Sunday, May 16, 2010

London: A voluptuous banquet

Now I ask you: Is this what you want to see over a cup of tea?

The strangest afternoon tea experience I had in London was at the Volupté Lounge, a self-described "decadent little supper club" hidden away near Chancery Lane. Over afternoon tea, guests are treated to a 1930s-style burlesque show. Dolores Delight belts show tunes (and I mean belts 'em, which is stunning given the tight corset she's wearing). Millie Dollar emerges in stunning gowns and then emerges from the stunning gowns, down to her pasties and tattoos. Various performers present visual tableaux and interpretive dances (like the butterfly, above). And through it all you get a traditional afternoon tea menu of sandwiches and scones and such. Like I said, strange.

Why anyone would want burlesque (a) in England, where the locals' reserved character doesn't exactly generate the desired whoops and catcalls, or (b) over tea eludes me. Zoe Fletcher, who created the program, answers, "Well, that's me. I like to have a gossipy tea with my friends, and I love burlesque, so it just fit." The fit is questionable. You'd think this would be an attraction for men, but judging by my Saturday afternoon visit you'd be wrong. I was one of three, each of us in female company (thanks again, Sarah! — she took the photo above and provided the best definition for the afternoon: "Burlesque is just stripping for girls who went to Sarah Lawrence"). There were, however, three "hen do's" — that's a British term for bachelorette parties. London gals go all out for these things: coordinated dresses, balloons, oppressive penis accessories (whistles, straws, etc.) and everyone wears a sash. Young women with marriage on their minds ... watching sassy women strut their stuff and shake their goodies. The applause, as you might imagine, was tepid. But the place has been open since 2006. Go figure.

The tea experience is not great. To deliver a full program, they drag out the presentation for nearly three hours, bringing each course in between performances. So the tea gets cold, and you're consistently hungry. Oddly enough, though, this place served the best scones of all the afternoon teas I enjoyed in London: crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, real scones!

Volutpé does its thing for dinner, cocktails, theme parties, etc. I suspect the burlesque is much more fun then.