Man About Town: Mahiki's art of being cool and being not cool

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The Independent Online

The London nightclub scene is, for the most part, depressingly samey. Inside most of those considered "exclusive", you'll find the same leather banquettes, low tables and even lower lights, with only the odd flash of lasers on the ceiling to give you something to look at.

The music's much the same too, mainly because a small cast of DJs play the same music at the same venues all week long. Most are scared of breaking a mould set in the late 1990s.

It makes sense to stick with what they know. Owners, increasingly concerned with how much money they can make per square foot, are all chasing the same core audience of pretty types and those wealthy (or daft) enough to buy a £10 bottle of vodka for 19 times that amount.

Mahiki, however, was always slightly different, and I was reminded of this at its fifth birthday this week.

I should explain that, in my early days as a journalist, I used to go there most nights. This isn't really an exaggeration. I was there so much (in a professional capacity, honest!), that the owner Nick House used to phone me in the morning to ask me who had been in his own club. Yes, my parents were very proud.

But it was an interesting time to be there (if you're into people-watching, that is). In those days, you could watch film stars, pop singers, the young royals – Madonna even had her own favourite seat. What might look like a celebrity culture clash was actually an entertaining blend.

Its success baffled people at first. It wasn't the first club in its space, nor was it the first tiki bar in the area. But it didn't take itself seriously – drinks still came in a treasure chest or a hollowed-out pineapple. After a few of them, when it was particularly packed (and thus hot), you could convince yourself you were on holiday.

This week, the fresh-faced clientele made me feel old. The only person at the fifth birthday celebrations who had been there in the beginning was the men's lavatory attendant.

But I was reminded of how popular it was. Some might call it tacky, some might prefer their dance music a little purer and the drinks might not be everyone's cup of Long Island iced tea, but it still works.

Mahiki mastered the art of being cool and being not cool. Which might be why, amazingly, after five years (nightclub years are twice as long as dog years), Tuesday night's queue quivered excitedly around the block, just like it did back in 2006.