Well here's a pleasant surprise. Not being of the gambling persuasion, nor generally given to visiting the epicentre of Tourist Town, a Casino on the corner of Leicester Square would normally sit firmly outside our purview. The newly refitted Hippodrome, however, exceeds expectations.
The elegant terra cotta building was designed by Frank Matcham as a theatre and music hall, and was once famous for a 400-tonne water tank for aquatic spectaculars. The roll-call of previous performers is an impressive one, including Charlie Chaplin, Noël Coward and Judie Garland. The Hippodrome has just reopened as a casino and live venue, but can also be visited for the bar and restaurant overlooking the gaming area.
The Heliot (pronounced the French way) is a bar of medium swank, dimly lit with a veneer of sophistication, but relaxed enough to play Erasure and Phil Collins as background music. It's named after Claire Heliot, an early 20th Century lion tamer famous for her Hippodrome shows. We took up seats in the old dress circle, looking down on the roulette punters below. This is a peerless spot for watching people, especially the sharply tailored security guards who patrol the balconies looking for trouble below.
The drinks menu is comprehensive. Cocktails clock in at the £8-£10 mark — on par with a typical West End hotel — including the usual range of classics plus a few house concoctions (Hippodrome Snuggle Rug, with Baileys, Kahlua and amaretto sounds particularly luxuriant). If wines are your poison, you can choose from 34 whites, 7 rosé and 33 reds. A range of bubblies is available, from a £16.80 sparkling wine right up to the £980 bottle of banker-quaffage. Those on a budget can pick up a pint for £4-£5.
With the relaxed atmosphere, free wifi, unusual view and reasonable prices (for a cocktail bar), we could happily sit here all day...which is dangerous, as the building is always open, even at 6 in the morning. The cream on the cake, however, is the service. Our waitress Emma was the very model of understated charm, at one point offering a tour of the casino. This revealed the true extent of the building, which includes numerous lounges, seating areas, and a rooftop smoking terrace. It's like entering a private members club with no door checks. We'll be back.
The Heliot and Hippodrome Casino is on Cranbourn Street, Leicester Square, WC2H 7JH. There's an open door policy with no dress code, and no need to book, so just walk right in. This review was done anonymously.