At 1am on a Thursday at Mark’s Bar at Hix on Brewer Street, the subterranean drawing-room space usually reserved for coffee tables and button-back armchairs has been cleared to make way for a dancefloor. DJ Sarah HB is pumping out a flood of funk, soul and disco. On the surrounding leather sofas, couples get cosy. Watching over it all is Mark Hix — the bar’s owner and chef-patron of Tramshed, Hix Mayfair and Hix Oyster & Chop House. Near him his girlfriend Elisabeth Murdoch, daughter of Rupert, is boogying hard in vertiginous black stilettos, black leather trousers and a silk shirt.
This is Mark’s Lates, an opportunity for subscribers to the Hix Restaurants newsletter to drink and dance until 4am. It’s held once a month and Hix often attends with a celeb or two in tow. Grimmy has been, as have Daisy Lowe and Lily Cole. Tonight, guests in bodycon dresses and crisp white shirts are buoyed by free-flowing booze. Not just any booze, mind you — Hix is accompanied by his mate Paul ‘Archie’ Archard, the jovial creator of Black Cow vodka, made in Dorset from cow’s milk.
‘Everything happens here — snogging, heavy petting, the lot,’ chuckles Hix Group’s tall, Scottish head of bars, Dustin MacMillan: ‘Now, can I show you my best trick?’ he asks, grinning mischievously before skipping off into the crowd. Ten minutes later he reappears behind the bar and sets it alight, using what looks like a blowtorch, before jumping on top of it. Skinny jean-wearing bartenders join him, shimmying across the bar in time to the beat, fire blazing at their feet. This is some party.
Boogying hard: Mark’s Lates night at Mark’s Bar, Soho. (Picture: Jon Enoch)But it’s not the only one of its kind. Until recently, foodie night owls — or anyone working in hospitality, for that matter — would struggle to find a decent place to go after dark. With a few exceptions, such as chefs’ favourite the Pink Chihuahua in Soho, which stays open until 3am, most London hot spots are closed by 1am on weeknights. As Adam Hyman, creator of The Code, an app that gives discounts to hospitality staff, puts it, for many late-night places you ‘need an invite or to know who you’re meant to be hanging out with, like at the Groucho Club’.
The solution? A growing number of DIY after-hour parties. Hix says his late-night bashes started five years ago ‘when a friend wanted a New Year’s Eve party and it went from there. The later it gets, the more people come — you get all sorts.’ I last until 3.30am before staggering into a cab, just after the bar is set alight for the second time.
That’s an early night compared with Bloodshot, the supper club started by Robin Gill at The Dairy in Clapham and inspired in part by a conversation with his old mentor Robert Reid, executive chef of Balthazar, who told of ‘a late-night after-hours bistro… where all the cooks from the best places in Paris would go to eat and drink after work’. At 1am on the last Saturday of each month, Gill asks a guest chef to feed other top chefs, their sous chefs, bartenders, general managers and front-of-house staff a four-course menu. Past events have included a meat-heavy dinner cooked by Shaun Searley, head chef at the Quality Chop House. Gill won’t reveal the list of people wanting to cook, though it’s said to be glittering; and of 45 available seats, just eight are for regular punters like me. There’s a 4am finish, but usually it rolls until 6am or 7am.
A very, very late night: dinners at the Dairy. (Picture: Jon Enoch).On my visit, I discover the restaurant world’s equivalent of Fashion Week’s Front Row: senior staff from The Clove Club, The Ledbury, Hibiscus and Kitchen Table (all with Michelin stars). In the kitchen tonight Lee Westcott, executive chef at Bethnal Green’s Typing Room, knocks up a six-course menu incorporating turbot roe, fermented mushroom and smoked eel, washed down with cocktails made from fermented rhubarb, nasturtium, Aperol and Dogs Nose Hop Gin (and a shot or two of Sambuca). I last until 4.30am. The next day The Ledbury’s general manager Darren McHugh tweets me saying he stayed until 6.30am ‘as the morning dew was rolling in over Clapham Common’.
It’s not just a matter of providing a late-night hangout — these supper clubs offer a useful (and rare) chance to get out of the kitchen and meet others in the industry. As one fellow Bloodshot guest who works in communications for an upmarket restaurant group puts it: ‘There is lots of camaraderie… It’s a great leveller, generally, and some very big-name chefs and their sous chefs are there.’
A similar opportunity is provided by a new sommeliers’ club, Wine Bantz, started by Raphaël Rodriguez of Fera restaurant at Claridge’s. A crowd of 50 — including Sandia Chang, sommelier and co-owner of Bubbledogs in Fitzrovia — take over a restaurant every six weeks or so for a blind-tasting party.
On these occasions the entry fee is a bottle that must fit in with the theme. Last month it was ‘orange’, the next one is ‘sparkling’. Likewise, SOS — Sinning on Sunday — is a new monthly supper club set up by Jackson Boxer, chef and owner of Vauxhall’s Brunswick House Café. At the inaugural event in April, assorted members of the food glitterati, including the UK culinary director of the American burger chain Shake Shack and staff from restaurants including Smokehouse, Som Saa, Café Murano and the River Café, assemble over drinks. ‘For me, stuck kitchenside for most of the evening, it was terribly gratifying to hear laughter and whooping over the sound of our noisy extractor fans,’ says Boxer.
At SOS we eat family-style, seated at trestle tables at the back of the restaurant, tucking into lamb’s sweetbreads, pot roast brisket and plenty of wine, and gossip about where kitchen staff hang out at night when there isn’t a supper club on. Duck & Waffle, the 24-hour restaurant in Bishopsgate, is a popular choice, as are Silk Road in Camberwell, ‘which gets rammed,’ and Barrafina in Covent Garden, both open on Sunday evenings. At Canavan’s Peckham Pool Club, says Alanna Lauder, front-of-house at the nearby Anderson & Co café, ‘there is uh-maazing karaoke from 9pm on Sundays’.
Late-night feast: preparing food at the Dairy. (Picture: Jon Enoch).Still, there’s an appetite for more. From the sound of it, the rise of chefs’ after-hours meet-ups looks set to continue. Boxer says he is planning repeat performances of SOS, and Hyman recently decided to launch his own Monday-night events (Monday being when catering staff tend to have a night off). People from all levels of the hospitality profession gather for informal drinks and canapés. More than 150 attended his first, earlier this year, held at Sophie’s Steakhouse in Covent Garden and more are planned at Gordon Ramsay restaurants. There are, he says, ‘hundreds of thousands of amazingly passionate people who work in the industry, and who work in the best restaurants, who never have the chance to eat in similar restaurants’.
And these nights are unlikely to be short of guests: ‘At the end of a 100-hour week, after a busy service, the adrenaline is still pumping… the guys need to let it all out and go and behave like pirates for a couple of hours together,’ says Calum Franklin, head chef at Holborn Dining Room, who regularly does 600-700 covers a day and who’s planning to visit a forthcoming Bloodshot. ‘Having a cool place to do that… is a chef’s heaven.’