A bit of daring was going on. One girl in a pale pink cropped top and very long blonde hair asked the man at the neighbouring table for a dance. The live band came off and the DJ spun the Village People and 'YMCA' as she hit the floor, accompanied by the man with thick, steely hair, coiffed into a rock-hard bouffant, and dressed in a light blue jacket with shoes to match. Her mates urged her to 'Go for it', and offered a few thumbs-up as they danced.
They all knew the routine, their arms creating the shape of the letters Y-M-C-A as they sang along. On came Abba, and suddenly the floor was packed with groups of girls dancing with each other, or sharing in tight semi-circles the token man in their party. Steely bouffant grabbed pink- cropped-top's bottom, and the table cheered. After all, this was her last chance: she was about to get married.
'It's very different here during the week,' said Nick the manager, shouting above the loud throbbing base as he poured my complimentary champagne. 'Loads of City types and men in smart suits coming in after work, spending money. They don't come here at the weekends.'
It's probably just as well. They might be shocked. Some parts of London do an about-turn at the weekend. Those who work in the city leave it, while those who live on the fringes take it over. 'It's hen parties on Saturday night and people from out of town who dress up and want a good time,' Nick said.
As the hen party continued with loud laughter and hearty breaking of a few glasses, a short, plump, bald man administered the champagne to almost every woman at one end of the bar. One, with a deep cleavage, leant down so he could place a peachy linen napkin around her neck, chucked back her chin and opened her mouth. As the bald man poured the bubbly down her throat, she choked only slightly, but her eyes watered.
There was a queue for the loo. Six women stood in silence, leaning against the wall, staring at their reflections under the neon light. Self-consciously they tweaked their hair, reapplied their lipstick, checked their accessories and removed smudges of mascara.
The silence was broken when a short girl sprinted to the basin in front of the mirrors and threw her head under the tap. 'I've come over a bit queer,' she mumbled from under the chrome. 'Can I go to the front? I can't think what's happened to me.'
The queue retreated, more in fear than in kindness. Everyone heard the loud heavings. There was no privacy. 'That's what I call being bloody pissed,' said another girl, pulling up her tights. Her condescension elicited a wave of group disapproval.
Back in the restaurant the dance floor was heaving as couples lolled over each other. Sitting gauchely at the bar, still sipping my complimentary drink, I plucked up the courage to join in. Glass in hand and a packet of cigarettes as my social prop, I sat down at a table among a group of boys. 'Do you mind if I join you?' I asked, smiling. 'Sure,' someone replied, 'but I don't know what my girlfriend will say when she comes off the dance floor.'
Moments later she returned. She smiled weakly. No one spoke.
A Swedish guy was more accommodating. 'Do you often come here?' he asked, with a cheeky grin. It was his first time, too. He was going back to Sweden the next day and fancied some company on his last night. I emptied my glass and got up.
It was late and the floor was sticky with spilt alcohol. The hen party was packing up, finding their coats and arguing over the bill. They left with their arms wrapped around each other, amid a flurry of expansive kissing and final shots of champagne. They were off . . . to hate waking up on Sunday morning.Reuse content