Jazz: Simpson's-in-the-Strand, London

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The Independent Culture
The music at Simpson's - which is hosting live jazz in its cocktail bar each Tuesday to Saturday evening until 1am - isn't so much traditional as deferential. The billed Latin Jazz Trio of Jules Ruben - last week's attraction - could have led you to expect frilly shirts and scaled-down salsa, but what we got was black ties and a Palm Court version of eminently tasteful rumbas and Cole Porter standards, expertly delivered by the sprightly old gent at the piano and his lugubrious bass and drums team (with what looked like a coat placed judiciously in the well of the bass drum to dampen the noise).

As a post-theatre chill-out room or pre-clubs destination (Whites? The Garrick?), Simpson's may seem a little staid, but it's as near to the New York dream of Dick Hyman playing for Woody Allen at the Russian Tea Rooms as London can offer, Mr Ruben tickling the ivories into gentle ripples of delight for (judging by last Wednesday's turn-out, at least) relatively few punters but lots of staff.

It's the staff, however, that provide the real improvisatory flair. Established in 1828, and wonderfully old-worlde still, Simpson's is a cathedral for communicants dedicated to the ancient art of service. The priestly vestments of the kitchen staff and waiters (boy, can these men wear a dress with style), the cardinal's aplomb of the Maitre D, the proud, medieval, display of status-differentiation between the different levels of fetchers and carriers, carvers and pourers, is a wonder to behold, with those old university lectures on Elizabethan scales of being coming vividly to life.

The evening glides past in a blur of whispered imprecations and elegantly concealed obsequiousness. That you can just come in off the street (and there's no cover charge) seems somehow shocking. The air may be fairly formal (although no ties are required for gents after 10pm), yet there are enough tourists in leisure-wear and even camcorder accoutrements to suggest that, if you've got the dosh, mere clothing will suffice.

In the West Room restaurant - an enormous Wedgwood pot turned outside- in - the abundant staff are still more attentive, though you can dine at Pizza Express prices - pounds 12 for two courses, in a summer promotion available throughout the Savoy chain - and rubberneck for free as Kenneth Clarke (or is it Ron Atkinson, it's so hard to tell these days?) enters for a late-night snack.

Back in the cocktail bar, Jules and the boys have just about called it a day, the bassist jacketing his instrument and the drummer retrieving his coat from the drum. It's a good gig, they say, if a bit quiet. The tourists prepare to go home, and as you descend the Fred-and-Ginger staircase and exit into the Strand, even the poor sod asleep in the doorway next door looks to be having sweet dreams. London looks suddenly like Manhattan as one tries to hail an imagined yellow cab for home, or on to some contrasting low-life fun in Soho.

n Simpson's, 100 The Strand, 10pm-1am, Tues-Sat. Reservations: 0171 836 9112

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