The Comedy in Oxendon Street personifies what Piccadilly is about. It’s brash, extrovert and delivers entertainment and hospitality. Entertainment isn’t just limited to comedy but also encompasses live music and DJ sets. And hospitality comes in the shape of an excellent drinks list and standard pub grub to soak it up.
London pubs and comedy often go hand in hand. It was the concert saloon bars of Victorian hostelries which evolved into Music Halls where comedic Cockney champions such as Charlie Chaplin and Marie Lloyd performed. As a prime Piccadilly example, the London Pavilion (its façade now within the Trocadero Centre) was the capital’s first deluxe Music Hall in 1859 and was created from the former Black Horse Inn. So, when stand-up comedy came back to pubs in the 1980s, it was returning to its roots. The Comedy is even more of a return, being based in the West End and now hosting stand-up three nights a week at the Piccadilly Comedy Club.
Carved on the frontage is ‘Piccadilly No 7 Piano Bar’, its name before becoming The Comedy in 2007. It suffered sad deterioration – becoming down-at-heel and Towie in character rather than up-to-the-minute Made in Chelsea. A major recent renovation has now transformed it physically in appearance and décor. The exterior has two sections with a shiny black and gold chrome and glass ground floor and a Neo-Classical grey stone upper floor.
There are a whopping four levels to The Comedy. The ground level, a long and narrow main bar, has some pleasing Neo-Classical features with a row of Ionic support columns and incised cornices on the white ceiling. Otherwise the décor is traditional pub style with patterned wallpaper, vibrant splashes of red on the walls, a gilded mirror and a jumble of stools, chairs and sofas with varnished wood tables. The most notable feature is the array of caricature prints and photographs of comic greats including such Londoners as Frankie Howerd and Jo Brand. Below is the basement, which operates as the Music Room and nightclub with dark green decor. Upstairs is the first floor Lounge Bar – brightly decorated with its own bar, this acts as an overspill area, when not converted into the Piccadilly Comedy Club. On the second floor above is the Sports Bar with imposingly large TV Screens, which gets rammed for major football matches, like the recent Champions League Final.
There’s a mix of customers at The Comedy. Being near Piccadilly Circus, there are often Londoners coming in for a daytime break or a night of drink and amusement. Tourists are inevitably abundant, but comedy, live music and DJs attract a youngish Brit clientele, too. The friendly staff are cosmopolitan, which suits both the new generation of Londoners and international visitors. The venue’s signature Piccadilly Comedy Club showcases some solid comedic talent at good prices. Current performers include many who appear on the TV and radio circuit such as Roisin Conarty, Paul Sinha, Holly Walsh and Bob Mills. MC and organiser Mike Mantera is a streetwise south Londoner with a stiletto sharp wit to deter would-be hecklers. Tickets for Thursday nights cost £7.50 and it’s £10 on Fridays and Saturdays. The Basement Bar hosts modern pop groups on all nights except Sunday until 11pm; then on Friday and Saturday until 2am it transforms into a nightclub with DJ. The Comedy charges £5 or £6 for music and £10 for the nightclub – West End bargains!
The food is collectively sourced by owners TCG, and in order for its ease of service and low cost (especially given the Piccadilly location), much of it is not chef-prepared. Only served in the main bar, what’s on offer is cheap and cheerful grub, not a Michelin experience. The menu is comprehensive, with sandwiches, wraps, paninis and jacket potatoes for snacking (between £4.95 and £7.95). Ten different burgers include an Indian-influenced Taj Mahal and a Moroccan version with falafel. Starters such as melted camembert cost £5.75, mains feature grilled gammon or steaks from £10.95 to £15.95, and desserts at £3.95 include lemon tart and sticky toffee pudding. The menu is, however, of the pub past – prawn cocktail and battered onion rings are distinct 80's throwbacks. But, “you pays your money and you takes your choice.”
With real ale sales among Brits and non-Brits on the rise, house ales London Pride and Sharp’s Doombar nod to this, while there are two guest ales which change every week. Goldens, bitters and IPAs are favoured from Brains, Dark Star and St Austell. Happily, new London Brewers such as East London Brewery, Florence, Redemption and Sambrook’s can also be available. Cellarmanship is impeccable and the pub has been accredited by Cask Marque. So foreigners drinking real ale at the venue will experience it with all the herby aroma, tangy flavour and biscuity aftertaste that makes it such a great British achievement.
There are six keg lagers including Peroni and a Pilsner from Kozel with prices at £4.10- £5. The range of bottled products is notable and includes Singapore Tiger and Spanish San Miguel. The wine list is comprehensive and West End value for money at £13.95 to £20.25 a bottle. Whites include Chardonnays from four different countries and an Australian Moscato testifies to contemporary Muscatel trendiness. Reds list a cherry-ish Valpolicella and a good value Merlot at £16.95 a bottle from California’s Blackstone. Whiskies feature Talisker and Glenfiddich Scotch single malts and there’s a premium Kentucky Jack Daniels Single Barrel. Vodkas are highly popular and seven are listed including the rated Smirnoff Black and Grey Goose. And 20 cocktails meet most requests and include such classics as the Mojito and Long Island Iced Tea.
The Last Word
The Comedy continues a time-enjoyed London tradition of stand-up entertainment in a lively pub setting. The real ale is exemplary, but the food menu could do with the same care and attention.