Café de Paris is a London nightclub, located in the West End, beside Leicester Square on Coventry Street, Piccadilly.
It opened in 1924 and subsequently featured such performers as Dorothy Dandridge, Marlene Dietrich, Harry Gold, Harry Roy, Ken Snakehips Johnson and Maxine Cooper Gomberg.Louise Brooks made history when she worked there in December 1924, introducing the Charleston (dance) to London.
Much of the early success of the Café de Paris was due to the visit of the then Prince of Wales who became a regular guest, often dining with notables from high society across Europe. Cole Porter was a regular, as was the Aga Khan
During World War II, on 8 March 1941, the café was bombed soon after the start of a performance[and at least 34 people were killed and around 80 injured.
Two bombs fell into the basement ballroom down a ventilation shaft and exploded in front of the stage.The victims included 26-year-old bandleader Ken “Snakehips” Johnson, his saxophonist Dave “Baba” Williams, other band members, staff and diners.Snakehips’ head was blown from his shoulders.
Dancers’ legs were sheered off. The blast, magnified in the confined space, burst the lungs of diners as they sat at their tables and killed them instantly.A rescue worker who arrived in the devastated nightclub tripped over a girl’s head on the floor, looked up and saw her torso still sitting in a chair. The dead and dying were heaped everywhere.Champagne was cracked open to clean wounds.
But there were some narrow escapes too. The high-kicking cabaret dancers, a troupe of ten girls, were due on stage when the bomb struck, but were saved because they were waiting in the wings and therefore protected from the devastation.
The worst of human nature was in evidence that night too – amid the rubble and the chaos, unscrupulous looters were seen cutting off the fingers of the dead to steal their rings.
But, even among the death and destruction, one man retained his sense of humour – as he was carried out on a stretcher, he got a cheer from the watching crowd when he called out, ‘At least I didn’t have to pay for dinner.’
On the same night that the Café de Paris was hit, so too was another even more famous landmark of London society – Buckingham Palace. And not for the first time.