life is a cabaret, again

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Indy Lifestyle Online
VIVIENNE WESTWOOD is on stage. "Just follow me," she says shyly to Nigel on the keyboards before launching into a simple post-war love ditty. Behind her, drag queen Ruby Venezuela, resplendent in red sequins and atom bomb headress, stands transfixed. Her dream of reviving impromptu cabaret in London is crystallising before her eyes as the feted fashion designer takes the mike. When Westwood, all coy, promptly strangles the song, she brings the house down. Ruby smiles.

"I've always wanted a club of my own," croaks Ruby (formerly a leading light of the well-established Soho drag club Madame Jo Jo's) the following morning. "Something small and intimate with the warmth that Madame Jo Jo's lacks." And Ruby's, which opened last week, is nothing if not small and intimate; also traditionally high camp, with its mirrored, bordello- red lounge downstairs, and team of towering transvestite hostesses in slender evening gowns. But Ruby maintains the club is not strictly for a gay crowd. "The West End is so brash these days. I want this to be somewhere the over-25's can come for some fun. It's a theatre bar, somewhere with a relaxed, mixed atmosphere - somewhere a middle-aged man can bring his wife or boyfriend."

Cabaret, it seems, is back, for Ruby's is one of three cabaret clubs to open in London in the past month. The Waikiki Lounge and Blue Martini are the other two and, like Ruby's, they have been launched as a reaction against London's "boring" club scene. "Most clubs these days are about the promotion of the hierarchy of cool," says Trevor Sharpe, one of the co-founders of the Waikiki Lounge. "London needs a shake-up. Going to a club, taking drugs, not talking to anyone and then leaving is non-communicative, regressive behaviour. It's a waste of a night out. We want to teach younger people about the glamour of cabaret." The acts at last week's Waikiki Lounge night included a classically trained punk ballet troup, a beautiful diva who sang a Marilyn Monroe song ... and a man who blew up his penis.

"We're trying to recreate the sense of romantic, decadent and dramatic cabaret," says Becka Golant, the Waikiki Lounge's co-organiser, "of New York, New York and Breakfast at Tiffany's; the night is a tribute to that period."

Before and after the acts, the braver punters can have a go at dancing. "Our DJ has a collection of the cheesiest weird, groovy, offbeat music," Sharpe says proudly. "Music with a buzz and a sense of humour." Like what? "Like an incredibly fast Zorba the Greek and some mad gypsy violin music. People start leaping around to it. It's funny, dancing is a funny thing to do."

Blue Martini, on the other hand, is seeking a far more relaxed atmosphere. "It's a Cuban nightclub," says Sparkle Moore, the club's hostess. "There'll be various one-off acts and some slow acoustic torch songs." In between there will be lots of slow blues, Latin music, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee. "But dress up," she warns. Hawaiian shirts, smoking jackets. and tuxedos for the men, cocktail dresses for the women.

All three clubs attract a talented crowd of self-identifying show-offs. Spontaneous acts tend to `just happen' - like Westwood's impromptu appearance at Ruby's. The clubs not only showcase professionals, but sometimes provide a stage for fresh new talent. Ruby says: "Last week this girl got up and sang her lungs out. She was just like a young Tina Turner, I'll book her."

Of course shy, ordinary people, with no intention, talent or penchant for blowing up body parts or warbling like Marilyn, are also welcome.

! Ruby's, 13 Gerard Street, London W1 (tel 0171-494 1060); Blue Martini, at the Flamingo Bar, 9 Hanover Street, W1 (0171-493 0689); the Waikiki Lounge, at Venom, 13-17 Bear Street, WC2 (0171-839 4188)