Great ideas for pop-up summer parties from hot tub cinemas to street food, spas and the ultimate craziness of Cirque Le Soir.
I can't tell you how many times I've joked about hot tubs. Hot tubs at our events, hot tubs on my 'rider' when I'm speaking at events, hot tubs in the office. 'Topless Tuesdays' were perhaps a suggestion too far though, on reflection. Quite frankly, I'm uninsurable. That said, the events industry is becoming more flamboyant, more exuberant, more experimental and above all, more daring, as brands shed their bashfulness and vie for attention in an increasingly competitive market. This is great news though as events are becoming more and more prominent (aided and abetted, of course, by the social networks) as well as being widely recognised as a way to captivate, engage and inspire your target market.
Five years ago, to consider a hot tub at an event (outside the Playboy mansion, of course) was confined to the realms of 'ahead of their time', liberal minded geniuses such as the illustrious and learned Ron Burgundy. “Stay classy, San Diego”. And possibly Pitbull's office party. But now it's game on. I heard one very clever idea from Cirque le Soir (more from them later) who staged a hot tub party whereby all the girls we're given a free (designer) bikini upon entry. Guys were offered swimming trunks too. For £50!
The fact is that we are being increasingly influenced by Riviera lifestyles, Cafe del Mar experiences and Chilled Ibiza fantasies.
With salubrious rooftop swimming pools such as the most famous one at Shoreditch House gaining widespread (if a little green-eyed) popularity, as well as the countless lidos, spas, lakes and, strangely, Thames-side 'beach parties'- we're increasingly casting aside our inhibitions and becoming decidedly more daring in terms of the experiences we welcome (or expose) our target audiences to at our events. Indeed, even open water swimming is making a marked comeback, which tells its own story.
Triathlons, such as the one at Blenheim Palace are becoming participative, almost hospitality style must-do events. The more ‘immersive’ the better, it seems. Indeed, the more 'tweetable', remarkable and, to a certain extent, controversial your event is, the more exposure you and your brand will achieve. Not to mention the edgy reputation (even positive notoriety) you'll gain. And that's very rarely a bad thing.
I once convinced a major international CEO to dress as a ‘pimp’ for a UK product launch.
Not only did he do this but he succeeded in convincing his senior management team to follow suit. Birthday suit (almost!). The whole thing was a glorified ‘pimps and hoes’ party and it was very close to the wind. But it worked in sensational style with countless rave reviews and a forthright declaration from the CEO, stating that it was the 'greatest event in the history of our company'. And they're the world's leading manufacturer of office furniture! Who dares wins. Just. Suddenly a glass of champagne in a beach-themed hot tub party doesn't seem so radical, does it! I'm so sure of it, that's rhetorical. And, of course, it doesn't have to be quite like that because it's all in context.
I'm not (necessarily) suggesting a random hot tub plonked in the middle of a conference centre but imagine a tasteful spa-themed event with treatments, manicures, stress-busting massage areas and hot tubs for the ultimate relaxation experience? How popular would that be with your over-worked, under-valued teams and clients (of course they aren't either of those things but Facebook ensures that that's the default position). How far would a glorious day of pop-up spa treatments go? The answer is a long way. Miles.
The market for mobile spas has become highly sophisticated over the past few years and there are more and more highly reputable options out there.
So, with all that firmly planted in your (newly expanded) corporate mind, we'd like to entice you to dare to be different, to be bold in your convictions and not to do things by half (I would have use the phrase 'half-cocked' but in the context it might be misconstrued and somewhat inappropriate!).
Here are our top 10 ideas for summer themed pop-up parties...
1. Model Market & Dalston Yard - Street Feast London
Forget abandoned tube stations, Model Market is all about abandoned markets and shopping centres.
It's about micro-diners and street food traders creating a multi-cultural smorgasbord of sights, smells and above all else, tastes.
Model Market stimulates all the senses and will inspire your guests with a delightful array of potent pop-up promiscuity (of the edible kind!). With five bars and a state of the art sound system for DJ's in this abandoned 1950's market, Model Market is a veritable next gen super-club...with good grub!
Believe it or not, there's another abandoned shopping mall, this time, just up the M4 in Reading, which is used as a real-time 'zombie attack' experience. And it really is like World War Z - incredible attention to detail, terrifyingly real zombies, an actual smashed up, abandoned seemingly post-apocalyptic dead zone in which you can roam freely, up the abandoned escalators, down into the eerie basement, navigating your way around toppled display stands and dismembered mannequins, all the while being hunted by a relentless hoard of rotting, groaning, half-dead corpses. Who want to kill you. This is as real as it gets and, at as little as £65 per head, it's the definition of 'experiential'.
