Mayfair: Suddenly Chic

Not since the sixties have London’s Mayfair casinos been so much in vogue," says author and society journalist William Cash, who is also something of a connoisseur of nocturnal London’s ritziest venues. He goes on to dish about how when Sir Philip Green took Kate Moss out on the town, they went to Aspinalls, the famed private gambling club; meanwhile, a recent £10,000-a-seat charity poker tournament at Fifty, a supercasino in an 1820s building with a couple of Vongerichten eateries, attracted Tom Parker Bowles, Hugh Grant, and the brothers Goldsmith. Indeed Ben and Zac, sons of seventies financier Sir James Goldsmith, have been revving up the area themselves—their Drones Club has seen the likes of John Malkovich and Jack Nicholson stop by for dinner.

Actually, the entire neighborhood of Mayfair (not just its casinos) hasn’t been this lively since, well, ever. It was always just a hushed enclave sprinkled with a few art galleries, some dowdy hotels, traditional businesses like Purdey, and antiques shops catering to the—how shall one put it?—"gilded" tastes of certain visitors from overseas. But a shift occurred several years back, when the classic Mayfair hotels—Claridge’s and The Connaught—were revamped and fitted with fashionable bars and Gordon Ramsay restaurants. Around the same time, restaurateur and nightlife impresario Mark Birley opened George on Mount Street, a less formal alternative to his nearby dining spots Mark’s Club and Harry’s Bar (George’s downstairs bar is charming). Since then the momentum has snowballed.

We have seen the Lazaruslike revival of Annabel’s, the iconic upper-class discothèque, now madly popular with the children of those who went in the sixties. Cipriani has arrived, attracting Botox’d beauties, men who roar up in Italian sports cars, and paparazzi. And another Nobu has landed on Berkeley Street, just a five-minute ride from the original on Park Lane.

Meanwhile, Mount Street has become a sophisticated shopping thoroughfare. Top Neapolitan tailor Rubinacci—whose customers include Ron Perelman, Fiat boss Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, and Lord Rothschild—has opened next door to veteran Mayfair outfitter Douglas Hayward. Marc Jacobs is said to be setting up shop here, and Alfred Dunhill will open its second Mayfair location in Bourdon House, which resembles a charming 18th-century country house, and plans to turn it into a super flagship store complete with club and restaurant.

Dunhill CEO Christopher Colfer notes that this shift from the stuffy to the hip has a professional as well as a sybaritic dimension. "Hedge funds are moving to the area, and now almost all the significant luxury houses have outposts here." Suddenly, for the style-conscious hedge funder setting up an office, Mayfair is proving much more alluring than a plot alongside the salary slaves of the Square Mile.

It was with this new sort of clientele in mind that the owners of the private dining club Morton’s in Berkeley Square decided to refurbish the place, adding a rather ostentatious bar and dining room. The first-floor restaurant is still one of the finest in London (though I preferred the raffishness of the old place). Superior to Morton’s is sibling establishment Umu, one of the best—and most expensive—Japanese restaurants in town, about 100 yards away in Bruton Place next to Bellamy’s, the grand luxe brasserie recently opened by Gavin Rankin, who used to run Annabel’s for Birley.

As Mayfair moves down toward Piccadilly, things get a bit more louche. Mahiki is a hugely popular and extremely kitschy tiki bar on Dover Street that has welcomed, among others, Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton. And a two-floor nightclub with that latest after-hours must-have—a swimming pool—is set to open under Automat, a trendy Dover Street eatery.

This transformation of a sleepy inner-city backwater into a pulsing nightlife nexus has its opponents. This winter, when millionaire clothing distributor Richard Caring, owner of Le Caprice and The Ivy, reopened the iconic fish restaurant Scott’s on Mount Street after three years of its lying dormant, noise complaints from neighbors (one grumbled that the clicking of stiletto heels could be heard throughout the apartments above) delayed the issuing of its license. It is, perhaps, an apt metaphor for a neighborhood that has been to social hell and back; at the time of this writing, Scott’s had regained its license and planned to install some carpet to muffle the stylishly deafening footwear of its many chic patrons.

Hot Spots

Annabel’s 44 Berkeley Sq.; 44-20/7629-1096

Aspinalls 27-28 Curzon St.; 44-20/7499-4599

Automat 33 Dover St.; 44-20/7499-3033

Bellamy’s 18 Bruton Pl.; 44-20/7491-2727

Cipriani 23-25 Davies St.; 44-20/7399-0500

Drones Club 12 St. George St.; 44-20/7491-0576

Fifty 50 St. James’s St.; 44-20/7491-4678

George 87-88 Mount St.; 44-20/7491-4433

Mahiki 1 Dover St.; 44-20/ 7493-9529

Morton’s 28 Berkeley Sq.; 44-20/7499-0363

Nobu 15 Berkeley St.; 44-20/ 7290-9222

Scott’s 20 Mount St.; 44-20/7495-7309

Umu 14-16 Bruton Pl.; 44-20/7499-8881