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Top 10 reasons to visit The Hippodrome Casino in London

26 March 2018

Casinos come in different shapes and sizes and with an array of diverse atmospheres. While many are downright breathtaking because of their massive size and grandiose design, others are more of the "boutique" variety, providing the same kind of luxurious features, conveniences and comforts, but in a much smaller space.

The latter kind of casinos have always resonated more with yours truly. When in Las Vegas, while I admire and enjoy the enormousness of properties like Caesars Palace and Bellagio, I'm in more of my comfort zone when sitting down at Encore Resort or The Cromwell, because of their elegance and distinctive offerings.

Having said that, it was no surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed my first visit to The Hippodrome Casino London last month. In fact, I was so enamored with the property that it shot to the near top of my "favorites" list, and below are the reasons why.



10. The location
Sitting smack dab in the middle of Leicester Square in the west end of London, The Hippodrome is certainly a venue you can easily stumble upon by accident. The bustling Soho District, Chinatown, Tottenham Court Road Station and Trafalgar Square are all within walking distance, and the property is surrounded by theaters, pubs and restaurants.

It's a happening spot, accentuated by what you find once you walk through the doors.

9. The history


When you step into The Hippodrome, the profound history of the building immediately hits you square in the face.

The London Hippodrome opened in 1900 as a "circus variety theatre" that used live polar bears and elephants during its shows, but wasn't transformed into a casino until 2012. In between, it served as a lavish theatre, and artifacts and black-and-white photos adorn the entrance hall, highlighting some of the legends who have performed inside these walls. The very first show to take the stage came in January 1900 and was titled "Giddy Ostend," debuting a little-known actor by the name of Charlie Chaplin.

In 1904, Harry Houdini performed at The Hippodrome in front of 4,000 spectators and 100 journalists when he was challenged by the London Daily Mirror to escape a special "Mirror Handcuff" that was said to have taken a local locksmith seven years to construct. He freed himself within 90 minutes.

In the 1950s, the Hippodrome, the name for ancient Grecian stadiums used for horse racing and chariot racing, became the Talk of the Town and would host appearances by iconic names such as Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Temptations, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Engelbert Humperdinck, Liza Minnelli, The Jackson 5, Paul Anka, Dionne Warwick and Stevie Wonder. In 1964, Ethel Merman made her only British appearance, and in 2014 the late Prince played his final U.K. gig here.

Memories of these appearances are acknowledged throughout the casino, and if you're a sucker for history of this sort — as I am — it only adds to the allure of your visit.

8. Smoking Terrace

Other than an occasional cigar, I'm not much of a smoker, but even I could appreciate the Smoking Terrace at The Hippodrome. The triangular area was previously an unroofed open-air space between the theatre and Cranbourn Mansions, which now is home to the Chinese Community Centre.

Today, it serves as a two-level smoking terrace just outside the poker room and is equipped with a dedicated bar that offers a nice menu of cigars. It's comfortable even in the winter months, thanks to heaters, and serves as a perfect respite from your blackjack or roulette session. It's also OK for nonsmokers because of a powerful ventilation system.

7. Entertainment
Staying true to its history, The Hippodrome is still a popular spot for entertainment. The 180-seat Cabaret Theatre regularly hosts jazz, soul, swing and cabaret performances and is often used for viewing parties when major sporting events are taking place.

We are told the acoustics are top-notch, using 14 soundboards that isolate the sound from the Grand Casino and weigh a half ton each.

6. Heliot Steak House

Once again, history is at the forefront of The Hippodrome's signature restaurant, and the first-class food and impeccable service comes as advertised.

The restaurant is named after Claire Heliot, one of the early performers at The Hippodrome in the 1900s, who is described in the menu as "flirtatious and alluring." She was also apparently fearless, as her act included feeding raw meats to 14 lions while "patting them on the back like ponies" and "hugging them like kittens."

Heliot always entered the stage to "daredevil music," and she would close the show by carrying her largest lion, Sacha, who weighed in at 175 kilograms, or 385 pounds, off the stage on her shoulders.

As for the 100-seat restaurant, it overlooks the main casino floor, and there's good reason it was voted the best steakhouse in London by Bookatable last year. The USDA prime steaks are aged for between four and six weeks to develop tenderness and flavor and come with a choice of toppings that include roast bone marrow, truffle and lobster tail. The salad and appetizers were spot on, and although I didn't try it, Heliot’s legendary Millionaire’s Mac & Cheese — topped with a poached duck egg and black truffle — was popular at surrounding tables.

And while I was quite pleased with my dinner choice of beetroot salad followed by a NY strip topped with chargrilled king prawn, it's already been decided that on my next trip it will be the Guinness chicken with peas, asparagus and porcini mushrooms.

5. The bars

Like most top-notch casinos, The Hippodrome doesn't lack for enticing spots to sit down and enjoy an adult beverage. Obviously, if you are a smoker, the Smoking Terrace is perfect, but there are others that caught our attention.

First is the Heliot Bar, just outside the restaurant and famous for its penny floor, is an ideal setting for pre- or post-dinner cocktails.

Also, I just so happened to be in London for the Super Bowl and had an epic night watching the game at The Lounge (other than the outcome, being a Pats fans and bettor). The joint was hopping with NFL fans from kickoff to the final gun, even though it didn’t end until nearly 4 a.m. local time, and the TVs were perfecting situated for a "big game" atmosphere. A 24-hour menu is available at The Hippodrome, a popular venue for NFL Sundays throughout the season, and it came in handy during the later stages of the game.

4. The poker room
Finally, we make our way to the gaming highlights of The Hippodrome.

Located on the top floor with open-air seating allowing for a spectacular view of the main casino floor, the PokerStars LIVE deck is an ultra-cool spot to sit down and play poker.

This is the former home of the "Gods’ of the Theatre," which got its name because the ceilings were often "spectacularly decorated." The room provides a nice mix of cash games and tournaments and host a number of live poker tours and events, including the PokerStars London Series and the U.K. and Ireland Poker Tour.

3. Lola's

Previously the "engine room" of The Hippodrome theatre, Lola’s casino is located on the bottom floor and seems worlds away from all of the action going on up above. In addition to a bar and an area with comfortable couches that scream for you to sit down with a scotch in hand, Lola's also has table games with a full view of showgirl entertainment, both real and holographic.

This room has a tremendous "old school" feel to it, and is almost like having an entirely different casino within the same casino. It definitely adds a classy touch.

2. Main casino floor
When The Hippodrome Theatre opened in 1900, the main auditorium’s floor could be lowered to create a 100,000 gallon pool used by performers and animals. One of those shows was called "The North Pole" and featured polar beats sliding down into the tank from the stage.

Today this area is the main casino floor. Sitting under a 60-foot ceiling, you can play everything from blackjack to roulette to 3-Card Poker to baccarat. The vibe on the main floor was electric on both nights I visited, with loud music and drinks flowing.

1. The design
What sets The Hippodrome apart from most other casinos is the unique design. All of the amenities and venues described above are housed in floors that start in the basement with Lola's and rise all the way up five stories to the Smoking Terrace and poker room.

Other than when you descend to Lola's, the entire casino is in view as you wander through the other four floors. When you're rolling dice on the main casino floor, you can look above and see the folks playing poker or smoking a cigarette with a martini in hand. And those people up above can gaze down to the first floor and feel like they are part of the action. The end result provides an inimitable vibe and experience like nothing I've ever experienced in a casino.
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Best of Gary Trask
Gary Trask

Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee and a current member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame voting panel, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee and a current member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame voting panel, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT