10 venues you never knew you could hire
Book bespoke events at iconic London venues from the House of Commons to Harrods, the Cabinet War Rooms and Buckingham Palace. If you're going to host an event, do it in style in a venue you NEVER thought you'd be able to hire!
Ask any event organiser what their first port of call is and, more than 50% of the time, they'll tell you it's a unique or unusual venue. Just type that phrase into google and you'll discover all the usual suspects - londonlaunch.com (that's us, in case you didn't know!), Unique Venues of London (the excellent and niche London venue collective) and various others, all jostling for pole position with the most defining phrase in modern day venue search. It's actually one of the most popular generic requests and it’s because its what everyone thinks they want.
In a recent 'deep dive' survey we carried out, scouring the depths of our (very deep!) database we asked what event planners' priorities were and in what order. We were surprised by the results. The number one priority was, you guessed it, a unique or unusual venue, closely followed by budget and location. The reason for this is quite logical. Corporates feel (quite rightly it turns out) that an interesting venue is a far greater draw for delegates than even the content or subject matter, especially if its somewhere their guests have never been to before. In summary, it results in a higher percentage turnout - and that's a statistical fact. It's more tweetable too, of course, which is, if you think about it, the same thing.
I remember about ten years ago, an NCP car park became available for evening events, somewhere near Old Street. It's ridiculousness was only exceed buy it's awfulness! It was cold, powerless, soulless and possibly even license-less, yet we still received hundreds of enquiries for it. it was a completely gratuitous novelty in (I suspect) a futile effort to chase the New York style urban idyll of next generation experiential event spaces. But an NC(F-ing)P? In principle, it was kind of cool (freezing, in fact, as it was open sided) and certainly unique as an events space - brutal, concrete, urban, graffitied and, most poignantly of all, almost completely impractical!
One thing the new generation of creative event organisers frequently overlooked in the early 2000's was viability. Quite frankly, logistics weren't going to get in the way. So, in rolled the production agencies with their power, lighting, heating, audio-visual systems, grand ideas and, at great expense, they created something spectacular. Interestingly, Absolute Taste staged the premier of ‘The Grinch’ here, decking the halls with hundreds of Christmas trees and creating a distinctly surreal environment that Dr.Seuss would have been proud of. There was also a projection company called ETC at the time and I remember them pioneering something called the PIGI system, which used clever lighting effects to create the illusion that the building was on fire - and it was awesome! Of course, things have moved on now but that unremarkable car park has a lot to be proud of.
There were simpler ways though. We once fielded an enquiry from a large global chair manufacturer - Herman Miller. We put them in touch with a quintessentially 'urban' venue space back in 2004 (Sh*t, that’s a decade ago!) as well as some amazing urban entertainers. The brick vaulted venue, break-dance troupe, indoor (non toxic) spray-can artists and street urchin hosts and hostesses combined to create what Herman Miller described as "the best event in the history of our brand". The concept wasn't without great risk but the key was that we did it in a venue which was already geared up for events. Rather than in a car park! A sign of the times…
Unique and unusual venues were a rare novelty then and, when handled correctly, were a real draw. Nowadays it's expected, so new ways of impressing and intriguing your guests or delegates are necessary. An urban venue is not necessarily enough on its own. An 'unexpected' venue, however, is another matter altogether.
Sometimes weird for the sake of being weird is more trouble than it’s worth or, at least, smacks of trying too hard. So why not stage your next event somewhere unexpected? Somewhere interesting, intriguing, even ignominious!? Just Something.
With that in mind...
Here are our top ten venues you never knew you could hire:
1. The House of Commons
A londonlaunch exclusive (available from April 2014)
Available for events for the very first time, this UNESCO World Heritage Site stands on an historic riverside location which links it with the origins of Parliament and the ancient palace of the Norman kings. First used by Canute as the site for a Royal Palace, it was Edward the Confessor who established the medieval building now known as the Old Palace of Westminster. Rebuilt and extended over the centuries, the most important structure, the 900 year old Westminster Hall, still stands today.
The principal function rooms on the upper floors of the New Palace of Westminster, including the Members’ and Strangers’ Dining Rooms as well as the Pugin Room, designed by Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin, whose inventive genius for adapting gothic forms created the elaborate interiors, are now available for private hire. Individually, these spaces can host up to 170 guests for lunch or dinner and 200 guests for a reception or when combined the spaces will accommodate 300 standing guests.
The lower floor offers four smaller private dining rooms and the Churchill Room, so named as many of Winston Churchill's paintings hang on its walls. These individual rooms can seat between 10 and 100 guests for lunch or dinner. Outside on the Commons Terrace is the Terrace Pavilion, a purpose built marquee, which can accommodate up to 200 guests for standing receptions and opens out onto the eastern river frontage of the Palace overlooking the River Thames.
As one of the world’s most iconic buildings, no other venue in the world is more instantly recognisable as the Palace of Westminster. It is impossible to walk through its corridors or dine in its imposing function rooms without a deep sense of awe.
This is a unique and special venue for your next event where 100% attendance will be guaranteed!
2. The Cabinet War Rooms
Another iconic venue with Churchillian connections, the cabinet War Rooms are steeped in enigma, nostalgia and intrigue. Exploring this underground network of tunnels, war rooms, strategy rooms and even Churchill's bedroom is a fascinating experience and a rare peek into a bygone era of covert operations, personal ingenuity and espionage. A wonderful 'edutainment' experience.
