Clubbing is like, SO over

In I tried... on January 31, 2011 at 10:08 am

Pssst! Clubbing is dead. Dead like disco. That’s right, I said it. As a matter of fact, I began writing this post on my iPhone notepad in the middle of a Miami nightclub on New Years weekend as I sat observing the scene with recurring facial expressions that indicated I might have smelled something really really bad. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve fallen off danced on a few banquettes in my day, gracefully fist pumped to the latest David Guetta single, reassured complete strangers in the women’s bathroom of how gorgeous they could look if they had a complete makeover. I won’t pretend that I wasn’t once an avid patron of the glorified European discotheque for a while there. But on my last few involuntary visits to your typical high brow nightclubs, I’ve found my left eyebrow was indeed raised the majority of the time.

Yes, it’s partly because I find it concerning to watch men in dinner jackets and evening shoes attempt to make rhythmical motion to the current offensive musical merger of hip hop and electronic house, featuring a rapper called ‘Pitbull’ on virtually every song. While it’s a chance to see girls looking their sluttiest all dolled up, why pay money to go to a place where the music only serves to make you look a complete ass in front of them should you try to dance? (Which by the way, the DJ enjoys very much). Next time you’re in a club, just ask yourselves this question. Would Steve McQueen be dancing right now? The answer at any given time will probably be no. Steve McQueen made leaning against things look really cool (see below).


Iconic screen actor, Steve McQueen

Now let’s just pretend for a minute that making everyone else in the club feel like the mere peasants that they are by ordering champagne magnums, complete with sparklers and glorious theme music, is actually really, really cool. Let’s pretend for a minute that the bouncer doesn’t treat you like a problem the minute you walk up to the door, and that by carrying a clipboard, the guest list girl is entitled to speak to you like an SS officer of the Third Reich. Let’s pretend you’re lucky to be spending half your paycheck in their establishment on drunken moments you won’t remember in the morning. Now that the hypothetical minute is just about over, let’s remind ourselves that the hierarchy of the club world has absolutely nothing to do with the real world and that being on a first name basis with all the bouncers has no reflection on your social intelligence. The words nightclub and hospitality should never be used in the same sentence and ordering champagne with sparklers will only impress the easily impressed (it’s also pretty damn tacky).

Paris Hilton dancing on banquettes, flaunting big bottles of champagne and flirting with the guy who's desperate enough to be paying for it all... it never gets old apparently.

Ladies shouldn’t think they have it much better. We only get in free because we’re considered part of the nightclub’s product. And the product being sold ladies and gents, is sex. There are no stories for the grandkids to be found here– only the one about the notorious table whore*.

*(whose mission in life is to be invited or crash on a table for free drinks and an elevated part of the club from which to pose).

The most “exclusive” venues love interior design that emulates the elegant gentlemen’s clubs, but we all know they’re anything but elegant or gentlemanly. There is no culture here to be learned from, no ambience, no class. Might I advise that we leave the clubbing scene to the only people who can still enjoy it: the cast of Jersey Shore (and candidates for the European spinoff series). God I love that show.

So now we’ve established that clubbing is like, so over, let’s emerge from the Dark Ages and talk about a renaissance. And when I say renaissance, I mean gourmet cocktail artistry bars; hidden, anonymous, nestled in quiet backstreets– the real McCoy. You didn’t really think I would write five club-bashing paragraphs only to leave you high and dry with no alternatives did you?


Secret Cocktail Clubs: London, Paris, New York

The Experimental Cocktail Club, Paris

The Experimental Cocktail Club is the brainchild of a group of young Frenchmen who came from the speakeasies of New York, such as La Esquina, a taco restaurant with a secret underground bar and restaurant, and PDT (Please Don’t Tell), a hot dog restaurant, from which a telephone booth grants entry to a tiny, taxidermy-filled bar. In the last month, I’ve managed to go to three different high calibre venues in Paris, not realizing they all belonged to this very group, dubbed the ‘ECC’, a growing number of secret, prohibition-style bars opening around Europe.

In Paris, where wine is king and a botched martini is commonplace, what unites these inconspicuous venues is a desire to bring back the craftsmanship of the cocktail and serve premium drinks to customers who care more about an excellent bartender and what he/she has to offer than being seen in the right place. Rather than the average mojito, expect to see plenty of homemade infusions and dark spirits served with a ‘no frills’ presentation ethic. These are the guys you want to get to know; friendly and more than willing to share their knowledge on the artistry of cocktail making.

The ECC Bartending team at their second venue, the Curio Parlour


What strikes you initially about the ECC spots is their discretion, often with no sign on the door and zero PR, relying on the word of mouth instead. I actually walked passed one of the venues twice before I noticed the blacked out shop window front with no name was actually the entrance to the plush and vibrant cocktail club-cum-lounge, something right out of the Prohibition era.


The well hidden ECC, only distinctive as a bar by its liqueur license in the top right hand corner of its blacked-out windows

The young Frenchmen opened their first bar in 2007, the Experimental Cocktail Club, in Paris’s 2nd arrondissement (27 rue Saint Sauveur). This was followed by Curio Parlor in 2008, complete with vegetables in glass cabinets, more stuffed animals, a fish skeleton on the wall and black curtains across the windows (16 rue des Bernardins). They opened their third in Paris, the Prescription Cocktail Club, last year (23 rue Mazarine) and the ECC’s latest home is in London. Blink and you’ll miss it; a paint splattered, weathered old door, nestled in between two gaudily fronted ChinaTown restaurants opens to a bar from another world, kitted out out with hints of Chinoiserie—a nod to its location—a bar made out of a piano, and lampshades made from teapots.

Inside the ECC Paris, before it fills up


The Curio Parlor
Inside The Prescription

The ECC London entrance in ChinaTown

Open till 3am with cocktails on average at an affordable €10-€12, there is no guest list or table booking for any of the ECC bars.

“We always say we are not trying to do better but different,” says founder Romee de Goriainoff. “I think people are bored of members’ clubs—ours are unofficial members’ clubs; it’s for people who just want to go out and have a good drink. We provide a place where social links happen.” (i.e you can actually hear yourself speak to have a conversation).
Another relatively recent venue of it’s kind in London, is Purl. I blogged about it last year, so if you weren’t paying attention, here it is again. In a basement below a corner shop, it harks back to a golden age of cocktails, and with Prohibition posters, upturned crates and a bashed piano, nodding to the speakeasies of 1920s America. Drinks include Mr Hyde’s Fixer Upper, a mixture of rum, homemade cola and orange bitters, served in a smoke-injected, wax-sealed potion bottle surrounded by a fog of Lapsang Souchong.

The Purl's infamous Mr Hyde’s Fixer Upper


With this serious approach to cocktail artistry in mind, I’m suggesting we get a little more experimental with our nightlife and distance ourselves from the flock (and the bartenders that can barely muster up a half-decent Mojito). Look, even Lindsay Lohan says she’s over it (so now it must true). Jokes aside, I’ve written this blog because I know I’m not the only one that feels nightclubbing is washed-up and void of the glamour and appeal it once promised (if it ever did). But let’s see it not as a reason to mope at home and retire from having fun, but as the beginning of a new era of sophistication in nightlife, the comeback of the secret cocktail club. You know, something like it used to be in ‘the good old days’.


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