It’s a disgrace!
I went up to London from Devon, a hick up from the sticks, to Annabel’s in Berkeley Square to a ‘party to start the Christmas party season’, it said on the invitation. ‘Eight till late.’ ‘Champagne, cocktails and old school fun.’ I’d never been to Annabel’s. I’d never dreamed of going to Annabel’s. I was always fairly certain that if I did go to Annabel’s I wouldn’t be allowed in. They’d just laugh.
I took a cab from Paddington to Mayfair. It curvetted smoothly to a halt two pavement-slab widths from the discreet entrance. As I searched my pockets for cash, a volunteer from among the paparazzi lounging against the railings sprang forward and peered rudely in, shading his eyes against the reflections in the glass. If he’d turned away in frank disappointment, I would have understood, even sympathised. But he sort of recoiled, as though he’d heard the rumours that the barbarians were at the gate, but here was one come enterprisingly by taxi to the very beating heart of the city.
I gave my name and the woman guarding the stairs dubiously regarded her iPad list, registering a flicker of surprise when the name I gave matched one on her list. I answered a supplementary trick question with ease. She stepped aside and I descended the stairs of the famous London nightclub.
At the foot of the stairs was a man who reminded me of James Bond dressed for the casino. This man greeted me with suave neutrality. An older, also impeccably turned-out man received my overcoat and scarf gravely. A third man stepped forward and bowing from the waist offered a tray crowded with brimming champagne flutes. Helping myself to one, I said, ‘What time do you shut, Chief?’ The palm of his free hand opened and oriented heavenwards, indicating that only the gods would decide.
I took my glass and pushed my way in, negotiating a route through the exultant party crowd. I thought that I was dressed up to the nines, but I very quickly realised that, comparatively speaking, I wasn’t even dressed up to the ones or twos. I needed a haircut, I realised, and a visit to the dentist. I wished I didn’t have my vest on. The further I progressed, the shabbier and older and hotter I felt. Repeatedly I came face to face with women of a kind of shocking physical and sartorial perfection I’d only ever seen before in the pages of glossy magazines, and all I could think of to say to them was excuse me.
Finally, I emerged from the crowd, stumbling free into a relatively unpopulated space beside the dance floor. I didn’t know a soul. By ‘old school’ they must have meant late 1990s. I plunged in again and this time was washed up by the current at one of the cocktail bars. Halfway down the list was a cocktail called a Mrs Mills. I had one of these. It wasn’t bad, so I had another. After several more I wondered if Annabel’s had an upright piano I could use. Then I had another gander at the cocktail list and moved on to the Moscow Mules. Dial M for mullered. After about ten of these, I asked the barman for another and he slid his palms in opposite directions to indicate that the gods had now spoken. He was closed, and he wished me a safe journey.
After Annabel’s, people I’d met there invited me on to Soho House. I’d never before been inside the media Tabernacle either. I went up to the roof to smoke a cigarette. Up there I found a record company executive instructing a nascent boy band wearing matching suits on the unseen perils of hitting the jackpot. Their faces were like the upturned faces of poor village children gathered around a Victorian Christmas tree. The next thing I knew, Soho House was closing also and I was yet again being handed my coat.
Outside in the street, I found myself alone and fell into a rickshaw. The driver’s name was Hussein. ‘More drink!’ I said. He stood on the pedals and after considerable labour drew up outside a doorway with a thug in it. ‘In here, Hussein?’ I said. ‘Yes, please, sir,’ he said. I went in. Bare ladies’ bottoms everywhere. Twenty quid entrance fee, 20 quid a drink, 50 quid a dance, summarised another thug succinctly in my ear. I came out again. ‘But this is a lap dancing club, Hussein!’ I said beseechingly. ‘I just want a bar.’ ‘Is Tuesday,’ said Hussein. ‘All closed.’ The thug in the doorway couldn’t help but emphatically agree with the rickshaw man.
I couldn’t believe it: 3 a.m in the bohemian quarter of the greatest city on earth and you can’t get a reasonably priced drink anywhere? What was I supposed to do next? Go home? Boris! Are you listening! It’s an absolute disgrace!
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