Everyone has a spot in London that they truly loved, but had to watch close its doors for the final time. When the tough decision is made, it can be hard to say goodbye; so let’s remember some of the little places that each make up a part of the Big Smoke’s history.
Once again, you did not disappoint. Time for a nostalgic glance back into the time machine, so strap in. Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.
1. The Trocadero, Leicester Square
Now, the answers to the question we posed on Facebook and Instagram may depend a little on this one. The famous Trocadero has led many lives, seen many sights and stood tall for over a century.
Starting life as a restaurant in 1896, anyone who remembers the opening of the Trocadero would be a fit and healthy 127-year-old. But, it had a good run in this sector and some readers may remember its closure in 1965.
Then, it opened after redevelopment in 1984 (just in time to show Back To The Future at their cinema, no doubt), enjoying a 12 year stint as a leisure centre. It was the largest of its kind in the UK at the time, and attracted tourists with its entertainment, cinema, and shops.
Now we enter the Trocadero’s era – Trocadera, if you will – where my own memory starts to kick in. Between 1996 and 2011, the space served as Segaworld and (following a name change) Funland. Essentially, it was one giant arcade, which may or may not have appealed to this writer’s ~eight-year-old self.
Funland closed in 2011, with most of the arcade games going and the Cineworld closing. A picturehouse cinema has since reopened and, after years of redevelopment, a hotel with rooftop bar opened in 2020. While the building may stand, the Trocadero isn’t quite what it once was, but the space remains cemented in London’s history.
2. The London Astoria, Charing Cross Road
Once a lynchpin of live music in the very centre of London, the beloved Astoria – and it’s co-venue LA2 – on Charing Cross Road was forced to make way for the London Crossrail development plans in 2009. Its final night (January 14, 2009) was suitably titled “Demolition Ball”, with performances from the likes of The Automatic, Paul Draper, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, and Frank Turner.
The Astoria started life as warehouse before being converted to a cinema and ballroom in the 1920s. It began life as a theatre in 1976, before repurposing as a nightclub and venue in the ’80s. To give you an idea of the reverence people held for the Astoria, I’ll just take a deep breath and reel off the names of some of the artists who played there.
Here goes: Slipknot (for their first ever UK show); Radiohead; Nirvana; David Bowie; Blur; Oasis; Kelis; Green Day; The Smashing Pumpkins; Florence And The Machine; Eminem; Garbage; Avril Lavigne; The Rolling Stones; Mark Lanegan; Arctic Monkeys; Robyn; and many, many more.
3. Tower Records, Piccadilly Circus (and various other locations)
Losing any music or arts based business is always a kicker, and Tower Records resonated with many a Londoner in its day. One of our followers even went as far to say “London was never the same after Tower Records closed,” and it’s not hard to see why many feel that way.
A giant flagship store used to sit in Piccadilly Circus, slap bang in the centre of London, attracting millions of avid music fans to its quarters.
Tower Records operated as one of the chain record store chains in the days where the musical landscape allowed more physical copies to be shifted, but the paradigm shift sadly led to its eventual demise in London.
In 2003, they were sold to the Virgin Group, and it operated under the name Tower Records until the store was refurbished. Younger readers (and myself) might remember their brief name change to Zavvi, which went into administration in 2008.
4. The London Hippodrome, Leicester Square
Today, this building houses the Hippodrome Casino, but many will remember it as The London Hippodrome: nightclub and restaurant — and probably will have a story or two to tell you about a night out there.
Some Secret London faithful even claim to have retained their membership cards as a fond memento. From 1983, crowds of up to 2,000 people would flock to the space, dancing the night away. In 2004, many will remember its short but sweet reincarnation as Cirque, a buzzing burlesque night out with a slick new design. Unfortunately, Cirque’s life was a brief affair, as the nightclub lost its license to serve alcohol in 2005 and was forced to close.
5. Hammersmith Palais
Even if you never went to the Hammersmith Palais, chances are you’ve heard of it. While this may be in large part down to the hit song by The Clash, (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais – which was inspired by Joe Strummer Don Letts attending a reggae night at the venue – it’s steeped in further history.
Past performers at the venue include The Kinks; Talking Heads; Toots and the Maytals; The Pogues; The Specials; and, obviously, The Clash. Hammersmith Palais was forced to close, condemned to demolition in 2007.
Full disclosure, the next two are cheating a bit, as the brands stretched beyond London, but just indulge me in this nostalgia-fest, okay? Okay. First up we have Woolworths, one word that will fill many with pure, unadulterated emotion. Whether it was the pick ‘n’ mix; browsing through games for the Gameboy Advance or picking up some crafts; this store simply had the lot. Gone but not forgotten.
Another former giant of the UK high street cut down too soon, and mercilessly at that. Trips here after school were just undefeated, weren’t they? Any movie you could ever want to rent, cheap as chips, is yours for a week to watch as many times as you like. You can keep your streaming services – Blockbuster’s art form won’t be repeated; a mammoth and a titan in the entertainment sphere.
8. Mash, Oxford Street
9. Chelsea Girl, King’s Road
10. The Rainbow Theatre, Finsbury Park
11. “The revolving restaurant up in the Post Office (BT) Tower!!!”
12. Hyper Hyper, Kensington
13. Shampers, West End
14. Our Price Records, Brixton
15. The Great American Disaster, Fulham Road
16. Videotron, Lewisham
17. Papaveros Restaurant, TS Queen Mary
18. Swan & Edgar, Piccadilly Circus
19. Empire Nightclub, Leicester Square
20. Bea’s Of Bloomsbury, St Paul’s
21. “I remember back in the 80s with all these great small record stores everywhere. You just turn around the corner and it was yet another store selling obscure vinyl records”
22. Häagen-Dazs, Leicester Square
23. “All the electrical shops on Tottenham Court Road. There must have been about 50 and now only a couple”
24. Equinox, Leicester Square
25. Carols, Soho
26. Kensington Market
27. Cockney Pride Pub, Piccadilly Circus
28. “I worked at Our Price, on Kensington High Street. There was a policy of not reacting to any big names who came in. At first I was confused, wondering who these people might be, but one day, Elton John came in with his chauffeur. He picked most of the top 40 cds, giving them to his driver to carry. Other names included Michael Hutchence and Paula Yates. And Geri Halliwell”
29. Virgin Megastore, various
30. Fridge, Brixton
Though I’m sure it wasn’t that cold — it was a nightclub, after all…
31. “A heap of independent second hand book stores on Charing X Road”
32. Radio Rentals
33. Shades, Soho
34. Bree Louise, Euston
35. The Clarence Pub, Stockwell
36. Shellys, Oxford Street
37. The Stockpot, Soho
38. Beanos, Croydon
39. Caeser’s Nightclub, Old Kent Road
40. Limelight, Shaftesbury Avenue
41. The Museum Of The Moving Image, Waterloo
42. Biba, High Street Kensington