Handbags and glad rags in clubland comeback: Alison Veness dressed up for a night out at Stringfellows - where glamour is the buzz word and the owner oozes hospitality

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The Independent Online
BY 1.30am a young woman is already being sick, lolling over the toilet bowl in the ladies lavatory at Stringfellows night-club.

'How do you feel luv,' the dour attendant asks impassively. A waitress wearing the obligatory white leotard and tutu, perches on the wash-basin, unconcerned. She continues to flick cigarette ash on to the floor.

This is ladies' night, an evening when women can get into the club free, (normal charge pounds 10) and can drink themselves silly on free champagne until midnight. Many are taking advantage.

Hospitality, it must be said, is Peter Stringfellow's middle name. Throughout the evening he exudes a level of bonhomie and indulgence as oleaginous as Uriah Heep.

The club is 14 years old and regulars say little has changed. It has not attempted to catch the fiercely trendy young clubbers, there is no gay night and techno music is never played.

Until now, no one worth their Helmut Lang satin trousers or Martin Margiela dress, would be seen dead in a such a glam place - but what is out has an uncanny knack of becoming what is in. Post-grungers and ambient soul- searchers are getting restless. They are starting to appreciate old-fashioned musical qualities like disco and pure pop - in short, catchy foot-tapping tunes that you can dance to.

Elsewhere around the country clubs like Vague and Back to Basics in Leeds, Renaissance in Birmingham and Cream in Liverpool are all starting to have 'handbag' nights.

Anne-Marie Woodhead, a spokeswoman for the fashion prediction agency, Design Intelligence, says: 'People are not so frightened now about spending money, and they are fed up with looking poor, they want to buy more glamorous things.'

And within the swagged and pearl hung walls of Stringfellows, glamour is the buzz word, the art of dressing up for the archetypal Big Night Out has never gone away.

Here you can study handbags until dawn, but no one dances around them any more.

Shiny stilettos, belts emblazoned with Moschino, Lycra leggings and short straight skirts, disco together on the dance floor.

Lorraine Perry, 44, who, with her 24-year-old daughter Tracey, has been coming here for years, says: 'You can dress in jeans and a T-shirt for the pub, but I've brought up my family to dress well.'

The black and gilt encrusted outfit which she is wearing cost pounds 500, purchased on a recent trip to Jakarta. Tracey can't remember the designer of her tight black dress, but eventually she thinks it might be 'Valentine' or is it Valentino?'

Sitting with Peter Stringfellow is the jazz singer, Buddy Greco, and his fiancee, Lezlie Anders, the torch singer. They are in London for a month-long engagement in the West End. Greco, at 67, is real old-time glamour. He is currently enjoying a revival in the United States along with his friend Tony Bennett. 'The kids have discovered us, we're all over MTV,' he says proudly.

'Here we're not impressed by trends,' says Peter Stringfellow, sporting the classic ageing pop star's leather jacket and T-shirt. 'We started all this, it's our life and here they can learn life.'

He is tactile in what he considers to be a complimentary way, he is forever kissing the steady stream of blondes who come to his table and for the umpteenth time he solicitously tries to put his arm around me. 'Women,' he whispers, 'will always want to look sexy and men appreciate that here. I'm sexy.'

For as much as handbags and stilettos are part of this scene, so are the chat-up lines. They come thick and fast, culminating in an all-out assault: 'I want to kiss your thighs.'

The prospect is not enticing - and anyway it's time to go. With old-fashioned chivalry and decadence, Stringfellow, 53, takes me to his car. 'Yep, he's mad, he never stops,' says his driver, Larry, as he drives me home.

(Photographs omitted)