When the inevitable text message exchange pop-ups on my phone on a Thursday afternoon and I juggle back and forth with friends, “any plans for tonight – where should we meet?”, I aim to suggest something different than simply “going out for a drink” but surfing through Time Out London, Londonist or one of the city guides for inspiration, I quickly become overwhelmed with too-much-choice anxiety. I also conclude that although many of these options sound unique and quirky, the truth is I really don’t want to enroll in a glass-blowing workshop this weekend, nor visit the botanical gardens, neither am I in the mood to try a new Basque-Burmese pop-up fusion restaurant where the tapas are designed like tulips.
What I think there is more of a need for in big, diverse cities like London and New York with deep, diverse and sophisticated demographics are more well-curated, late-night, social, intellectual entertainment events. An ideal formula I believe should have three ingredients:
- intellectual entertainment: a purpose to a gathering needs a back-drop, something that will stimulate thought and a conversation: like a short film, a performance, a guest speaker, journalist, an author, inspiring entrepreneur
- cool food & wine venue: the topic isn’t the only thing that creates an atmosphere and generic coffee and croissants of a static hotel bar won’t do. But some simple, high-quality food and wine and good tunes will encourage a crowd to linger on, chat and feel like they’re having fun, not at a stuffy work conference.
- demographic: who is in the room is also a key-factor. A live audience and a smart crowd will enhance a Q&A session, offer some networking and fun social mingling.
I’ve outlined a few options below that foot the bill for evening intellectual entertainment. (1) salons, supper clubs and private clubs (2) universities & academia (3) niche-news media outlets. I also have a proposal for a 24/7/365 intellectual, entertainment hub that I picture as a buzzing venue with adjoining spaces to bring all these experiences under one roof of a breakfast cafe, wine-bar, small auditorium, book-store, news-stand, mini-cinema, exhibit-space – where the city’s intellectual pop-up groups can buzz and pollenate under one roof.
(1) Salons, supper clubs and private clubs:
I read an article in the in the Evening Standard by Alice-Azania Jarvis, where she writes about the recent proliferation to the London night scene of literary salons, supper clubs and creative gatherings. First Edition Talks, Salon London and Pin Drop are a few different gathering that host evening talks and discussions at the various private clubs and funky hotels in London like the Ace Hotel or the Hospital Club. The tendency of these events to be at different venues, scattered about the city and with evolving calendars, may make them difficult to pin-point. But this is a very interesting development and will be curious to see new themes popping up into next year.
(2) Universities and Academia:
When I find myself in central London on a weekday late afternoon with an open evening, I’ll quickly scan my iPhone to check the the free and almost daily evening lectures around 6:30pm at the London School of Economics, LSE, and the School of Oriental and Asian Studies, SOAS, among other universities. The topics vary every evening, depending on the department hosting the event, but are usually around timely subjects like the rise of China, the post-Arab spring, digital media and start-ups, cities-urban themes, the European Union, consumer trends, social movements, etc, which are typically moderated by a department head and a guest speaker, a diplomat, entrepreneur, academic or journalist.
These events tick the boxes on the intellectual front, but because they are at academic venues there is little consideration to this being “entertainment” with drinks, light food for mingling and networking. With the steep rises in tuition fees, the explosion of Moocs in online education and in general the insular nature of academic institutions – universities would do good to re-position themselves on how they engage the general public through these type of events in their brick-and-mortar buildings. Perhaps investigating partnerships with retail-food-brands and niche-media groups would help liven things up on some otherwise static university halls when it comes to engaging their local communities.
(3) Niche-news media outlets: very few young people get their news from TV anymore, most of it is digital, whether through blogs, Facebook, Youtube or smaller media organizations. I’m a big fan of the Monocle when it comes to covering cities-urban topics, design-retail, and trends from Japan and East Asia. Also Vice News immersion documentaries offer a unique perspective with their journalists in regions like Syria, North Africa, Middle East. Also the heavyweights like the Financial Times, New York Times and smaller publications like Delayed Gratification are great depositories of information. More partner-events co-hosted between media organizations like these with the above- universities, clubs, cool-bookstores, I think would create some lively spaces and interactions.
A Proposal for a 24-7-365 intellectual hub in London, NYC and other cities:
The initiatives outlined above are very interesting and I’m sure will continue to evolve over the next couple years. But I would eagerly await the development of a retail-food-entertainment space that would be a 24-7-365 intellectual entertainment hub that would encompass all of the above pop-up communities under one roof. Somewhere you can go in for a morning coffee & creative presentation, browse through a news-stand of international magazines, have a glass of wine in the evening with a date, listen to a talk with an entrepreneur or watch a late-night short film in a buzzy, humming cool environment filled with media, magazines, books and a creative, intellectual crowd.
Maybe a partnership with one of the private clubs in London or one of the funky hotels with a cool niche media outlet and a food-retail-book establishment could create a new venue in the city, that would be something truly innovative and engaging, as opposed to the plethora of more sanitized urban malls with Louis Vuitton type boutiques, predictable Italian chain restaurants and more static bookstores and shops.