Pssst! Wanna know where a guy or gal can get a drink round here? It’s called The Candlelight Club—look for the single candle outside the door.
The Candlelight Club recreates the atmosphere of a Prohibition-era speakeasy, joyfully put together by fans of the 1920s—lovers of the style, the music, the cocktails and most of all a damn good party.
What is the appeal of the Jazz Age? Is it the gorgeous, hedonistic fashions? The illicit thrill of sipping a drink in a fly-by-night illegal drinking den? The glamour of the bootlegging gangsters who run the town? The toe-tapping rasp of hotly syncopated jazz music? Whatever it is, it was a decade when it seemed the party would never end.
Our own story begins in the summer of 2010. Clayton Hartley is throwing a party for retro-dandies of the New Sheridan Club, a home for eccentric vintage enthusiasts, when he is approached by an American man with a background in hospitality. He has just come back from New York where he noticed how bars were playing up their Prohibition history, and he wonders if there would be interest in events based on this era. He was literally walking past Clayton’s venue, noticed all the people spilling out in period clothes, and knew he had to speak to the person running this party.
For Clayton it would be an opportunity to combine a number of his abiding interests in the era. He suggests an emphasis on cocktails, changing the menu each time. In keeping with the speakeasy credentials the parties are held at a secret location, revealed to guests two days beforehand. The venue happens to have a lot of candlesticks which give them the idea of lighting the place entirely by candles—as a makeshift warehouse speakeasy might have no electric lighting. The first time they light the candles and turn off the lights they have no idea if you’ll even be able to see in there, but the effect is amazingly atmospheric.
The pair do almost everything themselves—running the bar, designing the cocktail menu, mixing live sound for the musicians, taking photos. They want it to feel less like a club than a private party. For Christmas they cure their own ham and give each guest a CD of vintage tunes compiled by their very first DJ, MC Fruity.
After four events they move into a bigger space. For three weeks in 2011 they are opening their doors almost every Saturday. (Until a friendly visitor from the local council points out that the room in which their speakeasy is located is not actually licensed for the sale of alcohol. He sees the irony.)
Later the Candlelight Club pops up in other places—a floor of Kettner’s in Soho, a civic hall in Bayswater, and recently a multi-space ballroom in east London. Some parties are given individual themes of their own, whether it be seasonal (Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s) or looking at places in the Jazz Age world—Paris, Havana, New Orleans, even Tokyo and Bombay—all of which influenced or were influenced by Prohibition in the US and contributed to the rich, stylish culture of the era. To see photos from our previous events, have a browse through our online collection of photo albums.
In summer 2015 the Candlelight Club is picked by the BBC to host an episode of their show Hair, in which amateur hairdressers compete to master a series of challenges. Hosted by comedian Katherine Ryan, the episode sees contestants styling the hair of Candlelight guests as well as a troupe of our Gatsby Girls dancers—to test whether their creations could survive the rigours of a Charleston work-out!
Now in its ninth year, the Candlelight continues to offer the chance to step back into the glamour of the Gatsby world for one night—now with award-winning mixologist David Hamilton Boyd in charge of food and drink. The experience continues to evolve: in the last 12 months the electric energy of our jazz and swing bands has been joined a growing element of cabaret, featuring London’s wonderful network of passionately creative singers, dancers, burlesque artists, acrobats, jugglers, magicians and more—all dedicated to giving you a night of up-close vintage entertainment. Learn about some of them on our Meet the Team page.