With Thanksgiving fast approaching as well as an on-trend Star Spangled Christmas season looming, here’s our roundup of London’s best American restaurants and venues for events this festive season and beyond…
I've always been fascinated with America and its probably because, from a very young age I directly and exclusively associated it with Disney. In fact, to me America was Disney World. Not just because of the resort itself, but because my family's association with theme parks meant that I lived and breathed American culture from birth. In fact, although most of my trips to the USA as a child started at Disney, everywhere else I visited was equally (and magnificently) manicured. From the huge theme park convention and expo, IAAPA, which toured cities such as Vegas and Orlando to the Beaver Creek ski resort in Colorado, it was all equally magical to me. Oh and we once went to a cool restaurant (somewhere in the Deep South) where the proprietor triumphantly approached anyone wearing a tie and ceremoniously chopped it off with a huge set of sheers! Theatre is everything to me…
California Dreaming – the Great American Disaster!
In fact, even before I was born, my family was inspired by American culture in the 1970's, as my property developing father was itching to diversify, he took a trip to California and came back to build a skate park in Chester. It was a little ahead of its time but it worked and so he kept on diversifying. This time it was in the shape of something called (somewhat ominously) 'The Great American Disaster' which was, in reality, not technically his but his friend Julian Russell's who, amazingly, I'm now in touch with as he's Peter Stringfellow's right hand man (of all things!)! Anyway, my father had a block of flats which (quite understandably) he had dedicated to student nurse accommodation! Julian approached him with the idea of putting a 'nurse's nightclub' in the basement which, surprisingly enough, was really rather popular! Anyway, this evolved into an American Style Burger joint called the great American Disaster, which was a fad, but a fun one and a definite precursor to the hugely popular American culture revolution which was already gathering momentum in the 70's...
America, the (big and) beautiful…
As a child I knew an inspiring gang of Americans very well. Firstly, my best childhood mate from Washington DC, (who introduced me to Aerosmith and the Beastie Boys over long hot Mallorcan summers and became the guitarist in my band), secondly my father's theme park designer, various eccentric (larger than life) US theme park owners like Dolly Parton, a hard-ass (although he seemed lovely to me!) guy called Mike Eisner who was the Chairman of the Disney Corporation but, most of all, I remember a larger than life (and physically huge) guy called Bob Payton who owned the Chicago Rib Shack, which was on the site of what's now the Buddha Bar in Knightsbridge.
It's funny because, just like Eisner, Payton was revered but also feared (and occasionally loathed) by those who worked for him but, to me, he was big, loud and, above all, funny!
He actually died as his Range Rover veered off the M1 and hit a gantry on the way to see my father at Alton Towers, which was sad. Another crazy thing I remember about him (aside from his insistence that we wear a bib whilst eating ribs) was that he owned a themed hotel. And the theme was 'rudeness'! Even the 'Do Not Disturb' signs were offensive. And it was brilliantly funny. All of them were fascinating to me in their own way. Somehow, they were all really inspirational and I can see now that I have adopted many of their traits - especially the rude and theatrical ones! I’m a need some drama…
Party in the USA…
Then, strangely, I ended up in America again when I was a teenager, but this time with my band travelling from New York to LA. On the road, in a van with an unfortunate lady driver called Connie. This time, the magic was different. It was a melee of motels and malls, mile after mile of fast food joints, truck-stops, arid deserts, mountains, national parks, iconic cities and sites (the Grand Canyon being a stunning highlight). Yes, America is awesome - and it’s huge in every way. Oh, and I think we went to the world's biggest club, Billy Bob's in Fort Worth? It might sound like many people's worst nightmare, with seven floors of Country & Western on display, but it's an experience nevertheless with more live music than under one roof than anywhere else on earth...
Back to the future…
Then, whilst I was at university I spent several months living in Dallas, Texas working for a local legend, Michael Jenkins, who not only runs the world's foremost theme park design company, LARC, but who also runs Dallas Summer Musicals which brings the major Broadway Shows to their 5,000 seater theatre in Texas each summer.
