While some Londoners are sleeping, others are making sure those of us staying awake are having a good time. In hotels, discreet night managers are averting outfit disasters or counselling marriages, bartenders are selling dinner-party wine to cash-rich, time-poor Mayfairians, doormen are vetting guests at the entrances of elite members’ clubs, and restaurant owners are helping household names find a quiet table in the corner. Here are some of the Londoners you might meet out after midnight in our city’s most exclusive and prestigious nightlife institutions, telling the stories of what makes their London nights so special.
Adam Hamdardi, Doorman at Annabel’s
Although it has recently undergone extensive refurbishment, the history of Annabel’s stretches back to 1963. Visits from John Wayne (apparently so drunk he broke three cigars trying to light them), Grace Jones (who hula-hooped across the dancefloor) and most famously the Queen (who ordered a martini) have cemented its fame in pop culture history.
For the past two years, it’s been Adam Hamdardi’s job to man the doors of this very private playground – which is open almost round the clock, from 7am to 4am. ‘It’s never boring,’ he says. ‘I love standing at the door of one of the most iconic locations in the world, watching the world go by.’
Annabel’s is scant on the details of its celebrity members – and Adam is tight-lipped when it comes to stories, of which he says he has many – ‘but they will stay with me.’
‘Annabel’s is the only nightclub the Queen has ever been to, which gives you an insight into the people we have welcomed over the years,’ he says. ‘Guests have included Frank Sinatra, Lady Gaga, David Beckham, Anna Wintour and Princess Diana. It’s the most inspiring door to watch over in London, if not the world.’
Of course, Adam has to turn the odd chancer away, but he’s okay with working nights. ‘London is always a special place, but at night, there is electricity in the air’.
Annabel’s, 46 Berkeley Square, Mayfair, W1J 5AT, annabels.co.uk
Jérôme Allaguillemette, head bartender at Sexy Fish
Originally from Paris, Jérôme Allaguillemette has been running the bar at Sexy Fish since the restaurant opened four years ago. With Damien Hirst mermaids flanking the red lava-stone bar and Frank Gehry fish swimming overhead, the glitzy hotspot has attracted celebrity diners from Kate Moss to Stormzy.
‘The atmosphere comes from the guests,’ says Allaguillemette. ‘It’s a place people go to party.’ The Mayfair locals, he says, really make Sexy Fish what it is. ‘We have a gentleman who comes into the restaurant regularly, he’s always extremely fashionable – silver jacket, glitter, snakeskin all over. He always looks like he’s going to a ball whatever time of day.
‘Another regular – I’d say he’s in his late 70s – has travelled the world and had a good time partying when he was younger. He always likes to tell us about his crazy years in clubs around the world, and how Sexy Fish kind of reminds him of all that.’
The bar is home to the world’s largest collection of Japanese whisky, some of them very rare, as well as a list of the sort of glossy, impressively complicated-to-make cocktails that you would expect from such a high-profile establishment in this part of the city. ‘We had a guest once who walked in and asked for two bottles of extremely expensive red wine because he couldn’t be bothered to stop in the shop on his way to a dinner party,’ says Allaguillemette. ‘Only in Mayfair.’
Sexy Fish, Berkeley Square House, Berkeley Square, Mayfair, W1J 6BR, sexyfish.com
Alec Lowndes-Watson, night manager at The Savoy
In his 16-year hospitality career, Alec Lowndes-Watson has spent eight years on night shifts – three of them at 130-year-old London institution The Savoy, working 8pm until 8am, four days on, four days off. ‘Every night is a different journey,’ says Lowndes-Watson. ‘The guest who is delightful at three in the afternoon might be a different person at three in the morning.’
While he’d never name names (‘My guests’ secrets are my secrets’), it’s safe to say that he’s had all manner of experiences on the job.
‘I’ve seen fire, flood and power failures. I’ve dealt with all of the emergency services. I’ve had wedding dresses covered in oil cleaned and ready for morning ceremonies. I’ve rubbed feet, counselled marriages, walked dogs, hemmed dresses, arranged separate flights home. One of the wonderful things about night shifts is the variety.’
Alec finds it easier to keep night hours on his days off. ‘Londoners like to go to bed, but there is always something to do. You can party hard with hundreds of other excited people. You can curl up with a book and cocoa on a rooftop or canoodle with your partner and a gin in a dark corner. I’ve even rowed up the Thames for a picnic under the moonlight. Life is what you make it. My sun just happens to be your moon.’
The Savoy, 2 Savoy Court, Strand, WC2R 0EZ, thesavoylondon.com
David Moore, owner of Pied à Terre
David Moore opened Pied à Terre in 1991 aged 26, securing a Michelin star within two years with its haute French cooking. The restaurant, walls hung with art donated by Sir Peter Blake and Howard Hodgkin, retains a celebrity clientele today, with countless names from Kanye West to Brad Pitt, Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth dining there.
Moore is still very much a presence in the restaurant – and he’s seen it all. ‘There was a time in the early Nineties when the Duke of Bedford and his wife, Henrietta, rocked up and parked on a double yellow line outside where Roka is right now. They came in and I said, “You need to be careful because you’re on a double yellow and you’ll definitely get a parking ticket.” Henrietta turned to her husband, and said, “Charlotte Street. Darling, do we own it?”’
Both Robert De Niro and Rowan Atkinson, he reveals, have the same favourite table. ‘They’ve dined here separately, more than once, and not only do they like to sit at the same table, but in exactly the same chair.’
Over the past three decades, Moore has got to know his guests fairly well, often spending his evenings dining with them, and has more than a few famous phone numbers. ‘I’m a kid from Blackpool and I’ve ended up owning a restaurant where I get to know amazing people. I think it’s odd because I stand there and I take money off them in this relationship every time, but the more you get to know them, the more they feel comfortable. You almost become family.’
Pied à Terre, 34 Charlotte Street, Fitzrovia, W1T 2NH, pied-a-terre.co.uk