James Sherwood: Forget decadence or diversity - it's as dull as vanilla now

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The Independent Online

Tales from Studio 54, New York's infamous Seventies sin palace, are mostly apocryphal. This one is not: two girls desperate to get past the velvet rope rode naked down 54th Street on a white horse.

Steve Rubell, the puckish owner, took one look, skipped a beat, and then said: "OK. The horse can come in. But you girls have to stay outside."

Rubell would spin in his grave if he could see what passes for fashionable nightlife in the 21st century. Decadence and diversity have been replaced by wannabe Wallpaper magazine-style bars filled with bland blondes and men in black.

The ubiquitous "trendy wine bar", from Newcastle and Manchester to Leeds and London has about as much personality as a Gap window-display dummy.

If you're not wearing a suit that complements the couch then you're out. If you don't happen to like vanilla R&B, then you're an outcast. And God forbid that you order beer that isn't bottled or vodka without cranberry juice and a slice of lime. The interiors of these places are trendy by way of the Ikea catalogue while having a door policy that would make Chairman Mao look lax.

The fact that a meathead with a clipboard and a radio mike thinks he is the style police is worrying and the fact that the nation's bright young things will queue for an hour to get past these fashion Neanderthals is scary. And for what? An after-dark experience that is usually as dull as the missionary position and as inoffensive as vanilla ice-cream.

Call me old-fashioned, but the essence of a decadent night out should be the unexpected: rubbing shoulders at the bar of some exotic nightclub with a nun and a marine; not knowing whether the DJ is going to play thrash metal or trashy disco; and not caring what everyone else is drinking if your own throat is screaming for gin. Booze, not death, is the great leveller. The amber nectar is the catalyst that brings a mad mix of people together with one common cause: to have a giggle and potentially get laid.

Most of the nation's drinking is done in packs and after work. It is the "school's out" blow-out come 6pm when you can slam tequila, bitch about the boss and comment on Maureen in Accounts' boob job. What you don't want after work is aforementioned jerk with a clipboard making you feel inadequate, underdressed and under scrutiny.

More to the point, I'd lay odds that were you to approach a style bar in Sheffield wearing vintage Vivienne Westwood jeans and Adidas trainers designed by Yohji Yamamoto you would be turned away while the office junior in his wannabe D&G suit from M&S would be waved past the queue as if he were Robbie Williams.

These corporate "style bars" are draconian in their control-freak policies.

It is all clearly a conspiracy hatched by the breweries and New Labour to ease us into Europe. We must resist. As Studio 54's Steve Rubell always said: "The secret of a successful club is mixing the right cocktail."

A diverse crowd makes for a knock-out cocktail. A homogenous mass of suits and secretaries is as flat as last night's Perrier.