The Hippodrome Casino in Leicester square will be officially opening its doors Friday the 13th, after Thursday’s un-official opening to press and VIPs.
The Friday the 13th opening obviously does not worry Mr. Simon Thomas, the owner of the Hippodrome, he can’t be superstitious.
The development is now ready after long delays and some £40 million spent on making the old lady of London look great again and ready to entertain once more.
The site has a long history, when the curtain first went up in January 1900 audiences in London were treated to a show that combined stage, circus and water spectacle. A 100,000-gallon water tank set in the well of the theatre was big enough to accommodate swimming elephants, high-diving midgets and Venetian-style gondolas.
While the entertainment would have been what caught the headlines on the opening night, history records an even more remarkable performance.
According to legend, on the stage that night among the performers was a certain Charles Spencer Chaplin, just 20 years old and at the start of a career that would see him knighted and immortalised as Charlie Chaplin.
It was a propitious start for a building that would stand at the heart of London’s entertainment industry for more than 100 years, until it lost its way, together with its licence to serve alcohol, in 2005.
Since then the building on the corner of Leicester Square and Charing Cross Road has been occupied by little more than memories: of its nightclub years under the stewardship of Peter Stringfellow; of when stars such as Frank Sinatra and Shirley Bassey performed there when it was called The Talk of the Town; and of its longest incarnation as a 1,340-seat theatre from its birth until 1951.
Now the building, flanked by gaudy souvenir shops has been stripped down and now ready for its latest incarnation – as London’s most high-profile casino.
Simon Thomas, the developer and bingo hall entrepreneur, is spending up to £40m of his own money stripping back and then redressing the grand old lady of the West End.
Above, below and to the sides of the main auditorium the venue will have three floors of gambling, four bars, a 200-seat theatre and a 150-cover restaurant. Rooftop gambling rooms where punters can smoke and gamble at the same time have been planned. The place will even have a wedding licence.
“If you want to get married by Elvis in London, you will now be able to do it,” Mr Thomas boasts.
What is more important is that Mr Thomas and his business partner, his father, are looking for is a target of 2,000 people per day coming through the doors of the Hippodrome, spending an average of £38 each. Under his business plan that level of business would see the venue return his initial investment and move into profit within five years.
“We are doing this because we love it, because we want to do something special,” he says.
“And because we want to make money.”