Nestled in the heart of Soho in central London sits a small, unimpressive looking venue. Push your way through the double doors beneath a seedy flashing neon sign, however, and you encounter a plush world of opulence, red velvet curtains and art deco mirrors.
Until recently, the crowd filling the dance floor was as likely to be clad in baseball caps and chains as burlesque basques and feathers, but Madame Jojo’s – home to some of London’s most diverse nightlife for more than half a century – has now shut down for good.
News that Westminster council had revoked its license this week following an incident outside the club has been greeted with disbelief, both by those who have hosted nights at the venue for years and the many loyal punters who flocked there every week in search of the quirkier side of London’s club scene.
Supporters of Madame Jojo’s say that the closure is part of the council’s drive to gentrify Soho, which is robbing the area of its unqiue atmosphere and heritage in the process.
The venue, known to many as the home of burlesque and cabaret in Soho, hosted some of the earliest gigs played by bands such as The xx and Anna Calvi, and Lorde played her first UK show there. It was also the focal point of Michael Winterbottom’s 2013 film The Look Of Love, in which Steve Coogan plays Paul Raymond, the Soho porn baron who owned and ran Madame Jojo’s in the 1960s.
Well, yes, but back in the day it was a drag palace. With a very diverse clientele actually, including me.
For they had a very enlightened door policy. Unlike some clubs that, when catering to a particular market discriminated against elsewhere, they didn’t discriminate against those who were not part of that particular market.
More specifically, back then, pubs closed at 11. And as a waiter in the West End you’d be unlikely to get out of work by then. A couple of pints was therefore not really on the cards before making for the last Tube home. Pisser really. Except at Jojo’s. Low entry fee, reasonable price for beer. So, the crowd could often be remarkably mixed. On the one side of the place a reasonably typical drag bar, gay meeting place, what have you. Including all the usual enjoyable sights: I particularly remember one regular performer, built like an international second row, 6 ft 5 before the Dolly Parton wig and heels, who would sing out the usual songs in a nice falsetto while being accompanied on the piano.
Round the corner would be a little kaffeeklatch of waiters and waitresses, just finished work, downing a few before that last Tube (with a certain amount of that matching off to equal what was going on in other parts of the club).
It also wasn’t “two crowds”, although it was in one manner. Obviously everyone pretty quickly worked out who was interested in what but interesting people to talk to are interesting people to talk to so there was indeed mixing.
Perhaps the most important thing was that, back then, Jojo’s was what all too many aren’t these days. Tolerant. Sure it was a gay club but you didn’t have to be gay to go there. No one ever asked or even implied that if you weren’t you shouldn’t. It was a boozer really, one with a certain slant, Their gaff their rules (Jojo himself, at least that’s what I recall he was referred to often being around) but those rules were, as I say, not just tolerant of the incrowd but tolerant of all who didn’t actively oppose that incrowd.
Which is pretty much how I think it all should be and for that reason, if that reason only (and I agree, I’m talking through the fog of 30 years of history here) Madame Jojo’s should be saved.
Not that it has much to do with me nor that my support or otherwise is going to change anything but so what? My gaff and I can say what the hell I like, right?