Movers and shakers on the town: Ravers have no monopoly of fun. Alix Sharkey joins the scrabble for seats at two of London's newest clubs, and throws a six to start
Saturday 19 February 1994
Flipside is quite unlike most Saturday nights in the West End. Crowd numbers conform to fire regulations. Bar staff smile at you. The punters do not look as if they have just swallowed the entire contents of a pharmacist's cabinet. In the main room they play hip-hop rather than house, and there is a remarkable lack of furtive young men asking if you are 'sorted'.
Just off the stairs is the film room, showing short films and directorial debuts, where people lounge around on large, comfy sofas sipping cappuccino or herbal tea, while on the top floor a live house band supports a funky jam session. Flipside also offers in-house massage and tarot readings, a caricaturist and a suggestions box for clever dicks.
But the real attraction is, of course, the Twister mat. For those who have never played, Twister involves getting tied in knots while trying to place your limbs on coloured circles printed on a small white vinyl mat, while others do likewise. Depending on who else is playing, you can find yourself tete-a-tete with a vision of loveliness, or staring point-blank at some DJ's balls. It certainly breaks the ice.
On a busy night, four Twister mats are placed together, and up to a dozen players will join in. Others prefer to sit around tables in the back room and select from more than 40 board games, including chess and backgammon, as well as Mousetrap and Buckeroo. Suddenly, board games are the dernier cri in nightclubbing.
No one can quite say why. The idea has been around for several years, but has only really taken off in the past few weeks. 'It gets people excited and takes them back to their youth,' suggests a Flipside hostess, Rachael Bee, 25. 'We've all got a little boy or girl inside of us, and it's great to give that side a chance to play.'
Though at first glance it seems just another nightlife novelty, the new games craze reflects a wider trend. Even hardcore beat merchants agree: bog-standard rave culture is dead, punters want comfort, humour and entertainment. Rachael and her staff of 16 provide lashings of it, handing out free lollipops, grapes and condoms, and taking Polaroid pictures of anyone wishing to avail themselves of Flipside's free matchmaking service.
At the Double Six Club, above a restaurant in the heart of Soho's Chinatown, every square foot is devoted to table space. To a soundtrack of chintzy bossa nova and Tom Jones, groups of adults fidget excitedly in their seats, awaiting their turn to pull the plastic straw out of the Kerplunk] cylinder. Ooops] There go the marbles, and everyone shrieks. In this unusual club, laughter is the dominant sound.
'We've been here six weeks and it's been full for the past five,' says Mike Leigh, 26. He and his partners, Steve Furst, 26, and Figs, 25, dress in high camp maitre d' style. Guests are escorted to a table and given 'menus' describing the 60 board games on offer, rated according to complexity: everything from Escape From Colditz to Bay City Rollers is here.
On a table of seven, Dan, a 25-year-old NHS worker, is playing Therapy: 'It was easier to get everyone to come here than to go down the pub.' Brian, a 42-year-old computer programmer, sits playing Battling Gladiators. He had come alone, but the hosts 'always get me on a table'. Roxanne, a 21-year-old student, and Antonia, 27, a craft technician, came along because they 'fancied doing something different tonight'. At the bar, Mike is calming an anxious solo punter. 'Well, do you fancy a fun, kitsch game,' he asks, 'or something a bit more strategic?'
The early visitors are mainly local office workers, says Steve, although a more typical club crowd arrives as the evening wears on. Already, the club's success has led to expansion. This Thursday the Double Six Club will launch a second night at Bohemia, a newly refurbished night-club just off Jermyn Street in Mayfair. 'The new place is swimming in blue velvet drapes - it's absolutely perfect,' says Figs. Plans for the venue include a room devoted to Subutteo football, another for Twister, and a large Scalextric racetrack. 'We're still working on that one,' says Figs. 'We're going to approach the makers and ask for a custom-built track.' (Both Flipside and Double Six receive free games from the manufacturers, who are delighted with this new twist.)
As we are about to leave, Figs arrives bearing an improbably large box for the table behind us. 'This is enjoying a new lease of life,' he says, holding up The Manager, a board game devised and endorsed by Terry Venables. 'No one was interested six weeks ago.' As Tel himself might say, it's a funny old game.
Flipside, Saturdays at Iceni, 11 Whitehorse Street, W1 (071-495 5333). Double Six, Tuesdays at Wildes, 13 Gerrard Street, W1 (071-494 1060) and Thursdays at Bohemia, Apple Tree Yard, W1 (071-839 5757).
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