The Colony Room

The Colony Room

The Colony Room was a private members' drinking club for artists and other creative people in Dean Street, Soho, London. It gathered a reputation akin to famous clubs of the past such as the Kit-Cat Club. According to Anthony Haden-Guest, it is "one of the fiercely eccentric clubs that make all the difference in London. There's absolutely nothing like it in New York."[1]

The club closed at the end of 2008 when its lease expired.[2]

Contents

History

In 1948 Muriel Belcher managed to secure a 3-to-11pm drinking license for the Colony Room bar as a private members club, whereas public houses had to close at 2.30pm. The painter Francis Bacon was a founding member, walking in the day after it opened. He was "adopted" by Belcher as a "daughter" and allowed free drinks and £10 a week to bring in friends and rich patrons.

The club had a certain notoriety for its decor as well as its clientele; its bilious green walls were as famous as the club itself. In addition to its vile colour, the staircase that led to the establishment was described as foul-smelling and flanked by dustbins. Indeed many members referred to it as “going up the dirty stairs.” The Room was operated by Belcher between opening and her death in 1979.

The Museum of London website says of the club, "The Colony Room was one of many drinking clubs in Soho. The autocratic and temperamental owner Muriel Belcher created an ambiance which suited those who thought of themselves as misfits or outsiders."

Belcher's sexuality attracted many gay men to the club, many of them brought to the club by her Jamaican girlfriend, Carmel. She had a knack for attracting or discovering interesting and colourful people, and the patronage of men like George Melly and Bacon helped to establish the Colony Room's close-knit community. Lady Rose McLaren, one of Bacon's friends, was a habitueé of the club in her London days.

Bacon, Belcher, and the club feature in John Maybury's 1998 film Love is the devil.

After Belcher's death, the club continued under her long-term barman Ian Board, known as Ida, until his death in 1994. It then passed to his veteran barman Michael Wojas, who had been employed at the Club from 1981. The Colony Room Club attracted low-lifes as well as artists of all types. It was a cultural magnet for the Young British Artists group (YBAs), including Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin.

The Colony Room Club was a tiny first-floor room, painted in what is now known as 'Colony Room Green' which enjoyed an important role in Soho society, playing host to major British talent, including Francis Bacon, Peter O'Toole, Lisa Stansfield, Tracey Emin, Michael Andrews, Lucian Freud and Damien Hirst, who offered an opinion of why artists like the Colony: "It's because artists like drinking".

Other regulars included Jeffrey Bernard, Henri Cartier Bresson and the socialite Henrietta Moraes, whose portrait by Bacon is estimated to sell for £7.5million when it is auctioned at Christie's next month.

It's the club where Kate Moss did a stint as barmaid; Dylan Thomas threw up on the carpet and Princess Margaret popped in for a pink gin. Not only a haunt of celebrities, (many members did not enjoy celebrity status when first they discovered the Colony Room), visitors ended up being captivated and bewitched by the casual and bohemian ambience, where everyone could relax and discourse on all manner of subjects with all types of people.

A fictionalised version of the club appears in the first story ("Foie Humain") of Will Self's collection Liver. The club was used as the set/venue for the ITV show Suggs in the City.

Closure

Concern over possible closure were raised by the imminent end of the lease at the end of 2008.[3]

There was a national campaign funded by Colony Room Club members and fronted by dandy and artist Sebastian Horsley which attempted to secure the use of the premises in the future. According to Horsley: "it has been a vibrant, unique and historical drinking den for artists, writers, musicians, actors and their acolytes. There is nowhere else like it in the world." He also said: "The Colony is a living work of art, it's a tragedy what's happening. From Bacon to Beckett, Rimbaud to Rotten, the Colony must not be forgotten".

The members of the new Committee are Michael Beckett, Michael 'Twiggy' Peel, Chris Battye, Ian Freeman, Cindy Hacker, Johnny Thornton and Kealan Doyle. They are attempting to save the club and are currently soliciting the help of the entire artistic community.

The committee is currently negotiating to re-open the club elsewhere in Soho, while discussions with the landlord of 41 Dean Street continue. On 11 September 2009 the landlord was refused planning consent by Westminster Council to convert the club into apartments, which provides at least a little hope that, one day, the club may be able to return to its spiritual home.

Carpe Noctum Ball to help save the club

A ball was held on December 9, 2008 in central London to raise funds for the fight to save the Club. Tickets cost £100 each.

Colony Room members

Well known clients of the Colony Room have included:

References

  1. ^ Evening Standard Magazine 20 June 2008.
  2. ^ "Londoner's Diary", Evening Standard, 24 November 2009
  3. ^ BBC News report, 5 Oct 08

External links

Coordinates: 51°30′48″N 0°07′56″W / 51.5133°N 0.1322°W / 51.5133; -0.1322


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