Dance with your dinner?

Too old to rave, but too young to die? Laura Tennant discovers the stylish alternative for feet that want to move without having to wear trainers
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The Independent Culture
When James Dean invented the teenager in 1955, he cast a blight over the lives of succeeding generations. Before him, it was cool to be Cary Grant - moneyed, sophisticated, sharp-suited and 35. After him, you had to be thin, poor, tearful, alienated and 17. For more than 40 years, otherwise rational adults, despite expanding bank accounts and waistlines, have aspired to the condition of teenagerdom. Teenagers hang out in bus stations, therefore restaurants should have uncomfortable chairs and lots of steel and glass. Teenagers wear jeans and trainers, therefore grown women should also wear trainers, even though their legs look terrible in them. Teenagers like incredibly loud avant-garde music, so songs that have a nice hummable tune and words you can hear are for saddos only.

Most tragically of all, the birth of the teenager signalled the death of the cabaret club. But it is time to say "No!" to the tyranny of youth. Some of us are past our first flush, but we still want to party. With no children, an ample disposable income and bodies quite capable of taking the punishment meted out by drink and drugs, we are in our fun-loving prime. But we don't want to queue for hours outside a club, be eyeballed by the bouncer and get off our heads on E. We're sick of pretending that we like House music and we don't want to be surrounded by 16-year-olds baring concave midriffs.

Help is at hand. We've already had the revival of easy listening and now we have the renaissance of the cabaret. The idea of combining dinner, dancing and a show is so inspired that it's a wonder it ever went out of style (it was probably because beastly teenagers couldn't afford to do all three at once). With the relaunch of the Cafe de Paris late last year, the supper club became the coolest evening out London has to offer - and the best part is, you get to look soignee in high heels and a little black shift.

The Cafe de Paris's entrance is guarded by two dinner-jacketed bouncers and the obligatory piece of red cord, but frankly the only door policy is the exorbitant price of drinks and dinner - pounds 9 for a glass of wine or a shot of vodka seems pretty steep to me, but on the other hand you do get live music followed by a DJ till 2.30am for no entrance charge. It's lucky that opulence and glamour are interior design's current buzz words, because the Cafe is just that - dripping with chandeliers and padded with enough red velvet to keep an asylum of affluent nutcases safely contained. But then it has been going since 1924 and has attracted showbiz, royalty and the cream of haute-bohemia in its time, so anything other than swagging just wouldn't suit. The owners point out that the joy of the Cafe is people watching, and they are right. A circular gallery containing the restaurant overlooks the dance floor, so while you smoke languidly or pick at your pounds 20 main course, you can watch the show (in my case, a girl in impossibly tight PVC trousers singing jazz numbers) and, eventually, the dancing. The Cafe de Paris is indeed the last word in adult entertainment, but remember to take your pay packet.

At the other end of the scale is the bizarre but charming Rheingold Club, founded by a pair of Germans in 1959. It still bears the marks of their pine and beer-mug aesthetic, crossed with Seventies soft-furnishings, but it is home to a series of excellent cabaret performers and is achieving a kind of reverse cool (The Girlie Show want to throw a party in the club next month). The main point of the Rheingold, however, is that it is tremendous fun. We watched the actor and singer Anthony Cable perform a vigorous and moving set of Jacques Brel songs and ate a good yet inexpensive dinner. After Cable, the Bruvvers (from the Sixties band Joe Brown and the Bruvvers) played some rousing rock 'n' roll numbers before leaving the floor to a DJ. By the end of the evening I was jiving (badly) with a complete stranger and pouring with sweat. It costs pounds 45 to become a member of the Rheingold but non-members are welcome. The charge is about pounds 10 on a cabaret night.

For a more upmarket night out, Centre Stage at the Mountbatten Hotel is worth a visit and would be even more so if the audience could learn to loosen up. Bad experiences with fringe theatre involving full-frontal nudity only inches from one's chair have taught the British caution in the intimate setting. But there really is no need to worry when Sarah Redmond (currently playing Rizzo in Grease) is belting out show tunes, Noel Coward and Kit and the Widow spoofs. She is not going to take off her clothes or lap dance, so the couple at the front table didn't need to look quite so stiff. Centre Stage is intended for the after-theatre crowd who crave more performance art. The management specialises in recruiting performers currently appearing in West End shows and the food is good, if not particularly adventurous.

The other point about long-established, if newly fashionable, venues is that they are right in the heart of London. They bagged prime spots of real estate when it was affordable, hence the Dover Street Cafe's location off Piccadilly. The cafe opened in 1979 but recently beefed up its kitchen with a chef from Langan's Brasserie. The result is French food in the grand manner - over-complicated for some, perhaps, but a brave effort to combine a decent meal with music. Performers run the gamut of jazz, soul and rhythm and blues and the atmosphere is not too reverential. After the show you can dance till 3.30am.

The Pizza on the Park's Music Room was also opened in the Seventies and carries the good old Pizza Express menu. It prides itself on the quality of its jazz, but the ambience is a little too formal for the born-again cabaret-goer. It's not exactly that you want to throw bread rolls at the performer, but neither do you want to sit stock-still and not be able to order a drink.

The cabaret of popular imagination is, of course, the nightclub in Bob Fosse's 1972 movie, which calls to mind cigarette smoke, kinky sex, complicated underwear and Georg Grosz-style German businessmen. Combine this with the revived lounge culture - all easy listening, comfy chairs, dry martinis and leopardskin prints - and you have the Nineties cabaret. Sit back, relax and enjoyn

The top draws on the cabaret scene...

The Cafe de Paris, 3 Coventry Street, London W1 (0171-734 7700); The Rheingold Club, Sedley Place, 361 Oxford Street, London W1 (0171-629 5343); Centre Stage, Mountbatten Hotel, 20 Monmouth Street, London WC2 (0171-836 4300); The Dover Street Cafe, 8-9 Dover Street, London W1 (0171- 629 9813); Pizza on the Park, 11 Knightsbridge, London SW1 (0171-235 5550)

It could be you: Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron in the 1955 film `Daddy Long Legs' showing how it should be done Picturegoer