A refutation of time and morality, a theatre of self-reinvention or just a place to get squiffy, gurn like a maniac and behave inappropriately? Nick Foulkes on the irresistible appeal of the nightclub
A refutation of time and morality, a theatre of self-reinvention — or just a place to get squiffy, gurn like a maniac and behave inappropriately? Nick Foulkes on the irresistible appeal of the nightclub
THE OTHER DAY I was in Gstaad for the 40th anniversary of the GreenGo. As a reader of Spear’s you will, of course, probably have your favourite table at this celebrated Swiss boîte de nuit. To my undying shame I must admit that, while having visited Gstaad in the past and been aware of the GreenGo, and even having seen it in The Pink Panther, I waited until its 40th birthday until I actually visited it.
The strange thing was that while I was in my suite at the Palace Hotel, trying to operate the dozen or so water jets in the bath, I happened across a TV news item announcing that it was 30 years since the opening of the Blitz Club in Covent Garden. And as my bath bubbled around me I began to ponder the significance of nightclubs and their place in the zeitgeist.
After a few years something as fleeting and evanescent as a place where one gathers to drink and attempts to move in time to recorded music becomes a site of cultural and historic significance; a hallowed place of pilgrimage that has been sanctified by the presence of the jet set’s favourite actor Richard Burton (the GreenGo) or by the long-haired Boy George (the Blitz).
As it happens, I no longer drink alcohol, and you can say what you like, but hanging around a darkened room listening to loud music without a glass of something chilled and expensive in my hand is not the same. The trouble was that Blake’s doors of perception displayed a marked tendency to come off their hinges when I was able to sink a few flagons of Louis Roederer Cristal or the occasional restorative and nourishing magnum of Krug to fortify me for my nocturnal endeavours.
And yet I still take a pleasure in nightclubs. They are an underappreciated aspect of Western culture, making themselves felt in the strangest of places, like, for instance, the bath in my Swiss hotel room. There was the recent Blitz-era staging of Prokoviev’s Cinderella mounted by Matthew Bourne at Sadler’s Wells. It was superb, the ball taking place at the Leicester Square nightclub Café de Paris on the night it was bombed.
This in turn reminded me how much innocent(ish) pleasure I used to derive from Wednesday nights at the Café de Paris during the Eighties. This was — if I remember correctly, and forgive me if the passage of the years and a rather hazy grasp of events at the time have me mistaken — the time of the beret-wearing Ben Volpeliere-Pierrot of Curiosity Killed the Cat and the eccentrically dressed Leigh Bowery. It was also at around that time that I visited the Embassy Club, the old one on Dover Street (I believe, although again forgive me if my recollection is not gin clear).
From the blur of the other nighteries I used to dignify with the dubious benefit of my patronage at this time, many seemed to feature monosyllabic names: the Wag (which had been Whisky A Go Go, a much better name); RAW, one of restaurateur Oliver Peyton’s earliest works, located in a cavernous basement under Tottenham Court Road; and Philip Sallon’s Mud Club.
BUT MY FAVOURITE was a monosyllabic club that had launched around twenty years before I staggered down its stairs. I found Tramp a dark, wood-panelled Shangri-La under Jermyn Street where time did not so much stand still as cease to exist; it captured a bit of everything nocturnal, from Roaring Twenties speakeasy to Dennis Wheatley novel. But my overriding recollection is of the full-on glamour of the world of Harold Robbins. I became such a regular at one point that I did not really regard an evening on the town, however quiet, complete unless I had ended it at Tramp over a bottle of Krug or at least a few airline miniatures of vodka. I used to joke — well, half joke — that when I retired I wanted to move to a small villa overlooking the dance floor at Tramp.
That such a place could exert such a powerful hold and enjoy such undisputed hegemony was all down to the proprietor Johnny Gold, a wonderfully benign man who sat at a table just inside the entrance to the disco, watching over the club in general and at times over me in particular.
These days my interest in nightclubs is more academic, a field of study that is led by the wonderful Anthony Haden-Guest, whose book on Studio 54 and New York nightlife is a model of narrative social history. And, in my sobriety I am slowly making my way around the notable nightclubs of the world, including the GreenGo. And once there, having drunk a few Coca-Cola Zeroes and caught up with a few old friends, I slip away still puzzling over my inability to stay away from nightclubs: me, a teetotal, non-dancing, uxorious man six years older than the nightclub whose birthday I was celebrating.