ayor Johnson said: "The creation of this superb new entertainment complex in the heart of the West End is yet another ringing endorsement of London as a great place to invest. This huge project has not only restored and retained the glorious fabric of this historic building but also created hundreds of new jobs for the capital and provided a major boost for local business."
Father and son team Jimmy and Simon Thomas, who have invested more than us$ 64.2 million in the Casino - housed within the former Hippodrome Theatre and adjacent Cranbourn Mansions – hailed the opening as an important new era for the casino industry in the UK.
Said Simon Thomas, CEO and co-founder: “We will challenge the long-held conceptions of casinos in the UK as either too expensive for the normal man on the street, or tucked away in back alleys in the wrong part of town. In fact we’re determined to not only challenge them, but redefine the way in which visitors to the West End celebrate an evening out.
“The opening of the Hippodrome Casino marks a new direction for the UK entertainment sector, and we have created 450 new jobs in the process. But it’s not just about the gaming. We embody the ambitions of the changes to the Gaming Act which allows venues to offer visitors the opportunity to eat, drink, gamble and watch some of the world’s top entertainers…all under the same roof.”
The Hippodrome Casino comprises:
3 floors of gaming including a dedicated Poker deck in the ‘Gods’, a 180 seat cabaret theatre – The Matcham Room, 150 cover restaurant – Heliot Restaurant, Cocktail Bar & Lounge, 4 private dining romos, 5 bars, a two-tier smoking terrace and events spaces throughout.
Said Simon Thomas: “This is a venue whose front door leads onto the busiest street in Europe above Leicester Square tube station through which 40 million people travel every year, and a secondary entrance that leads directly onto Chinatown. We couldn’t have found a better location.” “We have restored one of London’s iconic buildings to its former glory, reinstating hundreds of original features and bringing back much of the magic of the original theatre built by Frank Matcham in 1900,” he added.
The Casino hopes to attract tens of thousands of new visitors to the Leicester Square area, which has just reopened after a us$ 24.1 million investment.
The opening of the casino marks a new beginning for the Hippodrome. Originally opened in 1900 by the renowned theatre architect Frank Matcham as a circus variety theatre, the Hippodrome featured a 100,000 gallon tank in which polar bears and sea lions would swim. Works in 1909 enlarged the stage and advanced the proscenium to suit the theatre for variety rather than circus use and, from 1912, revue-style performances. Harry Houdini performed there and the venue staged the country’s first ever performance of Swan Lake. In the 1950s the Hippodrome was transformed into the legendary Talk of the Town, and featured stars including Shirley Bassey, Judy Garland and Tom Jones.
After various different reincarnations, including a nightclub under the management of Peter Stringfellow, in 2008 the venue returned to its roots as a circus venue for burlesque cabaret La Clique, which closed in June 2009.
Within only a few years of its completion, changes were made to the interior of the Hippodrome to adapt it to a new, different and ever-evolving style of entertainment. Designed by the West End’s most prolific and feted theatre architect Frank Matcham, it has undergone several transformations down the years, from a circus variety venue to Talk Of the Town dinner and dance club and, more recently, a circus act venue once again. There was even one dark period of reconstruction called ‘Operation Pickaxe’ that saw substantial damage wrought to the infrastructure.
Owners Simon and Jimmy Thomas vowed to do as much as they could to repair the damage and restore many original features through careful research and painstaking attention to detail.
Planning permission to renovate the building and restore many of the original theatre’s features – including hundreds of pieces of plasterwork – began as far back as August 2006. Work to strip out the building lasted nine months from April to December 2009, with shell construction work beginning January 2010.
Paula Reason, the architect behind the Hippodrome’s transformation, said her team’s biggest challenge were the ‘unknowns’ in tackling a building that had been covered up and pulled apart for more than 100 years.
A combination of different historical references from original drawings, newspaper articles, posters and programmes has helped the conversion. “In planning out the space we found that there were many more opportunities, rather than problems, thanks to the complexity of the building. The sheer number of different areas within the building, on different levels, is what makes this Casino unique in the world. It will be truly a voyage of discovery for guests.
“There has to be a balance between the requirements of gaming, live performance and the bars and restaurant- the challenge is that they all connect into the main central auditorium and contribute to the atmosphere of the whole place.”
