Boite the Heck?
Sure, the Beatrice was good, clean, grungy fun, but let’s face it, New York is crying out for a proper, grown-up, Annabel’s-style nightclub, says Daisy Prince
LATELY I’VE BEEN having a real urge to go clubbing. Perhaps it’s because I’ve just had a baby and while I don’t think I’ve ever felt so happy or at peace with myself, there are still moments when I yearn for my old life. Like the French bourgeoisie had nostalgie de la boue, I have nostalgie de la nuit, which roughly translates to a hopeless desire to rage as if I were 24. However, even if I wanted a crazy night on the town there doesn’t seem to be anywhere worth going. I miss the comfort and the excellence of Annabel’s, where you were always guaranteed to run into someone you knew and get a cold glass of champagne without having to stick someone in the ribs.
Part of the reason my friends and I returned to Annabel’s is that we always ran into people we knew. Because the club is members only, it’s so much easier to turn up there, trot down the stairs and march straight to the bar, rather than freezing outside for 45 minutes while some clipboard attendant decides whether or not you’ll have a good night. Even though there are loads of younger, hipper establishments around, it’s just easier to rock up to Annabel’s and be waved in.
The formula worked so well that a number of imitators have sprung up in its wake — Jimmy’s of Monaco springs to mind, as does the GreenGo in Gstaad — but nowhere even comes close to the level of service you get at the Berkeley Square standby. (Of course, now that Robin Birley is about to take on his father’s ghost with his new nightclub, 5 Hertford St, we’ll have to wait and see if Annabel’s will finally meet its younger, shinier replacement — watch this space.)
London is always about being a member, whether it’s being a member of White’s or Annabel’s or even of a racing syndicate. It’s a bit of a pain to become a member of any of these establishments as letters have to be written and bylaws observed, but sooner or later, barring some terrible act against someone else in the club (sleeping with another member’s wife would probably get you blacklisted, cheating at bridge certainly would), you’ll get in. Once inside, you can behave exactly as you like and be assured that no one can do anything about it.
New York is a different matter. Although the men’s club’s rules are more or less the same, the nightlife is a completely different arena. To get into New York nightclubs you need to have stamina and a lot of money: stamina because you need to be out at least three nights a week so the bouncers begin to recognise your face, and money so that once they do recognise you you’ll always be ushered to the front of the queue. It seems like there’s a new club opening every week, so the moment you’ve managed to win a bouncer over you need to switch your allegiance to a new place. It’s very tiresome.
HOWEVER, every once in a while a club comes along that captures the moment and sets it in history. As Maxim’s was to the Belle Epoque, so the Beatrice Inn was to the Noughties in New York City. Originally an actual speakeasy, the Beatrice was located in a dingy space in the West Village. To hear it described by those who still mourn its death in 2010 for noise violation (and considering the amount of illegal activity that occurred in those tiny rooms, that was the equivalent of arresting Capone for tax evasion), it had all the dingy, grubby glamour that’s integral to the scrappy exhilaration of New York nightlife.
There were comfortable couches and chaises longues to stretch out on, barmen who always knew what you wanted to drink before you ordered it, great music and a tiny dance space that was overrun with lissome models making out. People snuck off to the bathrooms for a quick bump or a quickie, and no one ever batted an eye at lit cigarettes or the lit celebrities who crowded in like schools of guppies.
When its past patrons speak about the Beatrice, their tone is so reverent that it’s as if they’re talking about a place of worship. I have friends who gave up drinking once the club closed, almost as a gesture of mourning. When you boil it down, though, hipster people loved the Beatrice for the same reasons that I love Annabel’s — you knew everyone there and you could do exactly as you pleased. They even had their own version of Mark Birley, co-owner Paul Sevigny (brother of the more famous Chloë), who marshalled the mix at his joint with military precision.
One big difference between Annabel’s and the Beatrice Inn is that at the latter no one ever got in wearing a suit. Now, if only someone could come up with the perfect formula in New York of a relaxed, speakeasy atmosphere with the elegance and service of Annabel’s, surely that would be a nightclub to set the standard for the next 50 years.
Daisy Prince has worked at Vanity Fair and ES Magazine