Just as every day begins with breakfast, so every event begins with a search for the perfect venue. When planning an event, our first priority typically is to locate a venue that complements our chosen theme. There are, however, occasions when the process is reversed and it’s the venue itself that inspires the theme.
Surprising as it may seem, it’s not always easy to find a suitable ‘blank canvas’ event space in London, especially if you are catering for 500 or more people. This isn’t helped by over-optimistic claims made by some venues, which suggest as if by magic that they are able to accommodate 500-plus guests in a space designed for 350 – 400.
This isn’t to say that the standing reception format on occasions can work miracles. However, it might resemble more with the Happy Hour in Be At One Bar in terms of the crowd density. At least you will not fall if you slip.
So with this mind, we’ve researched a number of the capital’s most versatile blank canvas event spaces and come up with a shortlist of our favourites, all of which can be adapted according to your own concept and vision.
We’ve limited our overview to venues located in central London and its peripheries, as these are best placed for the majority of corporate events, such as seasonal parties, company birthdays, etc.
The top three London venues, which come to mind for most event professionals in the heavyweight category, are as follows:
1. Old Billingsgate – London Bridge/Tower gate stations
2. Roundhouse – Camden town station
3. Grosvenor House – Marble Arch/Bond Street stations
4. Sky Garden (standing reception for 500+)
Anyone who’s booked one or more of the above locations is likely to agree that they come with many more pros then cons.
1. Old Billingsgate – Main Hall
- The architectural style and layout is suited to both modern style events (e.g. Ibiza parties) and more refined occasions (e.g. Royal Members Club)
- Enormously high ceilings with plenty of rigging points, which make it, the perfect venue for aerial entertainments, decorative installations, lighting and floral designs, etc.
- Convenient backstage area which allows everything to run smoothly without intruding on the guests.
- Option to separate the space for reception and dinner without additional structures.
- No parking space
- Narrow loading bay (2-3 vehicles at a time)
- First and foremost, the heritage! Venues don’t come much cooler – over the years the Roundhouse has regularly played host to any number of legendary party animals, including the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Jay-Z, spanning the generations to provide a timeless atmosphere that is suitable for all ages. Think of it as a more funky and hip version of the Royal Albert Hall.
- Circular shape is perfect for both seated dinner and reception, allowing an excellent view of the stage from most positions in the room.
- Again, the option to have both a reception and a dinner without making drastic changes to the set-up. The reception is usually held on the balcony.
- The “alternative” look might lead to increase of the production budget if you want to transform the space into more sophisticated place.
3. Grosvenor House Ballroom
- A great alternative to London’s many industrial and funky venues. Upon entering, it’s easy to imagine you’re a guest at a sophisticated ball, held by aristocrats of a bygone age.
- Crystal chandeliers, velvet drapes and high ceilings all add to the ambience to create a sense of space and light that is hard to match.
- Oval shape rather than rectangular, square or round is great if your aim is to create a more intimate space.
- Very low ceilings on the balconies where a reception could be held – almost claustrophobic.
4. Sky Garden
And finally, last year’s newcomer, Sky Garden – billed as ‘London’s highest garden’ – is available for events of up to 450 – 500 guests, and offers spectacular views across the capital. But be warned, to hire the main space and joint restaurants exclusively can be quite challenging on the budget.
To sum up, in our view, any of the above venues would make a great choice for an event. Their versatility and architectural uniqueness are all but guaranteed to impress your clients, and act as the perfect complement for you and your team to showcase your creativity and professionalism.