The aim of the redesign was to recapture some of the ‘out of this world’ atmosphere of the original auditorium by using three devices:
• Digital Art Panels with original artworks flowing across the building
• Crystal Light Panels
• Dandelion Clock features: a necessary requirement of a casino is to have good quality lighting and security cameras over the gaming tables.
Additional features will include some floors paved with real pennies “for luck” and the renovation of the ornate central elevator, now housing a modern glass lift.
The entire project has also been guided by the UK’s foremost Feng Shui expert Paul Darby “to make the building luckier for owner and visitor alike.” His work included an initial dowsing session to gauge the energies of the site, and recommendations throughout the build on the best areas for tables, offices and bars, the perfect colour scheme and even which plants to put on the roof terrace.
Said Darby “We inherited a fantastic statue – a horse and charioteer – sited at the very top of the building by the original architect, Frank Matcham. This figure is a sign of success and determination, and I always seek to incorporate something from the original building in any new designs. Which is why this has been incorporated into the new logo for the company, and sits atop the entrance to the Casino. He has also incorporated a number of Chinese symbols in his designs to reflect the proximity of London’s Chinatown.
The restaurant, cocktail bar & lounge – The Heliot
The food and beverage operation throughout the Hippodrome Casino is masterminded by The ONE Group - a company founded in the UK which has seen phenomenal success and growth in the USA.
The Hippodrome Casino will be The ONE Group’s first UK venture, and will include a restaurant (Heliot), a late night lounge area and five bars including a cocktail bar. The casino’s restaurant will reflect The ONE Group’s ethos that the environment and atmosphere are of equal importance as the food itself.
The name of the restaurant – Heliot – hails from the name of a renowned lion tamer, Claire Heliot, who appeared in the early days of the Hippodrome Theatre and was famous for feeding a pack of lions on stage with meat from a fork. It will encapsulate the concept of ‘vibe dining’ in an American brasserie setting, respecting the variety and circus heritage of the building itself.
The entertainment– The Matcham Room
The Hippodrome will once again become a venue that attract top acts and artists from throughout the world and one that champions emerging talent. The Live at the Hippodrome programme hosts performances from established West End and Broadway stars, as well as world class music legends and emerging talent.
The Matcham Room, which comprises both at-table and balcony seating, is sited on a new stage built one floor up from the original, with a capacity of 180. A fold back acoustic screen will close the area off from the main auditorium and is cleverly concealed behind a series of theatrical curtains. The vision for this unique performance area belongs to Theatrical Director Nick Frankfort, formerly Executive Producer at London’s prestigious Donmar Warehouse: “London is the world leader in live performing arts, but currently there is no premiere venue for cabaret in London. The nearest similar space is Ronnie Scotts in Soho, but this is much smaller, catering almost exclusively for jazz performers and not cabaret with a more general appeal.
“Our aim is to secure a star performer each month to keep the Hippodrome in the headlines as a performance destination. In addition, we will look to Broadway for emerging American stars and also look to present musical theatre artists who are either not known in the UK but might have a huge following in their own countries or are on the way up.”
Up-coming performers for Live at the Hippodrome include: Broadway and West End leading ladies Maria Freedman, Judy Kuhn, Kerry Ellis and Ruthie Henshall, American star Stephanie Powers in her tribute to composer Lorenz Hart, ‘western swing’ band Hot Club of Cowtown, and rock and roll queen Suzi Quatro.
The casino's three gaming floors – including the basement Gold Room leading directly into London’s Chinatown - offer all of the very best in table gaming and the latest electronic games and slots from across the world, including Roulette, Baccarat, Blackjack, Poker and Punto Banco. The main arena gaming floor, with its central bar and full-height ceiling stretching up to the minstrel's gallery of the original theatre, will offer a particularly spectacular gaming experience.
Up in 'The Gods', the Poker Deck offers tournaments and cash games and on the top floor the VIP room will offer high minimums for those invited. Four private rooms will offer the opportunity for dining and/or gaming in a more private environment. The top floor bar leads out onto our two open-air gaming and smoking terraces – a unique outdoor environment within the casino walls.
For those who prefer electronic games and slot machines, there are organic terminals that offer Sic Bo, Roulette, Baccarat and Craps.