EDIT January 2012: This milonga lost its venue over Christmas and has now MOVED to a new venue near London Bridge. I haven't tried this yet.
This is an under-new-management version of a milonga that already existed but I never got around to trying. It's at 8 Hop Gardens, off St Martin's Lane, near Leicester Square, WC2N 4EH. It's now running every Friday from 21:30 to 02:00, organised by Grant.
Update: on second and third visits, I found much better lighting, which made it much easier to get dances, and I also found more of them there to get.
The Class: There isn't always a class before the milonga. On this occasion there was, but I didn't attend it. Classes at various levels are listed on the website.
Layout and Atmosphere: You come in through a corridor and down some steps, and it's just what it says on the door, a Quaker meeting hall. It's a very nice rectangular space, fairly small, with seating along two sides, one side being a low, long platform with small tables and red tablecloths, and the other a long broad bench. I think it's nearly the ideal size and shape for a small milonga; if you were having a meeting you'd be able to discuss things across the room without needing to raise your voice, but it's not cramped. Beyond the tablecloths, I don't think anything else had been done to the room to make it more milonga-ish. There's a quite beautiful big window at the end where the DJ is, with what looks rather like some sort of giant grass outside, and the refreshment and chillout room, actually a library, is at the other end. The floor is very nice, wooden, smooth, and not slippery or sticky. It's too dark for getting dances to be easy, but not extreme or darker than is usual for London. The Quaker pamphlets in the library are quite intriguing if you feel like having a nose around; I noticed that, for Quakers, "advice" is a countable noun with a plural, "advices". I've never ever heard a native English speaker use that - it must be a sixteenth-century survival, how interesting.
Hospitality: Very good. A selection of teas, coffees and soft drinks is laid out in the refreshment room with proper mugs, and included in the price, so you help yourself. The loos are roomy, clean and well-lit and have rather spiritual notices about living in peace with the world and switching off the lights. The venue doesn't allow alcohol to be served. At the entrance to the hall, where the desk is, there's a nice long line of coathooks where you can leave your stuff, and because refreshments are included you don't need to take anything inside and have it be on the floor getting in the way. So I left my bag there, zipped inside my coat.
Anyone or anything interesting that turned up or happened: Just social dancing. And there don't seem to be any plans for performances, which is a major plus as far as I'm concerned, your preference may vary.
What I thought of the DJing: DJs vary, check the schedule. This time it was Mehmet, who played 100% traditional in tandas with cortinas. I was fine with most of the tandas. The cortinas were too short to really clear the floor, and people didn't, which added to the difficulty of getting dances and the tendency to stick with fixed partners. They also use Ewa Zbrezska, whose music I get on with fine. Under the previous management there was a lot of later music, like there is for the Thursday practica - that seems to have changed.
Getting in: £8, or an even more reasonble £7 if you join as a member (you also get a login to the website, but I don't know what's on the other side of logging in).
Getting there and getting home: Take Exit 1 from Leicester Square tube. Turn left, so you are passing the Garrick Theatre, and take the second left (which is a street of bookshops and art shops). When you come out at the other end, you'll see Hop Gardens is just a little to your right across the road, with a Gym Box on the corner. Cross carefully - watch out for near-silent bicycle rickshaws, drunk pedestrians and, at the time of writing, a huge hole in the road. The building you want is the Quaker Meeting House, which is on your left. Press the labelled bell, and wait for someone to come and open the door. Trains go from Leicester Square till about half past midnight, but it's open later and doesn't start to fill up till about 11. There are numerous night buses nearby, and if you already know the way home from Carablanca or Negracha, you are pretty close to there anyway. The only problem is the buses can get full at 2am, so dress warmly if you're going to do this, you might have to wait a while.
The website: http://www.thetangoclub.com/ - nicely presented, does the job and gives you a nice, accessible list of events, practicas and classes at the same venue, as well as the milonga. Well-written and includes an accurate, properly-configured embedded Google map.
How it went: I'd gone there specifically to meet two people I really love dancing with, so I can't really assess how well it would have gone under other conditions. It's small. The crowd was rather young. Most of the dancing was not really my style, and required a lot of space in proportion to the size of the room. But that was by no means true of all of it, and at least some of it was high quality, especially after 11pm. The floor was pretty orderly if you took space requirements into account. Because it's small, I'd want to arrange for at least one or two likely partners to be there. However, it might be a good choice for the more experienced visitor, especially if you can live with a wide range of styles.
It's easy for me to reach, with a straightforward route home even if I stay till 2am. I really liked the room, I was ok with the music, and I liked the price, especially with the bonus of no performance and a cup of tea included. I think I'd find it difficult to get the dances I wanted, because of the darkness and people not clearing the floor, but I can adapt to that, given the small size of the room. I will definitely consider it as an alternative to my usual place on occasions when it has a better DJ or my usual place has a performance, especially if I can overcome the style problem by persuading one or two regular partners to join me despite the absence of beer.