Wilton’s is like Narnia: enter into the tumbledown complex on Whitechapel’s Graces Alley – hidden behind a façade of five Victorian terrace houses complete with old gas lamps – and you’ll find yourself in another world.
Across the threshold and to the right is the famous Mahogany Bar – the oldest part of the building – while the more intimate Cocktail Bar is up the creaky staircase ahead. Wilton’s may be a music hall (and live acts regularly perform in the bars) but it’s also a place to eat and drink, with a selection of wine, beers and cocktails and a food menu that features everything from bagels to beef bourguignon.
Through the foyer and down a dinky corridor is John Wilton’s “Magnificent New Music Hall”, built in the 1860s to entertain east London’s merchants and sailors and today hosting theatre productions, classical music and more. At one end of the vast barrel-vaulted space is a raised stage framed by an arch, while around the room is a decorative balcony (originally for “unescorted ladies”) supported by spiralling columns.
Wherever you look, you’ll see peeling paintwork – and that’s part of Wilton’s charm. After a stint as a Methodist Mission and later a warehouse, it was almost demolished before John Betjeman led a campaign to see it listed. Today it’s the oldest surviving music hall in the world.
Wilton’s Music Hall, 1 Graces Alley, London, E1 8JB.