This is where I really got to immerse myself in proper American culture, entirely on my own. And I loved it. I spent all my free time that summer in American sports bars, clubs, 24 screen movie theatres (sometimes watching two movies in a row) and, it seems, Wet n' Wild! I made so many brilliant friends (including Jennifer, who was tiny, and had a huge vehicle we called 'the party bus' on which I spent many a Freeway journey on the roof having climbed out the back and up the ladder! and Jessica, who was overflowing with effervescence, making me look like a choirboy). God Bless America!
Riding the vibe…
On reflection though, I think the greatest thing about the USA is the vibe. And that's a cultural thing. Anything is possible and anyone can do anything they think they can do. It's insatiably up-beat, it's loud, its big, it's brash and it's inspiringly positive wherever you go and whoever you're dealing with. The service culture is sensationally effective too. You can't even walk into a hardware store without feeling like you're their millionth customer (except maybe in New Mexico)...and that's just how it should be, especially in the events industry.
More recently, as President of ISES (the International Special Events Society, as opposed to the beheading one) I attended a wide series of events between 2008 and 2010 from Chicago to San Fransisco, St.Petersburg to SanDiego, Atlanta to Las Vegas and every party and gala dinner was superb. At Coca-Cola World, we even had the Atlanta Falcons Cheerleaders as party-starters handing out flashing rings and dragging us onto the dance floor. A really clever move.
So, it's Thanksgiving in a few days and, just as Halloween finally has, full-throttle American culture is spreading to our shores and oozing from our pores. Big time. And that's because it's infectious (in a good way, rather than in an Ebola way!). Putting it simply, Americana is coming to town.
So, with all that in mind, how much of an asset do you feel a dash of Americana would be to your next event? Well, it's Christmas party season right after Thanksgiving so it's perhaps the perfect opportunity?
Here are our top ten (eleven) American themed venues in London.
1. Steam and Rye
The Grand Daddy of all the big exciting Meccas of all things American. This place screams 'America' and doesn't disappoint! Set in a former banking hall (the Bank of America, no less) this fantabulous joint is overseen by the flamboyant and equally fictitious, Beamish J. Bettenbaum, a wealthy railroad industrialist, and certified nutter. Steam & Rye is always bouncing and with live music, dancing, railroad dining cars, a crazy attic space and delicious American style food, it’s always a pleasure...
2. Hard Rock Cafe
A timeless classic and a worldwide icon, Hard Rock is well situated just off Hyde Park Corner and is packed with rock n' roll memorabilia. It's just a really cool environment and, after all these years, it's still a fun American style night out with surprisingly good food and an even better, rockin' atmosphere...
3. Planet Hollywood
Having changed hands and location, Planet Hollywood is now situated on Haymarket in a large urban warehouse space. Despite being an American brand, and concept, the bulk of the movie memorabilia is 007 related, which is cool and a great concoction of Anglo American ephemera. The movie star handprints up the stairs are cool too - I always like to know that my hands (and therefore my...gloves) are at least double the size of Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt's. There's plenty of room for large corporate gatherings too and its a vibrant environment for relaxed entertaining.
4. American Bar at the Stafford
With a formidable collection of American cocktails, this is probably the longest standing and most authentic err....American Bar....in all of London. In fact, the huge volume of fascinating memorabilia has all been famously donated by their customers, so it's not only authentic but it's also real. And there's difference. Adorned with everything from carved wooden Eagles to baseball caps, the American Bar is a sophisticated place infused with a star spangled splash of fun. I've had a few amazing dinners in the wine cellars here as the former GM is a family friend.
5. All Star Lanes
A classic retro Americana venue and unique in corporate terms due to its authenticity and abject style. This place is truly immersive and highly engaging (who doesn't love bowling!?) but it's central location and versatility are what makes it such a great option for corporate events. With plenty of room for catering, plenty of style for your corporate image and plenty of (gently competitive) fun for your delegates, All Star Lanes is a retro American masterpiece which is as current and relevant today as it would have been fifty years ago in the USA!
