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The Colony Room Club: A History of Bohemian Soho

By Sophie Parkin

The Colony Room Club was opened by Muriel Belcher in 1948. Witty, charismatic and as a lesbian an outlaw herself, she soon attracted the artists and those of a bohemian bent who peopled Soho at the time. Francis Bacon was a founding member, walking in the day after it opened in 1948. He was “adopted” by Belcher as a “daughter” and allowed free drinks and £10 a week.

Bacon was followed by other artists, among them Frank Auerbach and Lucian Freud, and over the following decades the club developed its unique atmosphere. Far from grand, it lay at the top of a murky flight of stairs on Soho’s Dean Street, a small and rather unprepossessing room. Nonetheless, the roll call of members and their cohorts who climbed those stairs reads like a who’s who of the arts in the post war period, from painters, writers, musicians, actors, directors and fashionistas to the more louche members of the aristocracy and even some MPs. Dylan Thomas, Noel Coward, William Burroughs, George Melly, John Hurt, Molly Parkin, Zandra Rhodes, Jeffrey Bernard and Christine Keeler were among those who were drawn to the club by the personality and colourful vocabulary of its hostess, by the decadent ambience and the charisma of the company. The club lived on after Muriel’s death and was adopted by the arts crowd of the nineties and noughties. Actor brothers Keith and Kevin Allen, art dealer James Birch, artists Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas, musicians Joe Strummer, Damon Albarn and Alex James, DJ Gaz Mayall, singer Lisa Stansfield and actress Keira Knightley all came to join the party during the final years.

Sophie Parkin was given a membership card by her mother Molly Parkin for her eighteenth birthday – an “unusual present”. Molly was a stalwart of the club and Sophie became a regular habitue. As such, with a keen eye she observed the antics at the club first hand, took photos and then wrote the history of this Soho institution, now sadly closed. Packed with riveting and scandalous gossip this is a fascinating history not just of a club but of Soho at large, of an era and the people who defined it.

Sophie Parkin was born in London and attended St Martin’s, Leeds and Maidstone Schools of Art. By the time she was twenty-one she was managing the popular 80’s members club Zanzibar in London’s Covent Garden, employing legendary barman Dick Bradsell. She went on to become an artist, performing poet, novelist, journalist and broadcaster, as well as managing other bars and restaurants worldwide. She has published three novels, All Grown Up, Take Me Home and Dear Goddess, as well as a series of teen novels titled The Life and Loves of Lily. She now owns and runs a successful members club in East London called Vout-O-Reenee’s and The Stash Gallery. She is the daughter of best selling novelist, painter and fashion editor Molly Parkin and art dealer Michael Parkin, and has two children.

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