Why are theatre bars such grim places to have a drink? I was inspired to write this blog by my friend Alison, who voiced her contempt for Soho Theatre’s cramped, loud and very expensive bar. In theory Soho is full of other bars you can go to but they suffer from the same problems that Soho Theatre presents, particularly on a Friday or Saturday night.
Increasingly venues are trying to not only make themselves available to those seeing a production but to those in the area who fancy a drink. The problem is that they are barely welcoming to those who have to be there let alone to any passing trade. The NT, for example, has plenty of bars, such as the new Understudy and restaurants but, in my experience, the service can be poor, the seats can be minimal and the drinks so very expensive. Even smaller theatres like Southwark Playhouse, which has more welcoming prices and much nicer than the near-by Rockingham Arms, is not really a venue I would choose to drink in if I wasn’t there to see a show.
The Old Vic has renovated its downstairs space and seems keen for people to go there before and after a show but it is too small and there is still enough competition in the Waterloo/Strand/Elephant and Castle area for people to go elsewhere. It is a real shame that, like toilets, theatres haven’t gone out of their way to make the general spaces more comfortable.
There is also the tradition of theatres above pubs and for me the likes of the Finborough, King’s Head and The Lion and the Unicorn get it right because they genuinely cater to theatre goers and general pub goers alike.
My suggestion would be to stop off at the nearest supermarket and stock up on tins of gin but the many security searches audiences face in the West End means this is unlikely (though always do this for interval sweets, I am afraid the ice cream might melt before then).
If you do know of any good theatre bars please let me know in the comments!