Christopher's in Covent Garden is the original (proper) American grill. This place is sensational, sumptuous and, actually, superior. It really is the best possible place for Thanksgiving lunch or dinner. Their specialist set menu for this year's Thanksgiving includes Maryland crab cakes, organic Turkey and Missouri rubbed rump of lamb, followed by pumpkin pie, of course. If it's haute cuisine you're after, you won't beat Christopher's.
7. The Speakeasies
This is a bit of a cheat but...it's somewhat ironic that 1920's prohibition in America has influenced so many 'secret' bars all over the world. There's something mystical, even romantic about a secret drinking hole with an even more secret entrance. Plus, Bugsy Malone was my favourite film as a little boy (except maybe for Star Wars, Back to the Future, Top Gun, Cocktail, The Goonies, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Ghostbusters). But anyway, there are loads of really cool Speakeasies in central London - one you enter through an actual Smeg fridge (The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town, where you have to tell the doorman you're 'there to see the Mayor'), one where you have to be a detective (the Evans and Peel Detective Agency where a book on a bookshelf opens the door to the joint) and Lounge Bohemia in Shoreditch which specialises in really, really, really good cocktails - and by that I mean 'ones you order 24 hours in advance good'. In fact, I'd better write an article all of its own about these places because they're awesome (and actually quite a tenuous link to Americana...!)
On the ground floor of the 'big boutique' ME London Hotel is a fun, rowdy, juicy American steak restaurant with cosy circular banquette seating and (after 10pm) live DJs. Everything about this place is fun - from the suggestive private dining menu imagery (stilettos, short skirts and meat cleavers) to the electric, almost supercharged atmosphere. Oh, and the steaks are larger than life, as you'd imagine, served with sides of the most delicious (and possibly the naughtiest) things covered in yummy creamy stuff imaginable. It may take a day or two off your life but it's totally worth it!
9. Tinseltown Diners
Retro to the max, these diners are proper psychedelic 1950's love-shacks which, frankly, look like they've been decorated with dynamite and multi-coloured paint tins. With the most garish banquette seating imaginable, lit in neon (just in case), this Bayswater benchmark is as hi-vis (and decadently delicious) as it ever gets. With more than thirty different flavours of milkshake, Tinseltown is an experience worth...err......experiencing!
10. Riley's Haymarket
If I'm honest, my favourite kind of bar is probably a good old classic sports bar. A few years ago I had an afternoon to kill before a flight in Manhattan, so I walked up Madison Avenue and spent hours doing emails in the gigantic ESPN Zone sports bar. I think there were over 100 TV screens and I watched more sports than I even knew existed - it was amazing! I still treasure the little mini American football I bought that day and I never go on a walk without it (OCD)! Well, Riley's is a little (a lot) smaller but it's a great mini version with a perfect area for pre-game presentations, a pool and ping pong hall, and screens everywhere (including mini ones in the dining booths). A great place for any sporting tournament. Or NFL games of course.
11. Bubba Gump Shrimp Co
Yes, that's right, the actual fictitious restaurant from Forrest Gump is now an actual restaurant in London's Trocadero. It's charmingly themed and somehow feels more authentic than most 'un-themed' places, with its simple red white and blue decor. As you'd imagine, they specialise in shrimps and seafood but they also offer a wide variety of American fayre. A really fun place for an evening in the West End.
Oh, and I suppose the Chiltern Firehouse is technically an American restaurant with fabulous food and a beyond buzzing environment. It's not the easiest place to wander in to though. However, if you read my blog about the 'Best loos in London' you'd be surprised how easy it is to walk into the coolest places looking at your watch, pretending you're important and there to meet someone when all you really want is a wee...(but that's another story).
Have a nice day…!