I managed to catch up with the club’s Managing Director, Ken Wright, to chat about the club, its history, the famous clientelle and, of course, food.
How long has the Phoenix Artist Club been open?
We have been operating since 1988, prior to which we were a well known restaurant called ‘shuttleworths’ – to this day there are some customers who refer to us as ‘shuts’ – because we never seem to close!
How many members do you have and are they all part of the theatre industry?
We have over 5000 members, the majority of whom are from the creative industries. We support youngsters just finding their way in London Theatreland, as they progress through the industry they always remember us. It’s important to look after people on the way up – you never know what they may become!
What is the main difference between the club and other places you can get a pre-theatre dinner in London?
We know Theatreland – we know when your curtain rises, we make sure you enjoy a freshly cooked dinner in relaxing surroundings, complete with unique, genuine art work dating back centuries that reflect all that is special about the West End. You spend a great deal of hard earned cash to enjoy your time in the West End, we appreciate that and want to make it memorable for all the right reasons. We are a multi-award winning, family-owned independent venue, but I’m still a coal miners son from Scotland and appreciate good value and homely service to be the key.
With all the many different events you run throughout the week, which do you look forward to the most?
The musical theatre open mic, every Thursday at 9pm is jaw dropping. Youngsters who have studied hard for their chosen dream come together at the end of their day – having served ice cream and programmes in every west end theatre – to sing from song sheets under the guidance of some of the finest musical directors in the west end. You have a guided musical tour of every major musical from 9pm until midnight. Astonishing, upcoming talent – and you heard it here first.
You must get a lot of big stars coming down your stairs: do you ever get star struck? If so when was the last time and with who?
We aim to provide a discrete escape for those who are in the public eye. We don’t allow cameras or our more well known guests to have their well deserved time off interrupted by star struck fans. Everyone needs a night off. We are fortunate to play host to many ‘big stars’ and they are all delightful. I don’t suffer from star dust, but Kiefer Sutherland, Ed Sheeran and David Dimbleby have rather made my day!
If there was one London show, new or old, that you would love to see, what would that be?
I take all my apprentices (and young Kyle won ‘Apprentice of the Year in 2015’) to Les Miserables – the stage production and music always impress – and it’s somehow rather satisfying to watch an 18 year old lad burst into tears when it all kicks off!
I know that your chef is very proud of his reputation and is always willing to make sure that every guest feels as though they have been personally catered for. Is there a particular ingredient that he loves working with?
Chef Marvell has worked his way through the catering industry for over thirty years. He is an absolute gentle giant, being over 6ft 5′ tall. His apprentices adore him. We buy everything from local small businesses – our fishmonger delivers the catch of the day personally. Chef loves to prepare fresh fish and he takes great pride in his signature fish and chips.
What do you think is the most important part of running a successful club?
It may say ‘Managing Director’ on my business card, but as one of the last remaining, truly independent venues in central London it’s all about being hands on. I’m ex RAF and strongly believe you never ask your troops to do something you aren’t prepared to do yourself. I’m head of light bulbs and toilet roll – and if you lead from the front, your troops will follow and customers hopefully will recognise that all we do is honest, heartfelt and genuine – even if we sometimes get it wrong, we do it with style!
Does the club have any particular plans for 2016?
We are so proud of our awards in 2015 (‘Best Bar & Club in Covent Garden & The Strand‘ – Time Out 2015 and ‘Entertainment Club of the Year‘ – Club Awards 2015). It’s a challenge to remain in the number one slot in Covent Garden, but I’ve challenged my team to meet and beat last years achievements – so watch this space – hopefully we will need a bigger trophy cabinet!
If there is one thing that you would like your guests to remember from a visit to the club what would that be?
That we made your visit to London special. You are our guest, perhaps in a strange and slightly daunting city, but we are your safe haven and home from home -with a bit of glitzy show biz on the side. I hope to welcome you to the Phoenix soon.
All Theatre Breaks’ guests enjoy complimentary membership to this exclusive Theatreland club for the duration of their stay in London and 3 months beyond – giving you the chance to return to this wonderful club later in the year on your next Theatre Break!