The latest bar to grace the capital’s Square Mile is a disarming combination of old versus new. Disarming, because while I’m always in favour juxtaposing the historic and contemporary – something The Vaults at Voltaire, owned by Blackfriars Hotels Limited achieves brilliantly - and I’m always complimentary of a historic feature treated with innovation – again, something The Vaults at Voltaire can truly boast of – I am not particularly in favour of old-fashioned attitudes, and in this spanking new bar I’m afraid they were lurking.
Let me start with the good.
The Vaults at Voltaire have been built within four weeks, in a Grade II listed building - once a prison and then a bank - on the site where Henry VIII’s Bridewell Palace once stood. History, therefore, runs through its veins; even though those veins are covered in paint so modern you can smell it.
Cleverly, the designers took the principle features of this space – the stone vaults which once stored the bank’s assets (think Goblin gold) – and transformed them into intimate, private drinking and dining dens for guests.
Decked with velvet and fur, they possess a Medieval vibe; and the iron gates which enclose them lend an enjoyably spooky air. Think Tower of London.
The Vaults at Voltaire run the length of the contemporary champagne bar which they adjoin - stocked to bursting with Pommery champagne - separated from it only by a narrow covered walkway christened ‘the cigar terrace’, where guests are allowed to smoke in peace, avoiding the cold (there are heaters aplenty), and the rain, feeling smugly as if they are still indoors and just ever so slightly in the 1930s.
I’ve got to hand it to The Vaults at Voltaire. The three long, thin, parallel spaces each offer something different yet complimentary, making for an unusual venue for champers, cocktails and tapas-style dishes.
But now the bad.
As old and new jostle cheerfully and intelligently in terms of space and design, the vibe at the launch party was most definitely plain old old.
In a giant champagne glass at the far end, a bikini-clad blonde writhed uncomfortably as entertainment, occasionally pouring bubbles over herself and rubbing them seductively into her chest. Dita Von Teese got away with it once; the effect here was tacky.
Another, in a cut-out swimsuit, stood at the door of one of the vaults dominatrix-style, looking torn between smiling seductively at her private guests and legging it down the cigar terrace and disappearing in a puff of smoke.
Later, sprayed gold, another bikini-clad beauty wriggled on a podium. Yes, I spied two topless waiters with fur slung across their chests, but they didn’t stick around. The air here was most definitely old boy’s club – and as most of the guests were men, suited and booted and in the main, unfortunately, short and balding; I suppose it shouldn’t have come as a surprise.
Yet it did. I didn’t want my stereotype of after work drinks in The City confirmed. The Vaults at Voltaire, you’ve got an interesting venue and one I’d return to; I just hope you consign the old school atmosphere of launch night to the history books.