2. The 'Urban Beach' in Royal Victoria Dock
I don't know if you've noticed but the docklands are coming to life. Whereas Excel might as well have been somewhere east of Beirut a few years ago, the former wasteland between Canary Wharf and the Thames Estuary is becoming a super hi-tech, somewhat surprisingly salubrious neighbourhood.
I remember visiting a friend of mine a few years ago who had a flat in one of those new-build blocks with restored dock cranes out front and feeling a bit sorry for him due to the 'almost intolerable' commute. Apparently you had to use something called the DLR?! Well now he can go by cable car. Touché!
Perhaps the epitome of this spectacular transformation is the Siemens Crystal - an uber hi-tech events and conference destination, which forms an impressive backdrop next to the lagoon. The lagoon itself, created when the inlet to the Thames was closed off for the last time, has also come to life as an extreme water-sports park (technically known as a 'wake park') equipped with two 160 metre cables to drag boarders round the jump course.
A particular highlight is the water jet-pack club directly opposite the main entrance and under the cable car station approach. Adjacent to the Crystal is a beach. It's not quite the previously proposed 'Nikki beach' Riviera-style fashionista Mecca of flesh and excess on the opposite bank next to the O2, that might have been, but it's a pretty cool destination with a pretty cool city-scape backdrop and a pretty cool environment for a summer beach party themed soirée - accessible and with all the amenities you could ever require, on site and on tap...
3. The Cloud pop-up spa
Essentially this is a world class mobile spa. In a giant inflatable cloud. What's not to like? I defy anyone who isn't going to be super-excited when they discover their summer party offers a wide variety of treatments, manicures, pedicures, hot tubs, stress-busting massages and general feel-good activities. Offering white noise and specialised ambient lighting, the cloud lifts your delegates into another (far more relaxed) environment and treatments extend to hair and make-up and even face-painting as well as all the mainstream treatments you just know will put your clients and guests in the right frame of mind...An absolute banker!
4. Hot Tub Cinema
I wasn't sure whether this actually existed or whether I imagined it in some deep champagne-fuelled apré-event slumber. But it turns out it is a thing. And it sounds brilliant (he says, angling for an immediate invitation). In fact, Nicola in our office has done it. It sounds crazy but it's a great way to enjoy the world’s greatest movies. Perhaps the ultimate pop-up experience, Hot Tub Cinema (which gives a whole new meaning to the acronym HTC!) is an amazingly innovative way to 'celebrate' remarkable movies and share them with friends (or strangers), drink in hand. In a hot tub. With up to thirty inflatable tubs, a giant screen, amazing surround sound and a choice of equally inspirational venue spaces, HTC is an idea worth diving in to... Come to think of it, maybe there's room in the market for clubinatub.com?!
5. Cirque Le Soir
Once you've experienced these guys, you'll never go back! Not so much a secret venue, hiding in plain sight just off Carnaby Street, but more of a state of mind. And an uber-cool, super-sexy one at that.
Cirque Le Soir is a self professed 'thrilling assault on the senses from every angle', involving dwarves, magicians, clowns, sword-swallowers, fire-eaters, burlesque angle-grinders, contortionists and the most dramatic make-up I've ever seen, all wrapped up in their own bizarre world of weird and wonderful entertainment.
They are legendary for their themed nights too with highlights being their week-long Halloween extravaganza (most recently an eerie nuclear bunker with mutated creatures locked in cages adorned with the somewhat disturbing notice 'Don't feed the dwarves!"). Perfect for politically correct corporations then! So, now I've softened you up, you'll be far more open to their sensational summer soirees, complete with a central hot tub, at the heart of the venue. Now here comes the clever bit. Stylish bikinis are free, men's shorts are £50! Remember? So if you'd like to chill in the hot tub with a bespoke cocktail and 'no scrubs' then you've come to the right place!
The intriguing thing is that this gloriously bizarre place sucks you in and your inhibitions are instantly (and mildly erotically) spat back out onto the Ganton Street pavement outside. Every time. It really is like entering a world where Lady Gaga is entirely normal. The decor and theatrical mastery of Cirque le Soir collude to annihilate your mind. In a world where boundaries must be pushed to have any impact on an increasingly immune target audience these guys bring excitement, enticement and a little bit of incitement to your brand. Shockingly cool.
6. Splash & Tickle
The Ronseal of the mobile spa trade, who do exactly what it says on the tin. These guys rock. Instant fun. Just add (bubbling) water. Splash and tickle provide top quality modular spa units from hot tubs and jacuzzis to steam rooms and foot spas. Hell, they even provide changing facilities...what's more, they can do it anywhere - back garden or back stage. They describe themselves as 'a divine mobile holistic experience' and, with a world class spa and a fully stocked bar, I'm not going to argue! Good clean fun. To go.
