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It’s not vandalism to dream of reviving the Curzon Mayfair

 (Handout)
(Handout)

In the City, The Ned is buzzing and packed. There at a lunchtime recently, it was incredible just how many people were dining, drinking, mixing. I remember it as the Midland Bank headquarters, all marble and grand, but empty and forlorn.

That interior has been retained, but today the building is alive. Same in Camden. At Koko, once the Camden Palace, this week, the dreamy rock band, Temples, were playing to a full house in the main auditorium.

Behind and upstairs, on four floors, the public café and private members club compete with superb rooftop restaurant, were busy.

Everywhere in the background, there was music, adding to the humming, lively vibe. The attention to detail and consistency of theme is incredible, from private booths so people can listen to their own choice of vinyl, to wood panelling throughout which is cleverly modelled to seem like the fronts of speaker boxes.

The same team that transformed these tired places into landmarks plans to do the same again, with the Curzon Mayfair. They wish to retain the cinema’s existing two screens, while introducing luxury seating and stateof-the-art audio and visual technology.

The current separate restaurant that forms part of the site will be amalgamated. Customers will be able to take food and drink into a showing. Step-free access will be vastly improved. In all, they’re intending to spend £15million.

Their objective, as Dan Zaum, the Israeli-born head who has lived in London for many years, put it, is not only to boost the facilities of the existing Curzon Mayfair but to set a new standard for the industry.

It’s what Zaum, a lawyer by background, did with The Ned and Koko.

As with them, he wants to get hold of the location and give it one hell of a shake. In the process, he says he will lift the game across the piece.

“The Curzon Mayfair has been in decline for years, as has cinema-going generally. We’ve got a vision that entails re-imagining film viewing, making it as immersive and exciting as the films being shown.”

To that end for instance, he will not have a cinema manager but an “artistic director”, someone who is selective and knowledgeable, passionate about the programme they’re displaying.

Zaum is landlord, via his company, 38 Curzon Lease Limited, and he was disappointed by the dreariness of the cinema tenant.

I can vouch for that. When I first came to London to live in 1982, the Curzon Mayfair was a “go to” for smart, thoughtful films.

For us, it was there or the NFT. Over the decades, its star has dipped and more recently, the shine has pretty much vanished completely.

I know, I used to work around the corner for four years and apart from the occasional (not blockbuster) premiere, it was rarely crowded. So, you would think that Zaum and his ambition would be welcomed.

Well, no. The current tenant — he offered to involve them fully as he did with the tenants at Koko but was unimpressed by their ideas — has mounted a fierce campaign against the changes.

In making their argument they’re drawing heavily on the past, pointing out it was the first ever Curzon when it opened in 1934 and seeking the support of celebrities, including Steven Spielberg, Tilda Swinton and Emily Mortimer, all of whom, understandably have happy memories of going there.

That’s the point. That was then but the reality is that the Curzon Mayfair they remember with such joy is a pale shadow of how it was.

Zaum’s frustration is understandable. Contrary to how he is being presented in some quarters, he is not aiming to scrap the beloved Mayfair cinema.

“It’s about us desiring to execute our dream, which is not just for that cinema but for UK cinema generally. There’s a reason why cinema audiences around the country have been dropping and it’s not about the films being made, which are just as good as ever. It’s the general quality of the experience, in not having comfortable, reclining seats with lots of room, in not being able to take in high-quality food and drink, in being treated like a commodity by an anonymous chain rather than as someone special looking to have a special time.”

It’s up to the Westminster council planners to decide. Judging by The Ned and Koko, and right now at the Curzon Mayfair, I know how I would vote.