In 1948 Muriel Belcher managed to secure a 3-to-11pm drinking licence for the Colony Room bar as a private members club, whereas public houses had to close at 2.30pm. The painter Francis Bacon was a founding member, walking in the day after it opened. He was "adopted" by Belcher as a "daughter" and allowed free drinks and £10 a week to bring in friends and rich patrons.
The club had a certain notoriety for its decor as well as its clientele; its bilious green walls were as famous as the club itself. In addition to its vile colour, the staircase that led to the establishment was described as foul-smelling and flanked by dustbins. The Room was operated by Belcher between opening and her death in 1979.
The Museum of London website says of the club, "The Colony Room was one of many drinking clubs in Soho. The autocratic and temperamental owner Muriel Belcher created an ambiance which suited those who thought of themselves as misfits or outsiders."
Belcher's sexuality attracted many gay men to the club, many of them brought to the club by her Jamaican girlfriend, Carmel. She had a knack for attracting or discovering interesting and colourful people, and the patronage of men like Melly and Bacon helped to establish the Colony Room's close-knit community. Lady Rose McLaren, one of Bacon's friends, was a habitueé of the club in her London days.
Bacon, Belcher, and the club feature in John Maybury's 1998 film Love is the devil.
After Belcher's death, the club continued under her long-term barman Ian Board, known as Ida, until his death in 1994. It then passed to his veteran barman Michael Wojas, who recently celebrated his silver jubilee at the club. Board and Wojas have ensured that the Colony Room today is as popular as ever with artists of all types. It has attracted the Young British Artists group (YBAs), including Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas and Tracy Emin.
The club is used as the set/venue for the ITV show Suggs in the City.
The club is threatened with closure when the current lease expires at the end of 2008. There are plans for it to move to larger premises.
Well known clients of the Colony Room have included:
Old Colonials ; in the 1950s, a Seedy Drinking Club in the Heart of Soho Became a Second Home for the Era's Leading Painters, Writers and Their Muses. One Regular, Michael Andrews, Captured the Colony Room's Colourful Cast in One Painting. but Mystery Remains over Who Exactly He Included
Jul 22, 2001; The time is probably about four in the afternoon. This small room, sunk in subaqueous gloom, is crowded with people. Most are...