It's never too late in Edinburgh: David Lister stays up well past his bedtime to rub shoulders with the stars and crack jokes with the comics on a tour of festival night-spots

MIDNIGHT in the members' bar at the Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh. Also known as the Club Bar; best known as the star bar. In one of the ornate Georgian chandeliered rooms downstairs, a former groupie is doing her reminiscence show Stevie Wonder Felt My Face.

Pay your pounds 1-a-day membership fee for the long, narrow room at the top of the building and Diana Quick may press your flesh as she squeezes past. The beautiful young actress from the radical theatre company, who a few hours earlier was a soulfully romantic Vita Sackville-West, shouts raucously: 'I've found a party.'

Illusions can be shattered here. The star bar is a green room on speed. Plus promoters; plus producers; plus press agents. It's networking in T-shirts and jeans,

but it's still networking. So many captive audiences.

'After a day's working at the Assembly Rooms, I come into the Assembly Rooms bar to work,' says Sharon Keane, an agent. 'After that, I might go somewhere else to have a drink.'

The bubble of fire that is the Perrier Awards chairman, Nica Burns, once of the comedy trio Fascinating Aida, is present, working, storming. The star bar is sponsored this year by Stella Artois and does not serve Perrier water. She leaves a Scottish barman verbally flattened.

At the top of the room, beaming like a benign head prefect, stands the ever-youthful-looking William Burdett-Coutts, artistic director of the Assembly Rooms, long the premier fringe venue, also head of Granada TV arts, also a member of the celebrated banking family, also the next director of the Edinburgh Festival but three.

'We all know that merchant banker is rhyming slang,' mutters Mark Thomas, one of the Assembly Rooms acts, after Burdett- Coutts has incorrectly introduced him to a group of journalists. But Burdett-Coutts continues to beam.

However, the occupants of some of the tables look miserable. Their shoulders droop; they glower and sip at their beer. People pass by on the other side. They are stand-up comedians. Perhaps they fear that if they make a joke, a neighbour will steal it for his act. It has been known.

There is no collective noun for stand-ups. An anguish of comics, perhaps? I tell them a joke I have just heard in a play about Tommy Cooper. 'I went to the opticians and said I thought I was short- sighted. 'What's up there?' the optician asked. 'The sun,' I replied. 'Well, how far do you flipping well want to see?' '

They nod sagely. 'Yes, that's a good joke,' agrees one lugubriously. 'I think that joke exploits the situation nicely,' says another earnestly. No one smiles.

Perhaps they had come from the Fringe Club, a house of ill repute and no-holds- barred heckling. It's about the only festival night-spot where you see real-life Edinburgh residents. At pounds 17 membership for the festival, it's cheap enough for local people to take advantage of, and the curious Edinburgh fashion of going out in long-sleeved shirt and tie but no jacket is in evidence.

The ties soon come off, though. The Fringe Club is at the university students' union, and the clientele is largely of student age. The place resembles the night after finals at college. You tread ankle-deep in beer and broken glass.

Onward and upward. Since the early Sixties, the bar at the Traverse, Britain's first fringe theatre, has been the place for intellectuals to while away the small hours. This year the talk is of both the official festival and the fringe lacking exciting material.

The Traverse is in stylish new pounds 3m premises, a stone and glass drum with

a large atrium. The bar is striking: 40ft,

the longest in Scotland. But no beer

bottle is hurtled down it, Wild West saloon style. This is a designer bar: 'spider chairs', 'sausage sofas', all custom made in Barcelona.

An exhibition of contemporary Russian art hangs on the walls. No comedians here. Playwrights, actors and studious devotees of new writing; directors from the Filmhouse across the road; English literature postgraduates agonising over contemporary drama and the decline of the British cinema industry. Perhaps it is the only night-spot noise-free and sweat-free enough for indulging in a little romance. But then again, there are probably bigger problems to solve first.

These tormented souls would probably be refused entry to the Rave and the Mambo Club, the festival's newest night- spots. The former - driving disco music, dry ice and various Sixties aromas - is held in a converted city centre church. Local residents have successfully prevented live bands playing, so a forlorn drum kit sits alone on the stage while the party-goers sit together on the floor drinking and dreaming in the clouds of dry ice.

At the Mambo Club no one sits. Bars, restaurant and foyers at the Playhouse Studio Theatre are converted into dance floors for the Latin American salsa rhythms. No one sits, but some lie, on thoughtfully placed sofas at the edge of the floor. Most, though, are happy to dance on and on. Dance with a dark-eyed lady in a little piece of Cuba in Lothian and it's hard to remember there's a festival on at all.

So, onward and downward. Slightly the worse for wear by now, I find myself singing the amended Frank Sinatra of the feminist comic Jo Brand: 'I get too hungry for dinner at eight; I punch small children when my period's late.' It earns you the strangest looks from policemen, particularly when you're male.

The Gilded Balloon is where anyone still awake just before dawn ends up. It seems virtually a 24-hour live cabaret, the Late and Live show running from midnight till 4am. The heckling is good, but the acts are better. Frank Skinner destroys one heckler by saying: 'Some comics have a plant in the audience; I've got a vegetable.'

'When the room gets full, it's safety in numbers,' says Steve Coogan, the voice of John Major and Neil Kinnock on Spitting Image. 'The attitude of the crowd changes. It becomes dangerous. If they don't like you, they let you know. They might talk loudly or unselfconsciously. That's particularly true if you give away a lot of tickets. When people pay, they usually try to concentrate for half an hour or so.'

The small bar at the Gilded Balloon is a stark contrast to the Assembly Rooms. No food, tables or bright lights here. Instead, a sweaty, thronging mass spilling out into the foyer and on to the street; every other face a comic, big and small time.

Eddie Izzard, one of the hottest names on the circuit, is chatting freely about his transvestitism. 'People ask me why I wear women's dresses. But I keep telling them, they're not women's dresses. They're my dresses.'

At 4am at the Edinburgh Festival, it seems a wholly reasonable point of view.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
Arts and Entertainment
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: LGV Driver - Category C or C+E

    £23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This national Company that manu...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - OTE £30,000

    £13000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Scotland's leading life insuran...

    Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Assistant

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Maintenance Assistant is requ...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

    £32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

    Day In a Page

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?