When I was twenty-one, my best mate and I practically lived in Leicester Square. This was a time when the very sight of Sambuca didn’t make me wretch, I could wear body-con dresses and ankle-breaking high heels without a second thought for my safety or modesty; hangovers didn’t even exist, and certainly didn’t last two days and cause an existential crisis after half a bottle of wine. By the time my mid-twenties came around, I realised there was a world of nightlife outside of the West End, and I all but vowed never to return to the area’s sticky club floors, sticking my nose up to anyone who suggest we do otherwise. But then Studio 88 opened, and the lure of all-night live music was too strong to resist, so my best pal and I ventured back to our old stomping ground for a Friday night, ready to dance the night away.
Find the ‘Stage Door’ of the connecting Prince of Wales Theatre and you’ve found the entrance to Studio 88. The give-away will be the roped-off queue area and the big bouncer with the clipboard. Once in, you’ll be invited to descend the stairs, which are lit in the most intense shade of red, like stepping into the middle of a glowing strawberry. If, like me, you are sunburnt on the day of your visit, you’ll be grateful for the camouflage. The main area of the venue is more in-line with how I remember Leicester Square clubs to be - tables lit up in a series of changing neon colours, a huge dance floor, mirrored walls and a large round bar taking centre stage. Well, actually, it would be taking centre stage, if it weren’t for the actual centre stage, which hosts two electronic baby grand pianos and a drum kit, flanked by a bassist and a few guitarists.
Every night the 6-piece band play a non-stop repertoire of live music, but, as if the enjoyment of live music wasn’t enough, the song list comes at the request of the audience. On each of the individually designed tables are a set of song request slips on which you are encouraged to write down your song choices for the musicians to perform as part of their set list for the night. We loved how you could go from listening to a live take on Marvin Gaye’s Sexual Healing, which cranked up the sexy vibes and got us swaying in our seats, to Dizzee Rascal’s Bonkers, which was fast paced, fun and made the dance floor fill up rapidly.
Much like with any club, you don’t come to Studio 88 for the grub, but if you’re looking to grab a bite prior to making shapes on the dance floor, the menu features Californian-inspired dishes, from poké bowls to Shrimp Tacos, and tostadas to sushi. This food has been designed to be eaten with ease; these aren’t dining tables so knives are forks aren’t convenient – rather it’s food that can be picked up by hand or scooped up with a spoon. The aforementioned Shrimp Taco can be snacked on in two bites, and the BBQ Pulled Pork Bowl is a hearty dish of sweet pork meat and creamy potatoes. When it came to desserts, the coconut fruit bowl sounded like the perfect, fresh antidote to a hot day, as did the decadent Banana Split which arrived with several scoops of ice-cream, lashings of whipped cream and a generous drizzle of chocolate sauce, topped with caramel popcorn for added texture and sweetness. However, it was the S’mores Brownie that we loved the most, uber-rich and smooth like a slab of dark chocolate fudge.
When it comes to the drinks, the Autograph cocktail menu is themed on the world’s most famous studios, from Walt Disney and Pinewood to Universal and Abbey Road, the latter of which was right up my street, made with Lagavulin, fresh ginger, honey and lemon (£12). Meanwhile on their classics menu, the Old Fashioned (£10.50) was smooth and sweet, made with orange and mint infused sugar, served with a burnt cinnamon stick and orange zest and the off-menu Sazerac (you just have to ask nicely) is served straight-up with a discarded lemon zest and absinth rinse.
The DesignMyNight Digest
Studio 88 is brought to Leicester Square by The House of Song, the same team that brought Piano Works to Farringdon, so a good night is all but guaranteed here. The drinks are delicious and fun, the food easy-going and the music spectacular, all night long. It’s the perfect place for a group night out, especially if your group has a diverse music taste; the band are up for the challenge of satisfying all tastes.