If the fruits of our permissive times are not sweet enough for you, get a taste of the forbidden variety at London’s Prohibition party. With a 1920s theme colouring everything from the music to the menus, the monthly do is the premier destination to revel amidst throngs of pearly, feathered flappers and slick latter-day Al Capones.
The event’s mystique precedes it in every way. As London’s most…famous secret party, its rotating venues are only disclosed to ticket holders two weeks in advance. In addition to vintage jazz on the speakers, the evening’s attractions include, among others, a live music set and burlesque routines, as well as roulette and black jack tables – which you can only buy into with the photocopied 100-dollar bills patrons collect at the door. Gamblers looking to splurge a few quid will find their money’s no good with the croupiers (but very welcome at the bar).
Glamour works best with a diva to flaunt it around. At the October 2nd Prohibition party, you got two: burlesque dancer Marianne Cheesecake, prancing around in balloons and bananas after the fashion of Josephine Baker, and cabaret singer Tricity Vogue, backed by a bona fide hot club trio of acoustic guitar, upright bass and drums. Leading the way with her trusty pink ukulele and ever-ready kazoo (literally a bosom friend), Miss Vogue and her all-stars blazed through a repertoire of syncopated swinging sounds, combining her own formidable tongue-in-cheek original material with little known jazz age standards like Copacabana, Should I Stay or Should I Go and Video Killed the Radio Star. Not all the evening’s entertainment displayed the same chronological rigour, though: the DJs tend to stretch the Prohibition years a little to accommodate big band hits from the early 40s, crooner jazz and even the odd rockabilly. Tsk tsk.
The greatest triumphs of the Prohibition party are in its simplest elements. The fake dollars, the teacups brimming with gin fizz and all the vintage antics, ultimately, are nothing but colourful reinforcements to what the evening is about: an excuse to dress up in glamourous attire.
The dedication visible in the patrons’ garb is moving: long gloves, stockings, pinstripe suits and white scarves rub shoulders with more irreverent regalia like inflatable Thompson machine guns, painted moustaches and Converse sneakers.
Spirits are visibly high, with frantic Charleston dancing by the stage, impromptu sing-alongs and beaus lacing their belles with their ties. Paradoxically, widespread fancy dressing seems to make people less, not more, self-conscious.
Since its inception in 2008, the Prohibition party has grown from a bi-monthly intimate gathering at the Bourne and Hollingsworth basement bar in Soho to a monthly bash for hundreds of people in railway tunnels, warehouses and former embassy buildings. Rotating venues and attractions – which have in the past included tap-dancing, photo booths and staged police raids – make individual parties something of a lottery. The Bloomsbury Ballroom, for instance, though a feast for the eyes with its charming art déco interiors, did prove to be a less than ideal place to pack a tight crowd, with table seats at a premium and no air conditioning. Likewise, a bill with only two attractions sparsely spaced over the evening rendered the event an indecisive party-revue hybrid. It would be better off with just a live band, or with more acts.
Nevertheless, the party’s minute attention to detail (gotta love those cocktail menus hidden in hardcover books) and consummate atmosphere of decadence give Prohibition a rightful place of prestige in London’s nightlife. When techno-blasting PAs and sweaty mosh pits feel tiring and repetitive, there may be nothing fresher than a cup of gin and some golden oldies on wax.
Prohibition Party. London (venue TBA). 6 November, 20:00. £15. www.prohibition1920s.com
Photo credits: Eleanor Harvie/Erotic Review