La Belle Epoque Party Halloween Special
The invitation claimed Belle Epoque was in the Grand Hall on Euston Road. Five minutes of asking everyone we saw where the hall might be yielded no results, apart from suspicion over how grand this hall really was. After stumbling across another group of misplaced gentlemen we eventually came across the venue, and entered with a sense of caution, not knowing what might await us in this clandestine venue.
My cynicism was immediately allayed upon entering the venue. Everywhere we looked there were cads, bounders, flappers and dukes. Jockeys full of bourbon and feathered corsets gliding their merry paths. The band was tooting up a storm (integrating bagpipes and harmonicas, no less), whilst most probably the tallest man I’ve seen this year was swaying to the rhythm on the dance floor. He was wearing a top hat, which seemed unnecessary. The bar beckoned and there was no time to waste.
I felt like Jack Torrance being supplied by Lloyd. But this wasn’t bourbon, this was absinthe. I watched it slowly coil through the sugar and into the glass. Oh dear, I thought, oh dear. A little more expensive than my usual vices, but then this was Halloween and allowances were to be made. The absinthe trickled down my throat like liquorice dripping off a ceramic plate. This seemed like a bar that might serve a single plum floating in perfume and served in a man’s hat, but that could wait until the pyrotechnics had begun, and begin they soon did.
Circular tables surrounded a circular centre stage, which was then set upon by rather more angular artistes. First on the stage was a lady who coiled herself up in a scarlet drape and unravelled like a silkworm cocoon, much to the delight of the patrons below. One drink later, and a pale young lady emerged from a burlesque clam. She danced like a languid swan whilst I wondered what clams are so damn happy about, anyway.
Our coats stashed away, we checked out the rest of the venue. There were photographers with old-fashioned cameras ready to immortalise the occasion. Make it pleasingly old fashioned, I bet they were told. If so, they had an easy job. Everyone in the joint was dressed up to the nines, with no jeans or t-shirts in sight. The room span with pretty boys and handsome girls, we danced with a lady wearing red feathers and were told we would look much better if filmed in black and white, which I’m not sure is a compliment.
As we mingled, a trapeze was erected and three dashing ladies started swinging around on it like parrots. We were standing directly underneath, and I felt like I had to prepare myself to catch a falling gymnast, or at least fail to catch them but make a noble effort anyway. I had no need to fear, however, as these ladies commanded their perch like synchronised swimmers, gliding through the air with ease and making my occasional attempts at doing pull-ups at home seem particularly feeble.
After the entertainments, the music was jacked up and everyone’s hair was let down. By now I was feeling a warm glow inside, partly from the absinthe but mainly because of my intensely restricting waistcoat. The music was a slight departure from the glittering pretence of the evening, with Black Eyed Peas ubiquitous anthems, amongst others, making their presence felt. I would have preferred more of the chamber music from earlier, but that was only a trifling concern. It meant that the old and modern worlds were swirling together to make a totally radical tie-dye shirt.
More drinks, more dancing and more tooty band. The hall was full of interesting people, and since the night didn’t seem quite real inhibitions were lost and strangers became friends with reckless abandon. We drank with a man painted in gold and pirouetted through the evening in a wave of crimson, green and black. Everything felt as it should be, with the venue benefitting from a real attention to detail – even the partitions between the urinals felt right and proper.
By now, we were experiencing a heady mixture of spirits and frivolity. A few hours condensed into what seemed like a collection of moments where senses were fed with a lusty vigour. Eventually, people started reluctantly heading back into the real world, though there were still plenty of quiet seductions occurring in shadowy coves. Final drinks were had over discussions of love and life, and it felt like a microcosm of an era coming to an end. What with the world being a turbulent little place and tides of gloom seeming to inch closer with every new headline, it really felt like this had been a pretty little escape.
Safely home, we floated to the sofa and watched Kylie Minogue flutter around the ceiling. I pondered on my oxymoric enjoyment of absinthe but aversion to liquorice. As I got ready for bed, I realised my hair was still slicked back, my shoes were covered with red feathers and I had a strong urge to sleep in a clam. This, I concluded, had been a singular evening.
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