Interview: 1901 Arts Club

Candlelight, classical music and a cabinet with a very special second use all add to the secretly seductive feel of Waterloo’s 1901 Arts Club.

We say “secretly” as despite offering three floors of sumptuous fin-de-siècle elegance the club remains something of a local enigma - bizarrely still relatively unknown or misunderstood by the general Waterloo populace.

This is all the more surprising when you consider just what a gem the venue is, and its almost immediate proximity to Waterloo Station.

Glenn Kesby, the Australian counter tenor who manages the club, describes the Exton Street venue as an “intimate and exclusive events space”, but we think he’s being too modest.

For once you have rung the buzzer on the unpresuming black door, you’re transported to an opulent Parisian or Viennese hideaway complete with elegant wallpaper and luxurious places to sit or drape yourself over.

Glenn explained: “I think a lot of people still don’t know about us, or they may have walked past and seen the chandelier in the window and have wondered what goes on behind the door.

“We are an events space inspired by places like the Chelsea Arts Club, with a particular remit to serve the artistic community.

“We are not a private members club - instead we are available for hire for rehearsals, meetings and private parties.”

The club also regularly plays host to performances from rising classical musical talent and has been used for filming, including for ITV series Popstar To Operastar.

Katherine Jenkins and pianist Benjamin Grosvenor have performed at the venue, albeit away from public view, and a Steinway piano is a permanent fixture in the ground floor recital area.

A bar with a chaise longue and period furniture sits upstairs while a gorgeous meeting room and balcony area complete the building on the third floor.

Glenn explained the club was reopened in 2007 by owner Joji Hattori, a violinist who wanted to nurture artistic talent in the capital.

And while the club does play host to some corporate events such as book launches and investment meetings, the hire fees remain extraordinarily low as a result of the creative ethos of the venue.

Indeed, Glenn would like to see more use of the club by the local community, given its place in the story of Waterloo.

Originally the building was a schoolmaster’s house, and Glenn said: “It is a special thing to have as a history. The schoolmaster at the time would have had a high profile and community respect.

“He would have been one of the key people in his community, and I would assume that the building has two large reception areas as there was an expectation that he would host quite a few social events.

“It’s great that in a way we are continuing that.”

You can read more about the 1901 Arts Club here. But if you want to find out about the cabinet, you’ll need to ask Glenn for a tour.