London's nightlife: Wanna be in my club?

Whether it's Mickey Rourke on the pull, royals on the town or England's cricketers on the lash, Boujis has become the capital's hottest nightspot. Oliver Marre finds out why
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The Independent Online

It has become something of a phenomenon over the summer months. Every celebrity in town seems keen to be seen falling out of its doors in the early hours, from Scarlett Johansson to Venus Williams.

Just two weeks before the cricket team bowled in, the club was in the press when the legendary Hollywood hell-raiser, Mickey Rourke, made headlines for the first time in years by stealing the girlfriend of an Italian partygoer there.

Of course, he made sure the paparazzi got plenty of pictures of them on the way out. Before that, it was Sarah Ferguson who was snapped at the door, looking a touch squiffy-eyed in the unlikely company of the rap star Usher. Before her, Prince William was spotted sipping vodka and tonics (£7 a pop) inside until the early hours.

The Boujis phenomenon is not, however, entirely celebrity based. The real trick is to have managed to combine famous faces with its regular crowd.

For the backbone of its business is provided by London's smart young party set, who have been coaxed away from the bars of the West End by the promise of a cool place to hang out on their own doorsteps.

"I know it's a cliché," says the club's general manager, Jake Parkinson-Smith, "but this really is a place where the barmen and bouncers know everyone's name."

Everyone to Parkinson-Smith is a pretty small circle of people. They are partly, as he says himself in an unguarded moment, "Eurotrash" - the kind of people who ought to pass their summers flitting between the casinos of Monaco and the yachts of St Tropez, but still manage to spend a few nights a week in London.

But it also pulls in the young Sloane crowd, who are relieved to have, at long last, somewhere local to pull one another other than a local pub or, at best, the grotty 151 Club on King's Road.

It's full of people who look like Ben Elliott, Camilla Parker-Bowles's nephew who likes to see himself as a man about Chelsea.

Elliott is, in fact, a founder member. "It's friendlier here than if they venture into the West End," Parkinson-Smith continues. "And we don't want to be the top club in London - we're happy just being one of the best places to hang out with your friends." Since it opened in 2002, this - as well as dutiful gossip reporting in the national papers - has been Boujis' secret. It has brown suede benches, strobe lights, and £10 cocktails.

You can buy a jeroboam of Cristal champagne for £4,000, but many punters are happier - like Prince William - on double-strength vodka tonics.

The dance floor is a place for scantily-dressed and overly-thin Sloane girls to break their heels, and for men who wear their collars up to offer to pay for new ones in the morning.

It is, essentially, South Kensington's equivalent of a provincial, local nightclub. It is smart, but only because the locals are.

It doesn't need the naked dancers that made Tantra, off Regent Street, famous; nor the druggy connotations in the name of Chinawhite. Hardcore clubbers in search of techno music need not stop by.

But Parkinson-Smith doesn't care: he wouldn't let them in anyway. "We're not a great DJ club," he proclaims, "but we care about music that will please our crowd. We are a members-only club. Of course people can arrange to bring friends in with them, but we're pretty strict. There is no way you can wander in here off the street."

This "members-only" line is employed by a number of clubs across the capital. For one thing, it helps with licensing regulations; for another it keeps the number of punters on the dancefloor at a manageable level. But Boujis enforces its door policy more strictly than many of its rivals, and that lends the place a certain mystique. It also allows the club's members to feel a bit smug. "It's undeniable that there is a certain amount of backslapping in there," says one regular.

"People like hanging out at Boujis because they are allowed to. They feel like they've achieved membership of a privileged élite." The same goes for the club's dress code. There is a loose one: "Sort of smart, trendy, casual," says Parkinson-Smith.

But that's really just because it is what the punters wear anyway. "We don't want shorts and singlets in here, but then we're unlikely to get any," he adds. Sometimes, harsh reality intrudes. The English cricket team showed up there rather worse for wear, but more often it is less heroic footballers looking for an easy lay.

Behind the two black-jacketed bouncers on the door and the slinky girl with a clipboard, past the reception desk and the cloakroom, downstairs in the dimly lit basement it's still a bit sleazy. "The crowd is rich enough that they can afford to buy champagne at £220 a bottle. It's not just to show off, like it is in similar European nightclubs. They actually get drunk."

Others point out, however, that Boujis provides a safe haven for young locals, who end the night nearer to home - and avoid all the difficulties of class conflict that leads so often to fights on the mean streets of WC1.

"The fact that Prince Harry has chosen not to have his 21st birthday party there, but at Umbaba off Regent Street, is more evidence of him hanging out with the wrong crowd," says another Boujis member.

Maybe so, or maybe the playboy prince just wants to spread his wings. Boujis may never have a quiet night, but its time in the public eye is inevitably drawing to a close.

The nightclub world is a notoriously fickle one, and although Parkinson-Smith and his members have been inundated with famous faces this summer, by next year they may well have their playground back to themselves again.

THE HOT LIST

By Sarah Harris

Chinawhite
Ever opulent but increasingly passé, Chinawhite, with its £650 membership fee and £150 bottles of vodka, is now more the choice of besuited City dealers than London's hipsters. Mel B and Jamie Oliver still pop in occasionally.

Pangaea
Piccadilly's celebrity-drenched hot spot, Pangaea is the newest of the expensive, exclusive West End clubs. It's the realm of mini-skirted glossy pop princesses like the members of Girls Aloud. Its exotic décor is all chic banquettes and candles, and there is even a restaurant serving Eastern delicacies. Sadie Frost and Jemima French recently held their Frost French fashion show here.

Umbaba
The rumoured venue for Harry's 21st, Umbaba is the trendier younger sister of Chinawhite. Footballers' wives and gold card-wielding heiresses can be found in the club's tented bars, sipping a 'republique du person' cocktail (£9.50). Regulars include Kate Lawler, Jodie Marsh, Kelly Osbourne and Jennifer Ellison.

Annabel's
Founded in 1963 and named after Lady Annabel Goldmith, this 'aristocratic discotheque' is populated by the older, permatan brigade. With its strict dress code and £500 membership fee, once inside, the wealthy and glamorous swing their hips to a mixture of commercial dance and chart tunes.

Aura
Drew Barrymore has been spotted swaggering on the pavement outside this Mayfair address, and Aura is certainly one of London's most fashionable new nightspots. The mix of trendy British cuisine and classic cocktails attract regulars including music stars Damon Dash, Usher and Justin Timberlake and the Arsenal and Sweden star Freddie Ljungberg.

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