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Café De Paris - London
The Café De Paris, in London’s Piccadilly is one of the most famous and durable venues in the world. With a glittering history, spanning nine decades, the Café has consistently played host to a wide variety of powerful and absorbing performers and guests—members of the aristocracy, eminent political figures, dazzling pop stars, captains of industry, superstars from the silver screen…even royalty. Opening its doors in 1924 under the control of London impresario Harry Foster, the Café de Paris quickly established itself as one of Europe’s premier nightspots. Much of the early success was due to a visit from the Prince of Wales, who after an impromptu midweek visit became a regular guest bringing with him the crème de la crème of European society. The fusion of a beautiful and elite audience with energetic and groundbreaking cabaret performances separated the venue from its rivals. The main aim of the Café De Paris was to see and be seen—a trait that continues even now.
The success of the Café continued right through the 1930’s, with a whole new host of powerful and successful figures joining the Café Society. The Aga Khan became a frequent visitor as did Lord and Lady Mountbatten, who nearly always ordered the same dinner of "a dozen and a half oysters and steak Diane". Due to its’ burgeoning reputation, the top vocalists and cabaret acts from around the world became easy to lure to the Café De Paris. The legendary Cole Porter became a regular, and used the venue not only to entertain the top singers of the time, but also to showcase his new songs, often for the very first time.
In 1939 the Café was allowed to stay open even though theatres and cinemas were closed by order. People gossiped their way through the blackout and the Café was advertised as a safe haven by Martin Poulson, the maitre d', who argued that the four solid storeys of masonry above were ample protection. This tragically proved to be untrue on March 8th 1941 when two 50K landmines came through the Rialto roof straight onto the Café dance floor. Eighty people were killed, including Ken ‘Snakehips’ Johnston who was performing onstage at the time and Poulson whose words had come back to haunt him. Had the bomb been dropped an hour later, the casualties would have been even higher.
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