The Gargoyle Club


Matisse’s Red Studio of 1911: it once hung in Soho’s legendary Gargoyle club, but was sold in 1942 by David Tennant and acquired by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1949 (Mrs Simon Guggenheim Fund).

I have to admit that one of my favorite parts of The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother & Me by Sofka Zinovieff is not the shocking relationship between Lord Berners or his Mad Boy. English life, culture and aristocracy in the era between WWI and WWII are more compelling to me. Today, I’m fascinated by the buildings that housed these bright young things, the aesthete, the literati, the bohemian, partly for their beauty but more so for their historical significance. Who gathered within their hallowed walls? What scandalous assignations took place?



The Gargoyle Club, 1940.

The rooftop Gargoyle Club opened above Meard and Dean Streets in Soho, London in 1925. The Gargoyle Club was run by the Honorable David Tennant, who claimed he just wanted a nice place to dance with his girlfriend, actress Hermione Baddeley.

e19f21c28fa361d63feabec0497ed427A veritable theatrical stage, the club boasted many distinguished members, including Fred Astaire, Noel Coward, Lucien Freud and Francis Bacon. But the member that undoubtedly had the most impact on the decor of the club was Impressionist Henri Matisse, who proposed the walls should be “covered in small squares of old French mirrors, cut up to produce a general sparkle.” Adding to this effect was the copious use of red plush and gold details, which Zinovieff describes as “chic but not flashy,” while others deemed it “moorish.” It seems unlikely that I would have run across the Gargoyle Club in The Mad Boy had it not been an asylum for les enfantes terrible.


Henri Matisse, Studio, Quai Saint-Michel 1916: it once hung in the Gargoyle Club. Oil on canvas, 58 1/4 x 46 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1940. 

The vibe and interior of the Gargoyle Club is described by author Stanley Jackson in An Indiscreet Guide to Soho (1942):

“The decor is bright but tasteful and Matisse gave his expert advice. Several of his drawings of ballet girls grace the upstairs bar which is a cheerful spot always crowded with people discussing art, politics or women in the liveliest way. ‘My unpaid cabaret,’ David Tennant calls them…The restaurant downstairs seats 140 and its ceiling and general design have been modelled on the Alhambra at Granada. The mirrors are particularly attractive, unless you have drunk too much gin!..The four-piece band led by Alec Alexander, suits the style of the club. It delivers lively, cheerful music that you can dance to without having your nerves torn to shreds. Alec knows all the members and seems to enjoy playing requests.”


Portrait of Nell Gwyn by Simon Verelst, circa 1680.

There is an enduring rumor that the Gargoyle Club was haunted by the mistress of King Charles II, orange seller and Drury Lane Actress Nell Gwyn (1650-1687). The site of the Gargoyle Club was originally a four story Georgian townhouse, which was said to be haunted by the ghost of Nell Gwyn. The ghost is a gray shadow apparition accompanied by the strong scent of gardenias.

The Gargoyle Club closed in 1978 becoming the Nell Gwyn Strip Club in the 1980s. In November 2009, the Dean Street Townhouse, a new nine bedroom hotel and restaurant, opened in the space.





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