The 12 Bar Club is a music venue in London that opened in 1994 on Denmark Street – known as Great Britain's "Tin Pan Alley" – just off Charing Cross Road and close to Soho.
Some of the most famous musicians and groups to play at the 12 Bar before they reached a wider audience include Adele, Martha Wainwright, Joanna Newsom, KT Tunstall (all of whose first London dates were at the 12 Bar), Damien Rice, Regina Spektor, The Libertines, Keane, Seasick Steve and Jamie T. Jeff Buckley also played an impromptu set at the 12 Bar some time before the launch of his debut album "Grace."
The Denmark Street venue officially closed 16 January 2015 as part of a redevelopment for the area, despite a lengthy battle to keep it open. Shortly after its closure, activists occupied the building and re-opened it to live music. Property owners are attempting to evict the activists.
The club's owner announced that the 12 Bar Club would be relocated to Islington. The 12 Bar Club moved to Phibber's Bar & Grill on Holloway Road, but ceased trading on 2 February 2016.
The original building was originally constructed in 1635 as a stable. It was later converted into a forge for the St Giles area that was used until World War I. The fireplace from the forge could be seen at the rear of the stage and regularly houses the performers' guitar amplifiers. The building then became a carpenter's shop until shortly after World War II, when it was converted into store rooms. It is a Grade-II listed building.
During the early 1990s, the building housed The Forge Folk & Blues Club, founded by Andy Preston who organised the performances and Nida Daniel who managed admissions and refreshments for customers. It was originally a social club and music venue for the staff at the guitar centre who used the original forge area at the back as an amplifier workshop - dust-sheets would be thrown over the amplifiers in the evening before the entertainment began.
In 1994, the club was expanded and renamed the 12 Bar Club. Offices and a restaurant were added. It was the brainchild of international businessman Lars Ericson and musician Phil Ryan. They approached lease holder Andy Preston, owner of the world-famous Andy’s Guitars, and together they formed up to create and launch the club in 1994. The club was run by Ryan, who devised the music policy and booked a host of well-known names including Bert Jansch, Robyn Hitchcock, Nick Harper, The Albion Band, Steve Jones, Tom Russell, Peter Rowan and the Rowan brothers, Boo Hewerdine, Gordon Giltrap, Jonathan Kalb, Richard Mazda, Suzanne Chawner, Ian Crowther, Vince McCann, Will Kevans. Some of these named artists went on to promote their own nights featuring the best in up and coming artists. Under the guidance of Phil Ryan the club won the Time Out Best Music Venue in 2005, which Ryan collected at Time Out headquarters.
The clubs became a destination for many artists from around the world. Music manager Andy Lowe, a former employee of Decca Records, was also instrumental in attracting up-and-coming and established artists.
The Denmark Street venue was famous for its two-level viewing arrangement despite its small size. A small "balcony" section (allowing for 15 or 20 people) originally prevented those standing at the back on the ground level from seeing the heads of particularly tall band members. A refurbishment in 2006 corrected this problem by reducing the size of the balcony.
Bands and performers who have played at the 12 Bar after gaining more commercial success (sometimes playing 'secret' or late shows) include Cholesterol Jones, the Lene Lovich Band (who made their live debut at the club in 2012), Kristin Hersh, Pete Doherty, The Television Personalities and Robyn Hitchcock.
The venue was known for supporting independent promoters and less mainstream styles of music, notably hardcore punk and antifolk - the seasonal antifolk (UK) fest was held at the 12 Bar and many 'antifolk' style performers from both New York and England have played there, including Langhorne Slim, Jeffrey Lewis, Major Matt Mason, Curtis Eller, Thomas Truax and Filthy Pedro, either at the fests themselves or like-minded nights such as Joe 'Sgt Buzfuz' Murphy's monthly 'Blang' night. Also early Libertines.
Other bands such as Menace, The Bleach Boys, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Sarah Gillespie, Lloyd Maines, Benjamin Shaw, Jack Hayter, Monkish, Andy White, Cud and Rhatigan, Terri Hendrix and Roddy Frame of Aztec Camera have also played at the 12 Bar Club.
The 12 Bar Club was awarded Live music Venue of the Year '95/'96 by Time Out magazine.
In 2012, London newspaper The Telegraph ranked the 12 Bar Club as the second-best venue in the world.
Property developers Consolidated Developments, in partnership with the Crossrail Project, sought to terminate the 12 Bar Club's lease as part of an ongoing development programme around Denmark Street. It resulted in an 18-month lawsuit and significant protests. A petition against the closure drew 17,000 signatures, including Marc Almond, David Essex, Glen Matlock, Pete Townshend and local MP Frank Dobson, but it did not save the club.
The club held a farewell party on 11 January 2015, with 30 bands playing.
The club officially closed its Denmark Street venue on 16 January, but within days, activists entered the building in protest. Members of the group, calling themselves "Bohemians 4 Soho," told The Guardian newspaper, “We are a collective of artists, activists and campaigners who are willing to become cultural heritage wardens for the area.” The group's motto is "Without culture, society cannot exist."
On Friday, 23 January, an injunction order was affixed to a facility door prohibiting the occupants from holding a party, playing music or distributing alcohol. The order was ignored and a large party was held that night with live music.
Consolidated Developments has taken legal action to evict the activists. The stated they are occupying the building not only to but to protest the closure of the 12 Bar Club, but to preserve the building from demolition. The occupants provided police with a Section 6 notice to defend their squatting in the building.