PRESS RELEASE—The British Film Institute (BFI) today announced that the redevelopment of the riverfront side of BFI Southbank, the BFI’s flagship venue on London’s South Bank, has been completed and is now, following a soft launch, open to the public. The redevelopment of BFI Riverfront reaffirms its status at the hottest spot on the South Bank, creating a vibrant new bar and restaurant operated by Benugo, as well as a brand-new public balcony with previously unseen spectacular views of the South Bank, River Thames and Waterloo Bridge.
The redevelopment, the design of which was won by architects Carmody Groake following an invited RIBA competition, greatly enhances the visitor experience at BFI Southbank, with a dramatic new entrance to the venue from the South Bank. The ground floor area – including Benugo’s BFI Riverfront bar and restaurant – has been fully refurbished and extended by around 100m2. A new bar sits alongside a restaurant specializing in pizzette, cooked to order in a new state-of-the-art pizza oven. Also on the menu are anti-pasti like Polpette, Burrata and Calamari Fritti and classic pasta dishes like Pork Ragu Gnocchi, Butternut Squash Tortelloni and Sauteed Prawn Linguine. Special breakfast and kids’ menus are also available, as is a gelato bar serving four delicious flavors from Hackney Gelato. The ground-floor bar will now cater to around 200 more guests and will spill onto the expanded outside terrace area, with plenty of room to indulge in a post-work drink.
Upstairs in the new Balcony Bar, visitors can soak up incredible views of the South Bank, the north side of the River Thames and get a unique perspective of the historic Waterloo Bridge; the dramatic concrete structure of the bridge, which was formerly concealed, has now been unveiled so that the underside of the bridge forms the unique ceiling of the bar. This upstairs bar also includes an outdoor balcony spanning the entire width of the bridge and beyond, a welcome additional outside space for the venue.
BFI Riverfront will be open daily from 8am serving breakfast, with a late license from Thursday to Saturday and DJs and club nights on selected evenings. The redevelopment is part of the ongoing modernization of BFI Southbank, following on from the addition of the BFI Reuben Library in 2012 and the refurbishment of the Mediatheque and BFI Shop in 2017. BFI Riverfront expands both the venue’s space and commercial potential with the opportunity to hire both bars and the restaurant for private events and parties.
This year, New Year’s Eve will be celebrated in the brand-new BFI Riverfront with a stylish party hosted by Benugo. On New Year’s Eve, access to the South Bank is restricted, so ticket holders will be given exclusive access to the area for the evening, affording them an amazing view of London’s largest fireworks display, away from the crowds; tickets also include free bowl food all night and free champagne on arrival and at midnight.
As part of the redevelopment of BFI Riverfront and thanks to funding from Heritage of London Trust, restoration work has also been undertaken on the original National Film Theatre sign, which has held pride of place on the side of Waterloo Bridge for decades. The sign was designed by the architect of the original NFT, Norman Engleback (born 5 October 1927; died 4 December 2015), and is believed to have been erected to coincide with the opening of the NFT, now BFI Southbank, in 1957. Engleback, who worked for the London County Council from 1951, was a leading hand in some of the capital’s most distinctive post-war buildings including the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and the Hayward Gallery Complex. The sign is a much-loved example of outstanding mid-century modern design and was originally wired for power, but has been non-functioning for decades.
Working closely with master craftsmen at Newman’s Displays, the sign has been refurbished, the housing has been cleaned, the electrical wiring has been refurbished, and low-energy lighting has been installed. The process of refurbishment has used as much of the original sign as possible, including the original light panels, housing and typography. Part of the workforce refurbishing this sign is Peter Coots, who was an apprentice to the fabricator who originally built the sign (whose name was Bill Hinton). Luke Engleback, son of original designer Norman Engleback, has also visited Newman Signs to observe the restoration process.