What do you picture when you hear the term Art Deco? Fantastical ideas of Baz Lehrman’s Great Gatsby, gilded brasseries and de facto extravagance fail to capture the pastiche of styles making up this early 20thcentury movement. Somehow, what was once a collective word for the artistic expressions that followed Art Nouveau has morphed into a dizzying, dancing circus troupe of hairbands, flapper dresses and sidecars.
In Britain, the lasting legacy of the movement has been in our architecture. Sure, we have a few ecclectic creations, like the sumptuous interiors of Soho’s Brassiere Zédel, but predominantly, the movement arrived in elegant, paired-back buildings found in the strange hinterlands of our seaside resorts, where municipal architects got to work building pools and cinemas with streamlined, cruise-liner style exteriors.
Today, Britain’s remaining buildings offer slim pickings, but a surprising number have been transformed into hospitality venues, so we can continue to enjoy the elegance and craftsmanship of these rare architectural treasures. From ballrooms transformed to hotels re-found, here’s a pick of our favourite Art Deco eateries across the country.
Brasserie Zédel, Soho, London
Piccadilly’s decadent Parisian brasserie sits beneath central London, wrapped up in 1930s interiors of a former hotel’s dining room. Upon first opening, Building magazine sagely described the opulence as ‘a trifle dissipated and naughty, but not sufficiently so to be vulgar’. This is British art deco at its most flamboyant: marbled columns, 23-carat gold leaf gilding, maroon banquette seating, original chandeliers and panelled walling all originally thought up by set designer Oliver Bernard. The interiors are a refurb of a refurb: the original Regent Palace Hotel, born into the early 20th century era of transatlantic liners and glitzy luxury, was given the Bernard facelift in the 1930s. His work was then rejuvenated in 2015 by the Cobin & King restaurant group.
Today, the menu takes inspiration from the Gallic , capturing the spirit of a Parisian lunchtime bolthole. Your pink tablecloth will play host to soupe à l’oignon, escargots slathered in garlicky butter and steak à la Bordelaise in a rich red wine and bone marrow sauce. Seeking the theatre of Art Deco? This one’s for you.
20 Sherwood St, London W1F 7ED, brasseriezedel.com
The Daffodil, Cheltenham
The British are accustomed to seeing the geometric outlines of Art Deco in our municipal buildings: lidos, libraries, stations and cinemas. Many have fallen into disrepair: others have been transformed. The Daffodil, in Cheltenham is one such silver screen that’s avoided vulturous flat developers. Sat on the spa town’s Suffolk Parade, you’d be hard-pressed to expect any beauty behind the subdued exterior. But cross the checked tile porch and you’ll find an airy, elegant cinema interior lovingly transformed into a restaurant space which celebrates the spectacular architecture. A graceful arched ceiling sweeps down into a cavernous hall, widely curved staircases connecting the old circle seating to the dining space below; where a screen once hung, now sits an open kitchen. The menu is short, and simple, focused on classic brasserie dishes. It’s nothing revolutionary, but you’re here for the showstopping interiors.
18-10 Suffolk Parade, Cheltenham GL50 2AE, thedaffodil.com
All Around Glasgow
Glasgow’s glut of 1930s architecture teeters between Nouveau and Deco, and with the might of Charles Mackintosh’s fabulous designs behind it, Nouveau tends to pip its later structural relative in the race. Hunt hard, however and you’ll find the Art Deco. The famous Rogano restaurant remains closed due to an ongoing refurbishment, but here’s hoping the seafood restaurant’s iconic art deco interiors – initially refitted to the style of the Cunard Line’s Queen Mary, which was built in Clyde in 1935 – remain intact. The Rogano fits the bill for ‘faded grandeur’ – think atmospheric, low-level lighting, soft carpets, velvet booths and curving bars. Past menus have matched the ambience, with satin-silky fresh oyster and Scottish seafood platters.
Keep an eye on the city’s curving Beresford Building, too. Burdened with a colourful history that includes housing WWII troops and, later, students, the brazenly moderne exterior has had a sharp clean-up this year, with interiors transformed into a multi-venue complex, complete with café, bar and restaurant. The building is set to open later this year – but head down in September for a pop-up event of food, drink and live music.