7. Christabel's themed pop-ups
In previous articles, we've established that catering is crucial to the success of any event. But what if your catering also reflected your theme? Food is increasingly expected to be visually and aesthetically pleasing as well as delicious. Indeed, it's been scientifically proven (at least in part by Heston Blumenthal) that the presentation of food directly and significantly affects the taste of it. Serve something on a black plate and it'll taste entirely different to the same dish served on a white plate, because our mind makes sure of it.
Therefore, the more theatrical and 'on message' your catering can be, the better the collective experience becomes. Enter Christabel, the high priestess of quirky, creative, scrumptious and just a little bit crazy catering. From her rooftop, Wimbledon themed parties where one can enjoy giant edible tennis balls served on vintage tennis raquets by ball boys and girls to mad-hatter's tea parties complete with giant edible board games, it's a truly magical melee of mercurial madness! Every time.
Christabel's latest creation is the 'Wandering bar' - a sort of living bar structure made of zinc mesh in which she intertwines fresh flowers, flanked by living herb gardens either side which can be freshly picked and added to your cocktails in real time. Great looking and cooly kooky. The drinks are great too!
8. The Lidos
I've always imagined that there's something rather weird about the great London lidos. But that's probably because I'd never been to one. I imagined them as large, unruly cesspits in random, inconvenient outposts, scattered around London. What's more, I simply couldn't understand why you wouldn't go to an indoor leisure centre or a beach. The lidos seem to be somewhere in between.
But, like so many other destination venues, from urban warehouses to flat roofs and terraces, even abandoned tube stations, there's an insatiable thirst for retro venues amongst the corporate community. What's more, these vast swimming pools are actually sensational, even aspirational looking places these days - more large-scale exclusivity than public convenience. Literally. There’s no peeing or ‘heavy petting’ these days! Come to think of it, we had an enormous out-sized pool at Rugby School, affectionately known as 'The Tosh' where one of the more 'charming' features was the open cloistered changing rooms on all sides, in full view of the swimmers. Each cloister boasted their respective House symbols (ours being a defiant skull and crossbones which was pretty apt considering the pool was as big as the Caribbean sea and as cold as the Arctic!).I mention this because on a recent reunion visit I was really quite upset to see that it had been replaced by a state of the art indoor facility. That's just not cricket!
Alternative uses for these nostalgic, exotic community centres are popping up in abundance too. Take the Brockwell lido outdoor cinema - perfect for dramatic presentations as well as poolside pictures, perhaps? This Herne Hill stalwart is arguably the benchmark amongst the Greater London lidos especially with their award winning cafe, which opens up quite majestically, pool-side. A perfect toe in the water from a corporate events perspective combining fine food and large format projection.
Tooting Bec lido is also worth a mention due to its iconic multi-coloured changing huts (it couldn't be more British if it wore a handkerchief on its head) and it's sheer size. At 90 metres it's the largest fresh water pool in Europe! There's clearly a reason that these quintessentially British behemoths are being restored and revived in their droves - from Hampstead to Hillingdon, Parliament Hill to Park Road, not to mention the almost entirely natural timeless classics such as the Serpentine, and their universal draw cannot be ignored by the famously boundary-pushing events community...
9. The Royal Parks
We're lucky in London to have several of the world's finest city parks. From the super-central Hyde Park, to the super-beautiful St.James park across the road, from the deck chair laden Green Park to the vast and rolling Richmond Park, the Royal Parks are beautifully kept and offer everything from tennis to equestrian activities.
Years ago, I remember doing a TV series launch as well as Channel 4's summer party in Hyde Park. With a Bedouin tent and a huge open space just off South Carriage Drive, Knightsbridge, for Champagne and garden games in the evening summer sun, the client was in eternal awe of their majestic surroundings throughout. A real natural wow factor location. And they retain an air of exclusivity. Any organisation who can insist that no vehicle drives through their Parkland with any commercial branding of any description daubed on the side is an intriguing and eclectic mix of protocol, pettiness and pomposity which has got to be respected, if not universally admired. It may be an urban myth though! What's not a myth, however, is that the Royal Parks are very much open for business. And corporate events business is no exception.
10. Street Kitchen @ Hackney House
I first experienced the Street Kitchen about a year ago at legendary caterer, Lucy Gemmell's Rhubarb leaving party. And if they're good enough for her...
Two things struck me. Firstly, the cool, silver, retro Winnebago style serving station and, secondly, the sheer deliciousness of the fresh, prepared-to-order food. And now they've taken things a step further, with a semi-permanent pop-up space at Hackney House on Shoreditch High Street, doing at least some justice to their top restaurant quality food.
Which, in turn, deserves a place where both consumers and corporates can 'eat in'. Whether you stage an event at Hackney House or your own...erm....house, Street kitchen will add a fifth dimension and a significant talking (not to mention, tasting) point, instantly.
Will Broome CEO