Dancing with the green fairy: Belle Epoque, Shoreditch

2 Nov

It’s a Saturday afternoon. I’m ridiculously hungover and yet somehow I manage to find myself stumbling under the lurid fluorescent lights of Claire’s Accessories, mumbling something to the sales assistant about ‘fishnet tights’.

She drags me into a corner, where I squish up against a gaggle of girls all feasting their eyes upon a multitude of one-size-fits-all hosiery.

There’s only one time of the year when fishnets regain fashion kudos – Halloween had arrived. To steal an amazingly accurate line from the psychologically high-brow realm of Mean Girls, ‘Halloween is the one night a year when girls can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it.’

This year, however, I was going to a slightly more up market event. Oh yes, no tacky house parties with fake cobwebs or Thriller soundtracks for me. Tonight, I might have been hoisting myself into a boob-crushing corset and piling on the slap, but I was doing it in style – I was going to a Belle Epoque Party.

Pardonnez-moi, I hear you say? What the devil is this Belle Epoque of which you speak?

One of the latest parties to come out of the B&H Events stable (they’re the seriously cool Shoreditch party organizers that host the Second World War themed Blitz parties that sell out months in advance), the Belle Epoque events take you back to the debauched elegance of late 19th century France. This is the wonderfully flamboyant period in French history where it was all about being bohemian. It was during this golden age that haute couture was established, champagne was perfected, and when you daren’t leave the house without being peacocked in fur and feathers. Think of the knickerbocker flashing frou-frou dancers at the Moulin Rouge (ooh la la), absinthe-fuelled poetry sessions in smoky Montmartre cafes, and weird little Toulouse Lautrec tweaking his moustache and dothing his top hat.

If that doesn’t merit a ‘magnifique’, I have no idea what does.

Arriving at Belle Epoque is like walking through a distorted, green-tinged time portal, emerging from the streets of Shoreditch into a red velvet-clad music hall. You can barely see for all the top hats, and if Movember was ever looking for an event to sponsor, by golly this is it. I rub shoulders with a busty corseted wench, nearly plough into a Gauloise-smoking dandy and then risk a run-in with Edward Scissorhands (well, it was Halloween…) to make it to the bar.

The drinks menu even has un air poetique about it, and I ponder a few deliciously decadent spirit combinations before finally opting for La vie en rose, an absinthe-fuelled cocktail with vodka and raspberry liqueur (best not to quote me on this… I fear the liquorice tang of the absinthe may have gone down a little too easily for me to remember exact details…). The barman funnels the elixir of bohemia through a glass decanter and a sugar cube which gives the spirit it’s greeny tinge.

There’s a whooping in the hall and a near fatal moment for my cocktail as the can can dancers are let loose into the crowd. It’s a high-octane performance of frilly knicker-flashing excitement that goes down well, and followed by performances from aerial acrobats that twirl daringly above our heads. A sultry strip tease performed by a flame-haired burlesque pianist has to be the real crowd-pleaser, with wolf-whistles and rapturous applause aplenty.

As the swing band roars into action, playing a slinky, music hall rendition of Britney’s Toxic, an exuberant haze seems to descend upon the music hall. I spot Medusa getting off with a giant gorilla. Then I clock a 6’ transvestite with a head of hair so vertiginous it would fit in with a Broadway rendition of Hairspray. I also get a puzzling smile from a tiny old man dressed in a pink lycra dress.

I tip back the remnants of my absinthe cocktail and I think, yeah, those Frenchies really had it good, but the spirit of debauchery is still alive and kicking in Shoreditch.

Vive la boheme.

Belle Epoque parties take place throughout the year. Check out www.belleepoqueparty.com for the next event.


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