Heliot Bar at the Hippodrome, London

Over a hundred years ago, one of the world’s biggest circus stars was Claire Heliot and her lions who were so tame that she would tumble with them on stage. She is celebrated in the name of the bar and restaurant within London’s new Hippodrome Casino, which has been created in the 112-year-old entertainment venue where she and her cats famously performed. Working with casino and restaurant specialist Cadmium Architects & Designers, the Leicester Square landmark has been renovated in a 30-month £40million project that has created not just a casino but a destination for cabaret and cocktails.

Heliot Restaurant, Lounge & Bar is on the first floor of the Hippodrome, accessible through its own street entrance as well as from the main gaming room in the building’s former performance space. Overlooking the casino floor, it also leads through to the 180-capacity Matcham Room for cabaret and live music.

The building was originally designed by prolific theatre architect Frank Matcham, and much of the original structure has been retained. The restaurant, which serves contemporary British brasserie-style food, cascades down on three levels, following the original tiers of seating in the auditorium’s upper level. From a dispense bar on the bottom tier, steps lead up to more intimate dining areas, furnished with luxurious leather and jewel-studded seating. LED bulb-like lights, called Crystal Rain, line the exposed metal girders above alongside pulleys salvaged from the original building.

The main circular bar is bright and welcoming, with mirrors creating a greater sense of space and a kaleidoscopic effect. The floor is made up of thousands of pennies under glass, while a display of stacked shot glasses shimmers and glows from back-illuminated red panels. To the side is a lounge (pictured below) that has the look of a classic gentleman’s club. “The Lounge is a sexy and cool palette of soft greys,” points out Cadmium managing director Paula Reason. “Rippled metal wallpaper, silky curtains and beautiful carpets are a backdrop to a series of seductive panels of artwork, gorgeous statement-piece lights and relaxing seating.”

The food and beverage operations cover five bars throughout the venue, from the main gaming floor to the smoking terrace and gaming suites, all run by The One Group. Headed by British entrepreneur Jonathan Segal, the group is expanding into Europe after making its name running luxury bars, clubs and restaurants in the US such as the Gansevoort Hotel Group’s. The general manager is Geoff Todd, previously at Ronnie Scott’s and Boisdale of Canary Wharf.

The drinks list has been put together by assistant general manager Philippe Zaigue, also formerly at Ronnie Scott’s and Boisdale, with the bar team, supported by Bacardi Brown-Forman Brands. As well as the classics, Philippe says they have devised drinks inspired by past performers from the Hippodrome’s history, which was cabaret and jazz club Talk of the Town from 1958 to 1982. These include the Rat Pack Manhattan, made with Maker’s Mark and Woodford Reserve bourbons as well as Grand Marnier. However, Philippe says the list is being revamped in September alongside the introduction of cocktails created by Tony Conigliaro of London’s Zetter Townhouse and 69 Colebrooke Row bars.

The bar pays homage to the gin and tonic with a list suggesting eight different gins for mixing with Fever-Tree tonic, from Sipsmith, Bloom and Martin Miller’s Westbourne to Hendrick’s, Fifty Pounds and No 209. But the spirits list features many other gins and premium spirits, with a strong showing of tequilas and whiskies. There is also a good choice of wines and beers, including Blue Moon and London Pride on tap and bottled options such as Brooklyn, Goose Island IPA, Anchor Steam and Saint.

The Heliot bar is open to 3am but the casino as a whole operates 24 hours a day. Despite the luxurious interiors, it aims to be welcoming, with no need to be a member or sign in. Many parts of the historic building are open to the public for the first time, with a maze of staircases and corridors leading to private rooms and more gaming areas. There may no longer be dwarves diving into a pool from the minstrels gallery or Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra singing in the auditorium but the spirit of the building lives on.

Heliot Restaurant, Bar & Lounge, Hippodrome Casino, Cranbourn Street, Leicester Square, London WC2H 7JH Tel: 020 7769 8844 www.hippodromecasino.com

Originally published in the September 2012 edition of Bar magazine.

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