Club Class

From champagne lounges to gourmet restaurants, it’s VIP service all the way as nightclubs across town compete for 30-something business. Mike Fletcher reports on the rise of the grown-up clubber

nightclubs3 - Movida_2009.jpgIt happens to us all at a certain point in life. You find yourself propping up the bar in a nightclub, attempting a conversation that can’t be heard over the pumping dance music and trying very hard to ignore the feeling that you’d rather be somewhere else. Anywhere else. Or maybe you agree to partake in a night out with colleagues only to cancel when you discover that the time they’re meeting up is an hour before you were intending to catch the last tube home? It’s only then, you deduce, that you’ve outgrown nightclubs and would much prefer a quiet evening dining out with friends.
London’s clubland venues are wise to this. They may not have reached the point of turning down the sound system yet, but the 30-something clubber is being persuaded back to the dance floor with a new approach to service that’s much more in keeping with the mature, discerning reveller.
When Chinawhite reopened at its new Winsley Street home towards the end of last year, chairman John Stephen made sure a ground floor relaxed dining room was an integral part of the new offer. ‘It’s a quieter haven from the main club below and opens two hours earlier, serving a modern and western twist on classic Asian dishes,’ he says. ‘We want an older clientele. These days, the younger audience just doesn’t know how to drink responsibly. The 30-something crowd is more affluent, more loyal and want the option to either stay in the restaurant for an evening of conversation or head down to the club for a dance.’

Fred Moss, the brainchild behind private members’ club Maddox and the man responsible for launching many of the capital’s most successful clubs, including Iceni, Aura and Movida, reckons a younger clientele has been excluded from central London nightclubs, due to a hike in drinks and entrance prices. Consequently, venues have had to adapt to bring in the 30-something crowd. He says: ‘The more mature clientele are looking for nightclubs to offer something that will energise them and keep them out for longer. Providing some entertainment, such as a free show, has become a valuable asset with which to compete over this audience.’ Maddox recently opened its modern Italian restaurant to non-members and has also launched a private dining room to draw corporate crowds.
The Penthouse in Leicester Square is even more serious about events business. Such is the demand for exclusive bookings in its seventh floor Bar & Kitchen that, when the team tried opening the private restaurant to the general public earlier this year, they found themselves turning away more diners than they were seating. ‘We decided to open a Moët & Chandon-sponsored Champagne lounge instead,’ explains the venue’s events consultant Lord Jason Scott. ‘We’ve also enlarged our club’s VIP area and we’re focusing more on client services and getting to know the wants and likes of our clientele in order to grow repeat visits.’
Matter at The O2 has also gone down the road of teaming up with a Champagne brand, this time Laurent-Perrier, to open a VIP area overlooking the dance floor from the first level. The 145-capacity room is enclosed so that guests can easily chose between heading out into the throng to throw some shapes or retreat to the lounge for unstrained conversation and a bottle of bubbly.
More than 20 London clubs, including Aura and Movida, employ party organiser Adriana Hands. Her role is to book VIP tables for groups looking to enjoy a more service-led evening and, she says, business is booming. ‘My clubs are full of older people receiving quality table service. People who’ve got more money to spend on going out are looking for a premium product and they want to be well looked after. Securing a VIP table is a great way of ensuring an enjoyable night,’ she says.
Lord Scott observes: ‘Clubland has had to grow up. If you phoned Chinawhite three years ago, you wouldn’t have even been able to get on a guest list. Now, clubs are offering private booths and a free bottle of Champagne to get people through the door, and they’re working harder to ensure that you have a good time once you’re inside. Offering a more engaging, service-led club experience has to be good for everyone.’
Nick House, founder of Nick House Entertainment, which manages Mahiki, Whisky Mist and Sarah Harding’s new Polynesian outpost Kanaloa, agrees. His venue portfolio is largely defined as more hybrid lounge concepts.
‘A lounge is closer to a bar/restaurant with a late license and has more of an entertaining vibe than an out-and-out nightclub,’ House explains. ‘Our venues have longer trading hours and offer high-class food, amazing cocktails and dancing. It has become an essential trend. The problem is that it’s very difficult to reach both a younger and older market. Some venues can get the late-night part right but only a handful have managed to create a seamless transgression from early evening activity into full-blown nightclub.’

