Intellectual Pursuits: Salon London

First in a new series in which we visit the capital’s many regular meetups, gatherings and intellectual events.

What do you get when you combine a vivacious musician, vocal coach and star of ‘The Voice’, an award-winning screenwriter, and a techno-gifted bike fanatic? Apparently, a rethinking of a Parisian aristocratic craze that hit its peak in the Enlightenment period.

Salon London is a monthly meeting of the creative, intellectual and the just plain curious. It’s led by an army of devotees looking for an evening of inspiration and banter on a weekday night.

The venue varies, but always has a laid-back coffee-shop-cum-wine bar vibe: a low-lit, glass-clinking gathering. The audience ranges from curious 20-something hipsters to psychiatrists in their fifties; moustachioed young gents sit amongst housewives looking for a change of pace. Merging in a civilised manger that’s not entirely un-francais, intergenerational strangers converge and create a cool hum of anticipation as they get the drinks and nibbles in, and cast around the themed setting.

Lavishly greeted like an old partner-in-crime by hostesses Juliet Russell and Helen Bagnall, stepping in feels a bit like entering a particularly glamorous friend’s living room.

“Come curious, leave inspired“ is the event’s audacious tagline. Its organisers aim to deliver no less than an experience that stays with its participants for days afterwards.

It’s actually a pretty rip-roaring evening. You might be asked to question your life’s philosophies, or you might be taught to beat-box. You might end up singing rockeoke or accidentally thrust into a life-drawing session despite not having picked up a pencil in decades.

Purveyors of science, art, philosophy and illusion all strain the little black books of Salon’s organisers and their friends all seem to be willing attendees. “It’s a hobby. But a really, ridiculously fun one,” gushes hostess Juliet as an acclaimed philosopher takes to the stage to explain why logic could be a flawed system.

Pitched to please everyone and packing so much in, there’s never quite enough time for all questions to be answered, and not everyone gets to delve as deep as they’d like. But the frenetic pace and the sheer variety of the evening create an experience that enlivens the work-weary rather than drains.

At best, you’ll walk out of Salon London with three new hobbies. At worst, you’ll have a couple of new ideas that stick with you and, in a small way at least, change the way you look at the world. Next time you’re in the pub you’ll have something more interesting to say. And that’s got to be worth heading out for.

The next Salon — a special seasonal one-off devoted to voice coaching — takes place on 8 December at Theatre Delicatessan in Marylebone. The crew will be back in the new year with shows in the usual format.

By Helen Burnill

If you’d like to suggest future meetups or gatherings we could visit for this series, please email tips@londonist.com

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