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Diary remembers 1980s Soho in all its glory

21 September, 2018 — By The Xtra Diary


It was horrible. A sweaty, drink and who knows what else-fuelled bunfight of an atmosphere. The people there were way down the line in terms of intoxication.

They were all shouting at the tops of their voices, sneering down their noses at one another, with only those with the biggest egos and sharpest elbows getting anywhere near to being served at the bar.

It was the last ever night at the famous, and usually lovely, Colony Room in Soho, and took place in 2008.

Your correspondent had popped in, mainly to do a bit of people-watching and to be able to say goodbye and was joined by a former colleague of this newspaper.

A confession: we had already had a fair amount to drink – Diary is not being snobby towards the Colony, who Will Self described as having members being “first and foremost raging alcoholics…” and, as we climbed the stairs and the noise got louder, we felt a little like intrepid witnesses – not really wanting to dive into the mêlée as we’d been having such a nice conversation already at the Coach and Horses down the road but also knowing this was the last time a drink would be poured at this famous institution, this wonderful, much-loved place. And as we were covering this beat, we should go along with the pretence that being there was a fun idea (along with the entire population of Soho), more fun than being somewhere you could be served a beer 15 minutes after arriving at a bar and then find a space to sup it.

There was a pretentious beat poet and a terrible backing band on a raised platform. The toilets were, by then, in a disgusting state, and the queue a mile long. Conversation was impossible.

This memory came flooding back as Diary read over Self’s review in the Guardian at the weekend of the excellent new book Soho In the Eighties, by Christopher Howse (Bloomsbury Continuum, £20).




Self writes: “I knew the Colony Room Club well in the late 70s and early 80s (giving me a little seniority over Howse), and can testify to the – for the most part – accuracy of his depiction of its crapulent denizens.”

Self also considers the Groucho Club in his piece, which opened in 1985 next to the Colony, by saying Howse barely mentions it at all, “…remarking only that while Jeffrey Bernard et al despised the Groucho for its association with the worlds of ‘meejah’ and advertising, they nonetheless availed themselves of its superior facilities and tolerant staff.

“Of that self-appointed Queen of Soho, Julie Burchill, we hear nothing – and that is altogether a relief because along with her contrarian, cocaine- fuelled grandstanding would have come the wider world of the 1990s, with Britpop, the Young British Artists and the final extinction of anything with any more than a pretence to be avant garde…”

Looking back 10 years since the Colony closed, one can’t help feel nostalgic for the days before the smoking ban and of archaic members’ clubs where geniuses washed their talents away with too much booze – even if its closing night party was less a celebration or wake, just what a sardine might feel squashed in a can and pickled in vinegar.


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