11 Exchange Pl, Glasgow G1 3AN, roganoglasgow.com
468 Sauchiehall St, Glasgow G2 3LW, beresfordlounge.co.uk
Dishoom, Kensington, London
Art Deco may have roared to life in the West, but its influence reverberated across the globe as the 20th century progressed. In Kensington, that echo has journeyed the planet’s full circumference: Dishoom’s fifth branch pays homage to Mumbai’s 1940s jazz age, an era when the first generation of modern Indian architects dabbled with Art Deco influences. Don’t dismiss this as a vague nod to a du jour interior aesthetic: architecture studio Macaulay Sinclair took the brief seriously, and sourced over 100 pieces of original period furniture, art and light fixtures from Mumbai, transporting them a painstaking 7,000 miles to the cavernous restaurant space. The result is a welcoming interior, resplendent with warm colours, curved corners and strong Art Deco touches. Slurp up cardamom-infused gin cocktails to the quivering hum of jazz, and order the spiced vegetable mix pau bhaji, or the house special, a mutton pepper fry served with a soft, warm paratha.
4 Derry St, London W8 5SE, dishoom.com
Burgh Island, Devon
Crouched low on the rocky edge of a tidal island off Devon’s south coast, Burgh Island hotel’s crisp white outline matches the utilitarian edge of classic British seaside Art Deco architecture. This whitewashed hotel, built in 1927 by filmmaker Archibald Nettlefold, and – in its era – a popular hotel, holds a mighty accolade in being the second home of Agatha Christie. The author wrote two books while living on the island. Other notable 20th-century guests include Noel Coward, Edward VIII and his American bride, as well as Gertrude Lawrence and The Beatles. Its heydays petered out in the 70s: after suffering war damage, the building lay empty. It wasn’t until the first decade of the new millennium that new owners sensitively restored the property. Right now, rooms are booked up until the end of the year, but you can still swing by as a guest and take a Champagne cream tea in the eclectic 1930s Palm Court Lounge.
Bigbury-On-Sea, South Devon TQ7 4BG, burghisland.com
The Midland Hotel, Morecambe
Similar in simplicity to Burgh Island, Morecambe’s iconic, white iceberg of a hotel, the Midland echoes the curves and lines of a mighty cruise liner. Built in the Streamline Moderne style, Oliver Hill’s modernist masterpiece glimmers on the North Western coast, leaving Morecambe proper somewhat diminished in its shadows. Inside, works from influential 20th-century sculptor Eric Gill have been restored to their original locations – look out for the Portland stone reliefs of Odysseus and Nausicaa in the lobby.
The main restaurant, the Sun Terrace, is open to non-guests. Don’t expect roaring 20s excitement: this to low-fi Art Deco. 1920s Lloyd Loom chairs are the only obviously nod to the movement. For something more elaborate, head up to the Rotunda Bar, taking a seat in the womb-like, scarlet-ribbed side room for classic cocktails amid iconic architecture.
Marine Road West, Morecambe, Lancashire LA4 4BU, englishlakes.co.uk
Smith & Wollensky, London
The American-influenced menu at this central London restaurant may not be to everyone’s taste, but if you can stomach the extravagantly expensive steaks on offer, you’ll be rewarded with some of the city’s finest Art Deco architecture lovingly restored. Britain had a 20th century habit of building monolithic hotels under the name Adelphi, but unlike many of the grande dames fading into obscurity in other cities, London’s old lady has had a swanky facelift. A £30 million transformation did away with the hotel entirely, switching beds for boardrooms. At the base of the monolithic building opened American steak chain Smith & Wollensky. The restaurant pays tribute to original architect Aukett Swanke’s art deco design, but adds mirroring and dark panelling to walls, a mosaic marble floor, soft leather booths and 20s-inspired artwork. Stick to the Wall Street favourites on the menu and you’ll be in safe territory – after all, how better to immerse yourself in atmosphere of the Art Deco movement than feasting a la Jay Gatsby for lunch?
1-11 John Adam St, London WC2N GHT, smithandwollensky.co.uk