Champagne houses have been experiencing a mysterious 20 per cent increase in sales over the past seven months. At London's recently re- opened Cafe de Paris, champagne has become the fastest-selling drink, with house brands at pounds 35, and Kristal pounds 125, a bottle. "We now have champagne- drinkers of all ages and backgrounds," says manager Lianne Bugner. "The young like it because it spells style and decadence."
By 5am on Sunday morning at Sun City, London's chic house and garage club, all surfaces are covered with empty bottles of Moet et Chandon. Their owners are dancing flutes in hand. Such is the demand for the fizzy stuff that the club has sold out six Saturdays running, 300 bottles between 500 clubbers, a ratio that even traditional champagne clubbing spots such as Tramp and Stringfellows have yet to match.
Sun City's promoters, Neil and Trevor, attribute the huge demand to their clients' quest for the total club experience. "The underground house and garage crowd love champagne because they need to be seen to be drinking the very best. A guy knows that if he wants to impress a girl his essential accessory is a bottle of champagne, and a spare glass."
Catherine, one of their "clients", admits that champagne is the only alcoholic drink she now touches. "I love the effect it has and being able to share it out amongst my friends. I can now drink champagne in a club like this without looking like a poseur, an Annabel or a bad boy's bimbo." She buys it for herself and she's indignant when asked where she gets the money. "This isn't some kind of get rich quick, Eighties yuppie thing. I got to drink champagne through hard, hard work and saving during the week." Her friend Lee agrees, citing the example of a friend who buys a bottle of champagne at the end of his week of factory work "because it makes him feel special. I've seen guys swigging champagne all night as if they're kings, then waiting for night buses when they leave the club. It's like Cinderella."
When you consider that some designer beers sell for upwards of pounds 3 at clubs, buying a bottle of champagne between four for pounds 35 can make economic sense. And when clubs that don't close until 6am shut their bars at around two, buying several bottles of champagne is more convenient than stockpiling the equivalent in beer.
As the alcohol industry targets designer lagers and alcopops at younger drinkers, and "loved-up" drugs become increasingly associated with sweaty teenagers, the original ravers are growing up and establishing their own, more sophisticated scene. Although some clubbers say they "use" champagne to complement the drugs they take, the majority refer to the effect from champagne as "the rush without the comedown", that light-headed, euphoric sensation that that Francoise Peretti from the Champagne Information Bureau describes as "the CO2 effect".
The current boom in champagne drinking is partly inspired by the celebratory atmosphere of the jungle raves of the early Nineties. When jungle promoters V.I.P. held their legendary "Champagne Bashes" in London, treble magnums were produced and shared out among the crowd. Club etiquette demanded that promoters give the DJs champagne while performing. Hence, as MC 5ive- O, a leading jungle MC, explains: "When the crowd saw us swigging back the champers they wanted a piece too. For junglists champagne's like spinach for Popeye, it makes them feel powerful." Its codename, he adds, is "antidote". "Because it kills off the bacteria and germs of the week."
But, as 5ive-0 adds, champagne is about more than being flash. "In the same way that the white middle classes might toast an orchestra at the Albert Hall, new clubbers drink champagne to celebrate the form of music that we have created with samplers, decks and mikes.
"If the champagne houses know what's good for them they will start marketing champagne at our crowd," he says. "And yes, that's a challenge."Reuse content