Drinking in a bar behind bars

Now you can spend a night in the cells without doing anything wrong

In the past decade half of the country’s courthouses have sold off to raise cash and, while this might be music to the ears of criminals, it also means that more and more of us can indulge our fascination with all things to do with the law.

When the NoMad Hotel opens in the former Bow Street Magistrates’ Court next summer (2020) which we referred to in a previous article, it will be the latest in a growing line of hotels to be sited in places that used to dish out fines and jail time to the crooks of the capital.

Preceding it, we have the aptly named Courthouse Hotel just behind Oxford Street which was the Great Marlborough Street Magistrates’ Court until 2006.

There patrons can nip into the former holding cells and down a beer or a cocktail. The three cells can be booked in advance or are available on a first come, first served basis.

The old courtroom at Great Marlborough Street Magistrates’ Court is now the Silk Restaurant adorned with many Thai images

Those more interested in the actual courtroom as opposed to the cells could consider dining in the Silk Restaurant. Originally, the hotel was marketed under the Kempinski brand which is rumoured to have ties with the Thai Royal family, which might explain the restaurant’s name.

Silk features the original magistrates’ bench, dock and witness stand. The bench for members of the press (where I sat working for about six months) seems to have disappeared, but I guess that they have to sit the diners somewhere.

Some famous names had appeared in the court – among them Oscar Wilde, Mick Jagger, Christine Keeler and John Lennon.

A few of the names to have appeared at Great Marlborough Street court Jagger, Keeler and Lennon

The Courthouse is owned by the Sanger family of Indian entrepreneurs. Also, in their portfolio is The Courthouse Hotel Shoreditch which is housed in the former Old Street Magistrates’ Court.

At the Shoreditch hotel you can drink in the Jailhouse Bar (above) which is in the converted police station part of the property. There, too, private hire of the cells is available.

It has a Judge & Jury dining room (above) though, to be pedantic, I’m not sure that either every saw the inside of a magistrates’ court in an official capacity. You have to go a bit higher up the legal system to a Crown Court to get judges or juries. At least, that’s my understanding. Let me know if I’m talking through my hat.

There is also a Members Bar which is available for hire which can accommodate up to 50 people standing (40 seated). This is sited in the former juvenile court part of the premises.

The Krays appeared at both Bow Street and Old Street courts; The Clash were at Clerkenwell where they pleaded guilty to killing racing pigeons

Old Street Court, like Bow Street, played host to the Kray Twins as one time and writer Joe Orton (Entertaining Mr Sloan and Loot), was found guilty there of damaging books taken from Islington library. Orton was murdered in his Islington home in 1967 at the age of 34.

If you care to sleep in a room that once was a cell then Click78 in the King’s Cross area might fit the bill. It’s a budget hostel, not a hotel as such, and sits in the former Clerkenwell Magistrates’ Court. Names associated with the court include The Clash pop group and a certain Charles Dickens once worked as a court reporter there.

Individual rooms start at around the £70 mark but if you don’t mind bunking down in company you can see change out of £20.

Not an old courthouse, but still on the subject of bars behind bars we would draw your attention to a new-ish drinking experience also in the Shoreditch area – Alcotraz. It isn’t located on island, but in Brick Lane.

It’s a bring-your-own-liquor cocktail penitentiary. The guards will help serve you approximately four cocktails each during the one hour and 45 minutes you are “inside”. Drinkers are handed bright orange prison uniforms to wear during their stay (above). Robert Stroud impersonators take note.

Alcotraz is one of three immersive experiences offered by Inventive Productions. If being a jailbird for a little less than two hours is not your thing, they also have the Moonshine Salon (a Wild West experience is west London – exact location a secret in case the sheriff finds out – daft but fun) and the Pirates of the Hidden Spirit in St Mary Overie Dock in Southwark. As you might guess this one is for Jack Sparrow wannabees.

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David Buckley

Dave Buckley is a career journalist. “I once went painting girders for a week and discovered I didn’t like heights,” he says. “Apart from that it has always been journalism for me in one form or another.” Past publications worked for include the South-East London Mercury*, Kent Messenger, Daily Express, Today*, News of the World* and Hong Kong Star*. All those marked with an asterisk no longer exist (trend emerging?). He owned and edited a Thailand-based property magazine before returning to England and currently works as a production editor for an East Midlands-based publishing group.

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