Nightclubs: What a Wag: Unfriendly, elitist and super cool, it nevertheless broke the disco mould. James Style celebrates 10 years of the Wag

James Style
Tuesday 12 April 1994 23:02

April 1984: The national strike by miners continued unabated, WPC Yvonne Fletcher was shot outside the Libyan People's Bureau and a small nightclub opened in Soho. Previously a dodgy late-night drinking dive called Whiskey a Go-Go, it was spruced up and renamed The Wag. Clubland would never be the same.

Back then, clubs were the haunt of white stilettos and smooth waiters, Smashie and Nicey were the average DJs and chart music prevailed. Then came Chris Sullivan, a student from the St Martin's School of Art. Sullivan, from Merthyr Tydfil, was initially asked to design the interior. 'It was a time when anything seemed possible. I ended up running the club. It was fantastic. I even got to change the name.'

Today, he is still a director. At that time, illegal parties in empty warehouses were popular, chiefly because they played smoochy dance music and not vacuous chart sounds. Sullivan was the first to bring the warehouse feel into a West End club.

St Martin's was a hotbed of young fashion talent and Sullivan was the ringleader. He managed to coalesce these two different scenes: the trendy fashion crowd like Boy George, Marilyn and John Galliano and new DJ talent like Fat Tony and Steve Jervier.

Throughout the Eighties the Wag was the place to be. Like The Face, it symbolised the age: a sophisticated hang-out in super-cool Soho. Club nights like Blackmarket, TFV, Fat, Animals and the Monday Jazz night are legendary. As Sullivan points out, 'If you look at London's successful club promoters today, without exception they all used to come here'.

The Friday and Saturday nights are still so popular that hundreds are turned away. Despite this, and the uncompromisingly aggressive attitude of the bouncers, they keep coming. One bouncer, Winston - now a minicab driver - is well remembered. Bill Tuckey, editor of club mag Touch, remembers the Friday ritual. 'I'd walk up and smile. Winston would immediately tell me to fuck off. I'd say something like, 'Come on Winston, you know me'. He'd immediately say, 'I don't care, fuck off'. You've got to remember he's this huge guy who looked more than capable, so I'd just hang around. After about five minutes of ritual humiliation, he'd look at you and just nod. That was it.'

Some great acts have graced the tiny stage: most notably an unknown New Yorker called Madonna, but also Stevie Wonder, the Pogues and Roy Ayers. KRS-1, the Bronx rapper, was booked, but Winston wouldn't let him in. This led to charges of racism: Jazzy B, Soul II Soul's front man, among others, wouldn't go near the place. But a generation of others did, and many met their future beloveds. The Wag was always a place to see and be seen.

Fat Tony, now one of London's highest-paid DJs, has fond memories. 'My worst Wag experience was seeing Gazza strutting his stuff. My best, Robert De Niro coming three weeks in a row.' Jonathan Ross remembers Renee, runner of clubnight Blackmarket, standing outside in a Gaultier skirt.' I admired and feared that.' He adds, 'We always used to go to this grotty Chinese afterwards, where you'd see all the girls you'd been fantasising about under nasty strip-lights, then realise you looked like that too.'

The Wag is still popular, but until the advent of house music it ruled supreme. Now they are having to refocus their energies and find out what appeals to a Nineties audience. Happy Birthday, Wag. You might have been sickeningly trendy, but London is, without doubt, the club capital of the world and you are its brightest star.

The Wag, 35 Wardour St, London W1 (071-437 5534) daily 10.30pm-3.30am.

(Photographs omitted)

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