Two success stories, located oKanaloa_2009_-_Bar.jpgn opposite sides of the capital, and with opposing tastes in interior decor, are House and Harding’s Kanaloa, and Supperclub, which opened in the UK under the management of Loyd Loudy, a former London restaurateur and prodigy of Shoreditch House owner Nick Jones. Both venues erupted in to the London club scene in a blaze of publicity towards the end of last year. And both have flung open their doors early in the evening to a crowd that may have outgrown traditional nightclubs, but still yearn to have fun.
Named after the Hawaiian God of the Sea, the heavily Tiki-themed Kanaloa has a remarkable tropical cocktail list. From 4pm, three Flair Bartenders of the Year are already mixing, chopping, crushing and blending Polynesian ingredients to serve the City boys who arrive to enjoy Club Tropicana, the venue’s take on a post-work happy hour. The EC4 location attracts plenty of business folk but corporate events and membership secretary Katie Nitka, is quick to point out that, after hours, they’re all about good times.
‘We’ve put the fun back into clubbing with classic eighties music and a twice nightly “Hula Honeys” show,’ she says. ‘Cocktail concepts like our “Dead Man’s Chest” voodoo funeral march gets the whole place up on its feet.’ Kanaloa has also teamed up with the event supplier CocktailStars to offer afternoon or early evening teambuilding packages called Ready Steady Cocktail, which allows groups of up to 60 to learn the tricks of the flair bar tending trade ahead of a night in the club.

At Supperclub, diners arrive at 8pm for drinks in the Le Bar Rouge, before being shown to one of the club’s white double beds for a set four-course dinner. Yep, you read that right: you actually do eat in bed. And the fun doesn’t stop there. In between courses, guests are offered massages and reflexology treatments and the evening is interspersed with entertainment from performance artistes who are all out to shock. At 11pm, the music is turned up and lights go down. Diners can either stay in their bed and order drinks by the bottle or head to the bar. ‘The concept is well placed to appeal to a slightly older crowd and we don’t have a VIP room so you never know who may be sitting on the bed next to you,’ says Loudy.
For exclusive corporate hire, Supperclub offers its Le Bar Noir with a private entrance, DJ booth and giant mirror ball. Kanaloa has a private ‘treehouse’ that seats 25.

Tuatara, the new incarnation of what was previously known as Mamilanji, enjoyes a prime location on the King’s Road. Its private owners, an optician and his wife, are watching clubland’s working trends closely. The club may be themed around the rare New Zealand Tuatara reptile, an enigmatic creature that comes alive at night, but events manager Thandi Ojeer has also seen the potential for day-time trade and intends to exploit the venue’s sun-drenched smoking area. She says: ‘We’re about to open earlier on Fridays in order to attract the after-work crowd and we’ll continue to look at ways to get the most out of our terrace during the summer sunshine months.’
Supperclub, by contrast, is hoping to fill the summer events calendar with reasons to venture inside. Loudy is planning a series of live music gigs and is currently in talks with Sky Sports and Golden Boys Promotions about staging fights in the club’s main room. Guests will be able to view boxing from the venue’s balcony directly overlooking the ring. He’s also in the process of negotiating access to London’s main artery in order to launch Suppercruise, a three-hour dinner and entertainment cruise along the Thames. A 500-capacity boat has been acquired from Holland and will be decked out in exactly the same design as the club. It will turn into a nightclub once it returns to its West London mooring.
‘I’m not sure I would have accepted this job if it had meant running a traditional nightclub format. It’s now all about friendly engaging service, adding value to the club experience for an older audience and most of all, having fun. I hate it when clubs force me to guarantee a minimum spend on a table, make me pay to hang up my coat or tell me what I can and can’t do in a club environment. All we ever ask is that you remove your shoes before bouncing on the beds.’ Long may this new trend continue.

This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine summer 2010