The world famous toyshop is also available for corporate events. In fact, I once held a world record attempt here with a crazed stuntman. Bizarre I know, but true. It was for the most milk crates balanced on a man's head (yep, there's a record for everything!) Needless to say, I had a whole gang of press there including a live TV crew from London tonight so it was potentially a great early publicity coup for londonlaunch.com. Of course, it went horribly wrong. On live TV. The stuntman failed and, not only that, managed to destroy half of the ground floor display with a crashing tower of....erm..milk crates. The best thing about the Outside Broadcast was the fact that they focused in on a display of round faced toys who burst into uncontrollable laughter when you clap, so when the crates fell (short of the record) the entire mountain of giggly toys spontaneously burst into uncontrollable laughter. T’was great TV. If you think about it, this is the ultimate events destination, which incorporates perhaps the three most important ingredients – fun, Fun and…erm…FUN!
Famously, at Harrods anything is possible. This iconic ‘convenience’ store has a multitude of sensational event spaces and even has a (disused) helipad on the roof for summer al fresco dining. From champagne breakfasts in the food halls to lavish dinners in the Georgian on the top floor, Harrods is a world-renowned aspirational destination for a wide variety of events. Their new ‘behind the scenes’ tours are a fascinating (almost ‘money can’t buy’ (although it can!)) experience and you can now even enjoy the Harrods experience at external events via their quintessentially British ‘Bespoke Events’ division. Harrods to go!?
5. Tower Bridge
Did you know you could hire the glass walkway, which spans the two towers right at the top of this world-renowned landmark? It's incredible (if a tiny bit tired decoratively - but it's the view that counts, right?) and can be combined with a tour of the (more impressive than you’d imagine) Victorian bridge mechanics in the southern tower. The views down (and up) river are simply breathtaking. In this world famous structure, not only can you enjoy the view, you are quite literally in it. Innit.
6. Fortnum & Mason
Perhaps surprisingly, almost every nook and cranny within this iconic store is available for corporate events. It really is a palatial place, bursting with Georgian splendour and they can cater (well, you’d hope so!) for up to a thousand guests! From wine tasting in the exceptional ‘Crypt’ wine cellars to formal seated meals and ‘Chef’s table’ experiences, Fortnum & Mason successfully master the art of reflecting their old school magnificence in the modern events world. Plus, there could be a nuclear war outside and you’d live for a hundred years eating only the finest food and drinking the finest wines from their seemingly endless smorgasbord of delectable delicacies (and butter biscuits).
7. The Clink Prison
From 1144 to 1780 The Clink was famous for being the world’s most notorious medieval prison. In fact, so infamous was this place that it became a generic term for all others. The phrase “In Clink” became a widespread term for being banged up the world over, in a menacing reference to it’s deathly hallows. For a frightfully stimulating corporate experience (and think of the cool invitations you could create – arrest warrants perhaps?) you can book groups of up to 30 for historical tours (and the odd ghost story), which take about forty-five minutes. The Clink is situated off London Bridge, just beyond the Golden Hinde and Southwark Cathedral so why not go from the lowest lows to the highest highs by starting your evening with a reception in the Clink, followed by dinner in the Shard across the road? The ultimate escape? Just a thought…
8. Wellington Arch
Right in the middle of Hyde Park Corner is a magnificent arch, a bit like the Arc de Triomphe and, what nobody knows, is that you can go inside it, ascend to the top and have dinner in the galleried space within! There's a great roof terrace too with views up Park Lane, Piccadilly and over the salubrious Belgravia. I remember being astonished when I first attended a dinner up there as I never visualised what this delightful monument would look like from the inside. What's more, it's a very impressive venue for your guests to arrive at (as well as being highly convenient). The exterior can be up-lit in your corporate colours too and that's a great statement to the world which, in this conspicuous location, is right on the doorstep. Yet, once you're inside, nobody would ever know you were there!
9. Buckingham Palace
Yep, that’s right, you can stage your corporate event at the most famous address in the world. If you’re doing an event here you will have a 101% turn-out (some idiot will bring an uninvited guest) and that’s a guarantee. Private tours of the Palace include the (actual!) Throne Room and the West Terrace overlooking the famous Palace Gardens. You can’t dine on site (unless you have a close Royal friend) but you can dine at Mossiman’s in Belgravia (by Royal Appointment to her Majesty the Queen) or you can take afternoon tea beforehand in The Ritz if you’re going for the ‘cheap’ option! With prices ranging from £115 per person to nearly £400, this experience is worth a lot more than that, particularly if you’re looking to impress American or Chinese clients. Oh, and Londonlaunch.com member, Team Tactics, can arrange it all for you…
10. St. Paul's Cathedral
Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece (IMHO) transcends Religion. It’s an architectural behemoth and offers event organisers the perfect cultural ‘edutainment’ experience – from the crypt to the fabled ‘whispering gallery’. I once pitched a showcase event to St.Paul’s, which centered round a Champagne reception in the crypt before a series of private tours around the magnificent Cathedral above. It was all going divinely until I suggested ‘a gigantic puff of smoke’ would reveal me (dressed as Lord Nelson) standing atop his formidable marble coffin (I’m sure Angels have an authentic ‘Vice-Admiral’ costume) as if I had risen from the dead. I would then proceed to address the audience in the style of the most celebrated naval Commander in history, with a full endorsement of londonalunch.com of course. The venue team at the time (about a decade ago) were half bemused, half incredulous at my presumption that I was worthy of such a sacrilegious stunt. Needless to say, they didn’t feel Nelson would have been that enamoured with his inadvertent party performance and the idea was duly cannonballed. I’d like to think they’ve lightened up a bit these days though and, on reflection, I may revive the resurrection idea. I think it would be really rather tweetable…!
And a bonus in at number 11 (remember the bit about ignominious venues earlier?), Stringfellow's! This Mecca of gloriously decadent burlesque boudoir chic is, indeed, available for private hire and, for the really red-blooded, they currently have their novel ‘dine with an angel’ initiative, which will be a guaranteed eye-opener!
Will Broome CEO