I know what a nice girl like you is doing in a place like this ...

A new after-hours art scene is emerging, but it's not just the art that is getting checked out, says Alison Tyler
Click to follow
The Independent Travel

It's Thursday night, 8.30pm and I'm sitting in a very stylish restaurant eating a sexy Italian meal, with the sophisticated sounds of Renaissance music in the background. Am I in Venice? No. This is Titian After Hours, part of the National Gallery's latest epic exhibition. In a bid to attract a younger, funkier crowd, Thursday nights here offer extra-curricular activities ranging from talks on the renaissance master's sultry, fleshy and undeniably sensual works, to a themed three-course meal (£23.50) in Crivetti's Garden and live period music.

It's Thursday night, 8.30pm and I'm sitting in a very stylish restaurant eating a sexy Italian meal, with the sophisticated sounds of Renaissance music in the background. Am I in Venice? No. This is Titian After Hours, part of the National Gallery's latest epic exhibition. In a bid to attract a younger, funkier crowd, Thursday nights here offer extra-curricular activities ranging from talks on the renaissance master's sultry, fleshy and undeniably sensual works, to a themed three-course meal (£23.50) in Crivetti's Garden and live period music.

It's not only the paintings that are seductive: late-night gallery events are a singleton's dream. Free from the daytime crowds, screaming toddlers and school parties, galleries and museums take on a more laidback ambience. Add mood music, maybe some food and a cool bar, and suddenly an exhibition space offers all sorts of romantic possibilities. The pictures are an instant icebreaker for shy strangers and a great backdrop for flirting.

"The great thing about galleries is that they're not obvious pick-up joints, so it's much easier to chat up women without looking sleazy," says Brett in the chic members' bar at Tate Modern, overlooking the Thames and St Paul's Cathedral. Paula Hall, a Relate counsellor, agrees: "Galleries are places of common interest, so you'll always meet like-minded people in relaxed surroundings. Relationships that are based on a shared focus tend to be more successful than if you get chatting to someone randomly in a bar."

At the most recent Late at Tate Britain event – that's the older, less modern Tate on Millbank to you and me – some 1,200 people turned up. The atmosphere was buzzy, the crowd young and trendy; a far cry from the drab and slightly stuffy venue it used to be. The next event on 16 May promises to be even cooler, with live music and free vodka cocktails to get you in the mood. In the meantime you can eye up Rodin's The Kiss, fetishistically wrapped up in string by artist Cornelia Parker and perhaps the raunchiest sculpture in London right now.

Across the river at Tate Modern, the late nights draw in more under-35s than at any other time and enjoy a more evenly balanced male-female split, making it ideal dating territory.

It's a trend that Tracey Kelly at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Glasgow recognises well. Last Friday night she spotted several single women in the crowd at their intimate 74-seat cinema. "We do get a slightly hipper, young crowd in on a Friday night," confirms Tracey. "People feel comfortable coming here on their own, it's something we're seeing increasingly often: in fact, more single women come to the CCA than men."

More party than arty, after-hours action is a constant at the CCA. Officially it closes at 11pm, but there are film screenings up to five nights a week, a late bar till midnight on Fridays, a club open until as late as 4am on Saturdays, and live bands play fortnightly. And with every event, there's a new wave of eligible art lovers.

Some 13 per cent of visitors to Manchester's Lowry in Salford arrive alone. As well as late-night networking (read flirting opportunities) events and private views (Thursday to Saturday until 7.30pm, plus bars and theatre until late), they also hold Sunday brunch events where coffee, croissants and stimulating conversation will set you back £3. The clientele at the Sunday social morning are a mix of late 30s, 40s and even 50-somethings, falling on the sleeker side of bohemian.

Expect a younger, kookier crowd at Bradford's National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, where you can catch the provocative "Unknown Pleasures" photography exhibition, then watch a late film or hang out with a beer at the hip Pictureville café-bar until 9pm.

Birmingham's contemporary arts den, the Custard Factory, is the place to be, with creative aficionados enjoying a hive of events and activities from digital arts, theatre and dance to, bars, cafés and bijoux galleries. "We've just started opening later to cater for the growing numbers of people who want to come in the evenings," explains Adam Meade, the gallery co-ordinator. 'Sometimes I feel like a barman at last orders and have to flash the gallery lights on and off to get people to leave.'

Back in London, the Victoria & Albert museum's Late View, held on the last Friday of every month, is possibly the wildest arts evening around, attracting a totally different audience from the average V&A brigade. The hip new artocracy queue to get in and listen to cutting-edge DJs such as Aphex Twin, watch cool catwalk shows (the next one is by Eley Kishimoto on 28 March), enter debates about design and the arts, and drink in the ever-so-stylish Dome bar.

Other venues are more first-date material: Urbis, Manchester's museum dedicated to city living (see Daytripper, below), boasts Le Mont, a classy restaurant which is also home to Britain's newest Bollinger champagne bar and hosts gourmet events for art-loving lovers. The next one will be on 11 April.

Similarly, Baltic in Gateshead is one of the funkiest places to be see and be seen, and the rooftop restaurant and riverside bar, open until 11pm, are the perfect place to seduce someone while philosophising over the current Antony Gormley project The Making of Domain Field, after the main gallery shuts at 8pm (10pm on Thursdays).

So forget dating agencies, singles bars and speed dating – making out in museums is the way to go.

Top tips for late-night art lovers

  • Choose your gallery and exhibition carefully.
  • Take a book so that you don't look desperate in the bar.
  • Make sure you're interested in, or have at least done your homework on, the exhibition you're seeing.

National Gallery (020-7747 7285; www.nationalgallery.org.uk)

Titian After Dark – Wednesday-Saturday until 9pm (last admission 8.15pm), talks and music take place on Thursday nights. Ends 18 May.

Tate (020 7807 8000; www.tate.org.uk)

Late at Tate Modern – Friday and Saturday until 10pm, though the bar and restaurant is open until 11pm. Next Late at Tate Britain, 16 May until 9pm.

Royal Academy of Arts (020-7300 8000; www.royalacademy.org.uk)

Late Night Latin, Friday until 10pm, late view Saturday until 10pm. Ends 11 April.

CCA (Centre for Contemporary Art) (0141-332 7521; www.cca-glasgow.com)

See main article for details.

Custard Factory (0121-604 777; www.custardfactory.com)

Closes at 7pm, with private views and events on Thursday evenings until 9pm.

Victoria and Albert Museum (020-7942 2000; www.vam.ac.uk)

Late view, last Friday of every month (28 March) until late.

Urbis (0161-907 9099; www.urbis.org.uk)

See main article and below for details.

Baltic (0191-478 1810; www.balticmill.com)

Late on Thursdays until 10pm.

The Lowry (0161-876 2000; www.thelowry.com)

Open to 7.30pm Thursday Friday and Saturday.

National Museum of Photography, Film and Television (0870 701 0200; www.nmpft.org.uk)

See main article.

Comments