London’s Bermuda Triangle
By now, as a reader of this rambling site, you doubtless think you have the measure of me. Sedate, bookish, prone to trotting out historical facts of interest to a handful of strange but exquisitely tasteful readers.
But there are rambunctious nights that end in oblivion. And a large part of them, it seems, occur in the Phoenix Artists Club. What is it about this bizarre haunt underneath the Phoenix Theatre that makes people lose their wits? Why do we even go there? The staff are – well, ‘sour’ is too kind a word. The decor is ‘Elderly Actor’s Attic collides with Charity Shop’. The music – let’s not even go into the album ‘Christmas Carols Sung By Cats’. Once heard, it’s never forgotten.
Noel Coward and Gertie Lawrence used to perform here for their friends. Now there’s an eclectic mix of actors, celebrities and people who simply happened to be shiftily hanging around outside and wondered where the stairs led.
Entry is random. Sometimes you’ll be charged £40 for a lifetime membership. You may be told membership is closed. Once I saw Plum on the door admit someone only if he could answer three tough questions about the London theatre scene, then give him two out of the three answers. Closing time is uncertain. The place may be empty or packed to the gills. When the old owner Maurice died at Christmas this year, his coffin was placed in the bar with a silver top hat on it and we carried on drinking.
Things go missing and magically reappear in the Phoenix. Just before Christmas I got halfway home before I realised that I was wearing someone else’s jacket (the fact that the sleeves were a foot short should have alerted me). I returned it, complete with wallet and keys to an owner who had not even missed it. I never found my own. You don’t go there unless you’re prepared to lose or possible gain something. The other night I found yet another tequila glass in my pocket when I got home. A film director was telling me about his new movie, and I discovered he had put a copy of it in my coat.
I’ve lost work documents in there, found myself with new hats and scarves, gained books, DVDs, a painting, many random objects. On certain nights there’s a chance that Benedict Cumberbatch or Guillermo del Toro will be at the bar wondering where their gloves have gone. Last night, my watch mysteriously shed its strap while I was standing at the counter, simply rolling off my arm and vanishing into the murk of the shadowed floor for no discernible reason. I think it must be on a confluence of ley lines or something.
Nor is there a hierarchy; conversations can be joined by any party. Last night it ranged from the history of 3D and the unsuitable choice of Thomas Newman as the soundtrack composer of the next Bond film to the failure of Lionel Bart’s career. I think people started singing highlights from ‘Twang!’ the ill-fated show about Robin Hood Bart wrote while on acid. Sometimes an opera singer will turn up and belt out a few arias, despite the fact that nobody asked her to.
There are plenty of other Bermuda Triangles to be found in London, but this is my default venue because you can go there without any arrangements and end up with an accidental crowd. We had been intending to go on afterwards – we never got there, of course. Instead I now seem to be committed to going to Glasgow for a party, cajoled into a cast-iron promise made over shots of something that tasted of raspberries and drain cleaner. It’s that kind of place.