three-room setup with two dancefloors and the bar in the middle. The refreshments were in the room on the right. It's possible to dance on either floor or even right through, I saw some do this and there's nothing stopping you. It's dark, with nightclub lighting, and black and white velvet-patterned wallpaper - again, all nice and professionally done and not feeling like a dive. There's lots of comfortable seating in cosy alcoves around the edges, with tables, and it would be a good place for a chat and a chillout. The carpet was sticky in places (ew), including on the stairs, but the floor is perfectly OK. I think you can expect at least some proportion of non-traditional music downstairs - and the two large sections of floor are normal shapes and there seemed to be ample space.
I enjoyed the atmosphere and had a lovely evening. I didn't get such a clear impression of downstairs as I didn't spend much time there, the partners I had in mind happened to be upstairs.
Hospitality: Very good. Refreshments in the form of water, soft drinks and plastic cups (with the usual pens to write your name on them), and nibbles, are all provided downstairs, included in entry. The cloakroom has bag shelves, and keeps your things clean and hopefully safe - I take the usual precautions of not carrying unnecessary valuables or making them easy of access, but I'm pretty confident as everyone there is there to dance, which wasn't always the case at 33. The loos are marble and prettily done, clean and dry, sensibly designed - as I said, a proper professionally run place, the kind of thing you'd expect in a classy restaurant, suitable for fixing hair and makeup. The Ladies' downstairs was under maintenance - I used the one that's through the door in front as you go in
Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: Just social dancing, but this was also their birthday party and their first night at this new venue, so there was rather good chocolate cake, and some champagne. And there was a really sweet group birthday dance, for the milonga rather than a person - all the organisers danced a vals and got people to come and cut in.
What I thought of the DJing: They still don't really have proper DJs. Upstairs is 100% traditional and you mostly get cortinas, but that's not absolutely reliable. I looked in downstairs a few times and the music is still predominantly traditional, but I think I heard some interesting, danceable non-traditional music too.
Getting in: £10.
Getting there and getting home: The nearest Tube is Oxford Circus. Bond Street is also very close, and so is Great Portland Street. From Oxford Circus take Exit 4, walk up Regent Street towards the round spired portico of All Souls' Church (behind which is BBC Broadcasting House), and take the second left. You arrive in an open space with trees, much uglified by an underground car park. Turn right, the numbers are clearly marked, no. 5 is a few doors down. It will only take you a couple of minutes. On this night - in mid April - it had a rather bizarre Christmas-tree-like object outside, so maybe that's there all year. For getting home, remember that it is Sunday and everything stops an hour earlier than usual, so if you're like me and cautious you need to leave at 11:15, although you'd probably get away with 11:30. There are buses in all directions from Oxford Street, but there may be a big gap between the last Tube and the first direct night bus.
The website: The milonga has kept "33" as a brand name but the website has now been updated for the new location - and it also has a button for turning the sound off, much better. It's still Flash, though, and takes quite a bit of clicking and squinting to find out where it is, when it is, whether it's on, and how much it is to get in - I'd strongly suggest following the Facebook group and announcements on tango-uk instead. They publish a syllabus for the beginners' course, which I think is a good thing as it sets people's expectations at the right time (starts week 1 with close embrace - yay!). The venue has its own website, also Flash, which might be operable if you were willing to wait long enough.
How it went: I got a fabulous first dance, so you might have to consider the whole of this somewhat favourably biased ty that; on the other hand, I had a good impression on walking in and sat down with a smile on my face, which probably contributed to the first dance. After that I really couldn't possibly complain. The Salon Room thing could actually work here, because the layout and lighting mostly favour it (it had no chance at Pushkin House - I think it's essential to have enough seating round the floor, which wasn't possible at 33 either). The room is well lit and in very good condition. The only awkward thing is the bottleneck in the middle of the floor, but this could work out OK, since it almost forces a single lane. It was orderly for the first 45 minutes, if challenging, but went downhill quite badly later, partly due to the cake and champagne. Awareness and enforcement of orderly dancing are still patchy, although they're trying to make a feature of it, and it still works best earlier in the evening. If you feel you can contribute positively to that, and you want to, I think it's worth turning up early. If you prefer the more edgy, darker atmosphere downstairs there's also plenty of space to do your thing.
Nice place. Not bonkers like 33, but lots of colour and personality and a nice feel.