Down an alley in the heart of Soho is London’s newest theatre, the purpose-built Boulevard. With its modern auditorium seating up to 165 people, it has already gained acclaim for its first show, Ghost Quartet, which opened last week, and has an impressive line-up of productions scheduled alongside late-night cabaret and other events. But it is also a destination for food and drink – and not just around the shows in the traditional way of theatres.
You enter via the box office to go up to the Boulevard bar and restaurant on the first floor but it is open from 8am Monday to Friday and from 10am at weekends, serving breakfast and coffee, through lunch and dinner to late-night cocktails, staying open till 1am Monday to Saturday and 9pm on Sundays. “I wanted there to be equal emphasis on different aspects of the business, so we are primarily a theatre but you can join us in the building from eight o’clock in the morning,” explains Fawn James, director of Soho Estates which owns the property and led the redevelopment of the building.
Although the interior has been rebuilt from scratch with major structural changes, the space was once home to another Boulevard Theatre, set up by Fawn’s grandfather, Paul Raymond, the Soho entertainment entrepreneur. It was the sister venue to his Raymond Revuebar (now occupied by The Box) and, after initially sharing an entrance, it had its own door onto the alleyway, called Walker’s Court. It staged theatre and comedy, including The Comic Strip team and stand-ups such as Eddie Izzzard, until it shut in 1989. The new interior, including the bar and restaurant, has been built to modern designs from architects Soda Studio with theatre consultants Charcoalblue. It includes a new two-level glass bridge across the alley, providing views down Berwick Street towards Oxford Street.
The bar and restaurant area is decorated in pink and touches of brass with features inspired by Art Deco, which also extends to the seating in the auditorium – a design style that Paul Raymond himself loved. The walls are covered with artwork and photography that capture the atmosphere of Soho from the early 20th century to the present day, including posters from the old Boulevard Theatre. At one end, the theatre’s original door has been put on display, while at the other end is a double-height window looking out over Soho. It promises “soft boudoir-style lighting” although it was lit with an unforgiving brightness on the evening I visited just after opening.
The food menu has been designed by head chef Greg Hillier, previously of The Commonwealth Club and The British Academy, with a conscious leaning towards plant-based cookery. Dishes include: smashed chilli avocado on sourdough; sumac oregano chicken, burnt aubergine and Iranian green pistachio; and roasted curried baby cauliflower, black dhal, fresh coconut, crispy onions and lime. The restaurant also offers a pre-show fixed-price menu that draws inspiration from the main production.
The cocktail list also features original drinks inspired by each show. The present show, Ghost Quartet, a musical by Dave Malloy, is filled with dark and magical storytelling, which has led to cocktails including Starchild, made with Sacred Gin, Aperol, orgeat, lemon juice and egg white, and Sleep No More with cognac, calvados and Briottet Crème d’abricot. They have been created by bartender Fin Spiteri who has joined after working at London bars and restaurants such as Quo Vadis, Disrepute, Luigi’s Bar and Rochelle Canteen at the ICA.
With a good selection of British craft spirits, the cocktail list features plenty of classics from a Hanky Panky mixing Cotswolds Dry Gin with Martini Rosso vermouth and Fernet-Branca, to a Millionaire No 4 with Barceló Gran Añejo Rum, apricot liqueur, lime juice and sloe gin. A five-strong list of house cocktails is led, appropriately, by a classic Boulevardier, made with Whiskey Thief Bourbon, Campari and Carpano Antica Formula vermouth. The indulgent Frenchman’s Dream combines Sacred Gin with lemon juice, raspberry and absinthe, topped with Duval-Leroy Champagne, while Mad Frankie is a mix of rose vodka, velvet falernum liqueur, lime juice and bergamot bitters. The list reflects the bar’s partnership with champagne house Duval-Leroy, with a selection that goes up to its delicate salmon-coloured Rose Prestige Premier Cru and refined Femme de Champagne. There is also a prosecco as well as Chapel Down’s sparkling Bacchus wine from Kent. The broad selection of wines includes artisanal “orange” wines which are made from white wine grapes but without the normal process of removing the skins first.
Smaller craft producers also feature in the beer and cider line-up, including Unity Lager and two pale ales from London’s Coalition Brewing in bottles and Curious Brew lager on draught, also from Chapel Down. As well as Curious Cider, the bar stocks the farmhouse-style Silly Moo Cider from West Sussex. As well as partnering Fever-Tree on soft drinks and mixers, the bar offers non-alcoholic spirits Seedlip Spice and Lyre’s American Malt. Virgin cocktails include Purgatory with raspberry, mint, lemon juice and Fever-Tree Lemonade and the Gunner with ginger beer, lemonade, lime juice and Angostura Bitters. Tea and coffee are supplied in partnership with Hej Coffee and Lalani & Co.
With plenty of bar snacks on offer, the Boulevard looks set to become a new destination for food and drink, especially after 11pm when Soho has little to offer outside of nightclubs because of strict licensing rules. In the daytime, it is a great spot for meetings or working on your laptop over a coffee. While artistic director Rachel Edwards has put together an exciting programme of theatre, cabaret, live music and poetry, the Boulevard has more than that to offer. As Fawn explains, “It’s a place to come and have conversations and explore creativity. You could come and see a show and then stay in the bar and have a drink and chat about it, and there’s the late-night programme as well, so it’s something for everyone which is what we were wanting to achieve.”
The Boulevard, 6 Walker’s Court, London W1F 0BT