Blacks members club in Soho is set for a return to its roots with a decadent revival by chef Luke Thomas, who has recently become co-owner.
Blacks was launched in 1992 by a hard-drinking club entrepreneur and sometimes poacher, Tom Bantock, and was known for its unpredictable and adventurous spirit.
Now Thomas plans to revive this atmosphere of drama and decadence, bringing back the original lust for life to make Blacks the true beating heart of Soho once more. He will work in partnership with entrepreneur Roger Payne, who bought the iconic Dean Street venue two years ago.
The four-storey Georgian townhouse which was built in 1732, is to be revitalised by 25-year-old chef and author Thomas who is restoring the original spirit to London’s most notorious members’ club.
Thomas said: “I fell in love with Blacks the moment I saw it. I’m fanatical about food and music, so Blacks – the birthplace of the supper club, in the heart of Soho with its rich musical history, felt like my natural home. Behind the club’s understated confidence lies a wild and wonderful past, which I’m excited to bring to life for today’s members.”
The Welsh-born chef is seen on the right of the main picture with general manager Clinton Barry and membership manager Lea-Anna Azzopardi in the first floor dining room. He added: “It will be a space for socialising, not social media. Blacks is a club for the exceptionally interesting and exceptionally interested. Some London members clubs have become little more than co-working spaces at the expense of social interaction and fun. Soho is in danger of becoming a bit bland, but that won’t be the case at Blacks.”
The iconic venue has always had a strong links to the music world and helped launch the careers of Sam Smith, Jake Bugg and Laura Mvula. Recently UK rap-star Dave, recorded one of his latest singles Black, at the club.
This musical heritage is set to continue and the Society of Golden Slippers will have a residency at the club with intimate events dedicated to discovering and celebrating music talent.
The basement Den will also host regular live music from the industry’s freshest talent, including Sofa Sessions, and live DJs, and there will also be immersive theatre and cabaret performances.
The venue is undergoing refurbishment under Luke’s creative direction and they are working with top Italian interior design house Seletti to bring an eclectic and unique style to the club, while keeping many of the original features, like the four poster bed in the boudoir and the Victorian free-standing bath tub.
Thomas will be launching his Supper Club Series, which will celebrate the venue’s long gastronomic history. The Supper Clubs will provide a platform to showcase some of the most exciting players in the food world, from up-and-coming chefs along to London’s most innovative street food operators.
These events will also be open to book for non-members and the line up this year includes Catonese eaterie Duck Duck Goose, formerly at Pop-Brixton, and Cafe Habana, the New York institution which will take a pop-up residency at the club.
Thomas’s passion for new British cooking will be at the heart of the Blacks in-house culinary programme with a collection of nostalgic comfort foods, local flavours with global influence enriched and adapted to create the club’s eclectic culinary identity.
Food will be served from brunch right the way through to a late night bar food, and the venue will also open on Sunday for lunch from 22nd September. It will be open to non-members but have discounted prices for members.
Alongside the food, sits A Little Blacks Book of cocktails that have been served in the venue since the early ’90s. There will be a small, continually changing wine list that hosts English-sparkling, a selection of natural wines and some old-world favourites, too. Wine-grower dinners also start from this month (September).
The club will open daily from 9am until 1:30am, serving food and drink all day, and is offering memberships to under-30s for just £300-a-year, while standard membership is priced at £525. The club’s current members include a broad cross section of society but is strongly represented by people from creative arts. Blacks is also one of London’s few dog-friendly members clubs.
About Blacks Club
Blacks is the original alternative club in London. ‘The Club’ formed in 1764 by the author Dr Samuel Johnson and his friends, the portrait painter Joshua Reynolds and the actor and playwright David Garrick.
They created it as the very antithesis of Whites of London, one of the most exclusive, establishment clubs in the world. Their club was to be anti-establishment, a supper club where like-minded people would meet to discuss the issues of the day, and, of course, enjoy fine food and wine.
The first club meeting was held in the Turks Head pub in Soho. As far as we can tell, this is the origin of the term ‘supper club’, and what we know for sure, is that the original intent and beliefs of the founders still represent the spirit of Blacks today.
Fast forward 200 years, and that Blacks spirit was given a more public and physical persona when Tom Bantock, a famous Norfolk poacher, relaunched the club in 1992 and gave it its home of today: Blacks, 67 Dean Street, Soho. Fittingly, this glorious Georgian townhouse has a Blacks-appropriate history all of its own dating back to the days when the club was first formed.
The house was designed in the early 18th century by John Meard Junior, an apprentice of Sir Christopher Wren.
The house has also been home to many notables including Charles Fortnum of Fortnum & Mason.
Tom, however, took the club into a new societal era. An era of celebrity and excess and exclusivity and a new decadence, but through it all Blacks remained Blacks at its core and adapted to the new times with aplomb.
Today, under its current owners the club history and core spirit remain very much alive. Interpreted, of course, in ways that are relevant to people and society just now.
It remains discreet, but very open, accessible and forward-thinking. Still very much on the opposite side of the establishment.
And it remains very much a place where liked-minded people can share their views, their ideas and good times. The bar, the food, the wine, the art, the music, the style, have all taken on a new focus in keeping with the expectations and relevance of today.
The original spirit, the original intent, the original values, however, are still at the core of everything that they do, including that slight touch of everyday hedonism. They see themselves as mere custodians of Blacks, as no matter the owners, no matter the generation, they believe the heart of Blacks will always beat the same.
About Luke Thomas
Born in North Wales in 1993, Luke Thomas got behind a butcher’s block at the age of 12 and into his first professional kitchen a year later.
At 15, he won Springboard’s Future Chef, a national cooking competition against 7,500 budding young chefs.
By the time Thomas was 18, he was launching his first restaurant, Luke’s Dining Room, which won the title, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire restaurant of the year in 2013. This was followed by his first book, Luke’s Cookbook, published by Penguin in 2014, a collection of classic, nostalgic British comfort foods with a modern makeover.
The book inspired the creation of a British pop-up diner, Retro Feasts in London’s Mayfair, which then led to its launch as Retro Feast Dubai, with more locations on the way.
Luke has since appeared on TV shows including Great British Menu, Junior Master Chef, This Morning, Russell Howard’s Good News and Food Network’s Chopped, in the US.
Recently, he has been brought into the likes of Liverpool Football Club, Generator Hostels, Cafe Habana and Fast-Fine Restaurant Group as a taste maker and consultant to breathe his youth and craft into their offering.
Music is another passion, Thomas has cooked for some of the biggest music starts on the planet such as Iron Maiden, Tom Jones, Bastille, and DNCE.
Alongside his new venture, Blacks, Thomas is working on his next book. He has also recently signed a five-year deal with The Office Group; collaborating on their Vauxhall property to provide an exciting food and drink offering. He was also co-founder of The Coffee Collaborative which supplies coffee to more than 150 UK venues.