Salon D’Été, A Lush Pop-Up Nightclub above L’Equipe Anglais
Published 1 August 2010
Its curtains swinging open for the summer months only, Mayfair’s vintage bar and kitchen Salon D’Été must vacate their premises on September 5th. It’s a true pop-up venue! Up and down in London like a jack-in-the-box.
I am a waitress at Salon D’Été in the absence of other opportunities – but this is not a sob-story as you might imagine. Before each shift I am transformed with curlers, blusher, eye-make up and a cloud of hairspray that makes me part of the show. This is essential to the Salon’s raison-d’étre – transporting diners (even the staff) into a lost world of glamour. As swing musicians warm up onstage, I embark on my shift like a scene from Casablanca.
The whole bar bears a similar transformation. To create Salon D’Été took ‘one month, from concept to fruition’, claims designer Edward Saperia. When I first saw the venue, one week before opening, I found it riddled with ladders and planks of wood. Electricians were working in the cavernous ceiling. Managers circled the room at an urgent pace talking to costumiers. In the middle of the room was Saperia himself, whose vision would sit at the core of the venture.
“You have got to trust your instinct,” he says. “If you have a vision, you have got to trust it.”
Young and enterprising, Saperia has a knack for taking over any role he touches. I first met him five years ago, and have seen him pass through several incarnations: jewellery-maker, fire-breather, film-maker, professional musician, band manager … Entering the Salon on opening, I found a lush indoor garden, and discovered his talent for interior design. From 9am to 8pm, he works for Barclays Capital. Far from merely designing the Salon, he now appears to own it and run it – in addition to having a day job.
“As any small business owner will tell you, you never stop working,” he says, “I get to bed at about one or two o clock in the morning and I get up at seven or eight. At the weekends I’ll generally be at the club until four o clock in the morning.”
A Cambridge-educated mathematician and banker, Saperia’s artistic alter-ego is something he has always taken for granted (‘you don’t really notice when you’re good at something,’ he states with questionable modesty, ‘you just notice when other people are terrible at it.’) When he saw the empty space above L’Equipe Anglais, he felt an instinctive pull.
“Sometimes we walk into a space and can feel how it wants to be. The Salon is a fantasy made real, a secret garden. But it was beautiful before I’d set foot in it. The first image I got was of light streaming through leaves and everything else stemmed from there. Design is just consistency with plot, with proportion, with light, with form. It’s about being switched on to details.”
The aim was to re-create a lost world of class and elegance – one which is surprisingly lush, thanks to large palm trees, hanging baskets and a beautiful canopy of ivy that is maintained by an irrigation system in the roof space.
This makes changing a light bulb quite complicated. Declan, the house manager, suspends himself from the ceiling in a bizarre feat of daring. Erecting a ladder might appear more sensible – but it would damage the foliage. Declan is extremely resourceful, and cares for the venue with parental devotion.
The food is meanwhile taken care of by Cordon-Bleu trained chefs cooking up French-Vietnamese light plates. Serving into the night entails a financial risk – which Saperia defends it as a moral choice. “There’s something good for the soul in feeding people. It’s probably down to my Asian background. The idea is that we have all these light plates that people sample throughout the evening.”
The menu is worth sampling. The pommes-frites (chips to you and I) are fried in truffle oil. My favourite dish is moules with coconut milk, white wine and chilli. The Cordon-Bleu team are assisted by chocolatier Will Sprunt, whose homemade marshmallows are available for desert.
The food is served alongside a unique stage-show of live music and burlesque. The dance floor always comes alive. In the past three weeks I’ve discovered French rap and Electro-Swing (Typo Boy), Gypsy-Jazz (Trio Manouche) and witnessed Summertime performed on the bagpipes (La Ta Mere).
At the end of the summer, after which the spell will end and the whole space will, I’m told, be taken over by offices. Until then, the party swings on with the Tassel Club on Thursday nights and a rotating stage-show Fridays and Saturdays.
Address: 21 Duke Street, London W1U 1LB
Booking/enquiry tel: 0207 617 71 50
Opening Hours: Friday to Sunday, 8pm till 3am, until 5th September
Images courtesy of MeMe.