Why should every musical theatre fan visit The Theatre Cafe in the West End?
New York has Ellen’s Stardust Diner, which boasts up and coming New York actors singing their hearts out while serving – I visited it in 2013 and enjoyed it with wide-eyed joy. As far as I’m aware, the closest thing we have in London is the wonderful Theatre Cafe, which dazzles musical theatre fanatics with walls covered from floor to ceiling in signed memorabilia from London’s musical shows. It also holds events which see West End stars turning up to sing a few tunes and delight the fans over buns and beverages. They serve themed drinks (in a selection of cups printed with the artwork from various shows) fantastic cakes and, I believe, frozen yoghurt as a new addition to the wares on offer. I can personally attest to the fact that their chocolate brownies are some of the best around to be found, and they make a mean macaroon! I’ve hovered over their gleefully cheesy drinks board (all puns on current shows) and I tend to order the Chai Can Show You the World…and it’s absolutely delicious – the only other place to have served such a great Chai Latte is Rococo in Liverpool, and that’s a long way from London!
There are plenty of reasons to visit The Theatre Cafe, but the most obvious is its unique theme; where else can you see, up close, the prosthetic for the Phantom’s face? Or the broom from Wicked? Or original props from the original production of Billy Elliot? Located on Shaftesbury Avenue, in the very heart of London’s Theatreland and easily spotted directly opposite The Queen’s Theatre (eye catchingly adorned with advertising for Les Miserables), The Theatre Cafe is one of the most relaxed, welcoming places you’ll find in London.
There’s always a positive atmosphere there, partly because there’s always a cast album of some sort playing, partly because the staff are so positive and partly because the patrons are thoroughly enjoying themselves. There’s no denying that this place attracts plenty of young theatre fans; the last time I went in, there was a sing-along of music from the hit Broadway musical Dear Evan Hanson going on – that spontaneous, fun-loving element isn’t for everyone, but if you’re into musical theatre, you’re likely used to an impromptu sing-along, whether you decide to take part or not! I spoke to a few pleasant strangers (the necessity to share tables and the general atmosphere invite this shocking shirking of that classic non-intrusive London demeanour) and both young and old(er) folk were enjoying the experience equally; I think that speaks volumes about why The Theatre Cafe is such a roaring success and a great place to visit.
You could spend hours oggling the walls but for the fact that the cafe is deeply popular yet on the small side, so it’s better for all if you enjoy your cake and coffee swiftly and make it your go-to place on show days to get your fill of the sights. That said, the displays do change periodically, so make the most of your visit! Even the bathroom is decorated with artwork and older signed posters – the door itself is smothered with the autographs of the performers who have visited the cafe. Celebrating diversity with its rainbow gender sign on that same autographed Door, The Theatre Cafe couldn’t be more welcoming if it tried. They used to have wonderful tables featuring flyers for all kinds of shows under glass coverings, but those have disappeared recently (I’m hoping that they’re being updated and will make a return) – luckily for you, I geekily snap a few pictures every time I go as I’m yet to see all four corners of the place. Unluckily for you, I’m a complete amateur when it comes to photography, so the pictures won’t be winning any awards…
Perks are on the up at The Theatre Cafe too – they have a loyalty card which you can get stamped six times for a free drink, merchandise including t-shirts and travel mugs which are often parts of competitions they run and the entertainment they offer is absolutely free. As the cafe is owned and run by London Theatre Bookings, you can also buy tickets for West End shows alongside your Defying Gravi-Tea… recently, I’ve also discovered that if you buy your theatre tickets through one of their booths, they’ll give you vouchers for cake and a drink at the cafe too; it’s win-win!
The cafe has cannily honed in on social media trends, so there are opportunities to get some pictures with a cardboard cut out from the musical Kinky Boots, in which you can don the iconic scarlet boots and even in the bathroom, you are invited to take a pic in the classic Hollywood style lit mirror and tweet it in. I’d love to see the place expand at some point, the popularity certainly seems to suggest that an expansion would be a hit.
So, why go and sit amongst the bright lights and vibrant colours of The Theatre Cafe? It’s always bustling, it’s endlessly entertaining to look around and it has an incredibly welcoming, positive atmosphere. The goodies and drinks are great, as are the perks, and to those who love musical theatre and don’t run in the opposite direction screaming when faced with anything remotely cheesy, it’s a unique home from home. As a member of The Theatre Cafe staff, Josie, put it: ‘People should come because it’s the only place where you don’t get judged for being stagey.’ So, they’re on Shaftesbury Avenue and you should most definitely pop in sometime (check out their website for opening times here).