A Memorial to the UK Venues We’ve Loved and Lost

A send-off for just a handful of the local spaces and clubs we've lost in the last few years.

22 March 2021, 9:00am

Fund Our Fun is a series celebrating the UK’s music and nightlife industries, and a rallying call to protect them. Read more here, and check out our interactive map of at-risk venues here, to find ways to help your local spa

British nightlife is in crisis. Over the past six years, noise complaints, obstructive local councils and greedy property developers have claimed some of the country’s best loved clubs and venues. And then came the pandemic.

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Despite the government’s promise to reopen clubs by the 21st of June (and Twitter’s suitably euphoric response), the Night Time Industries Association warns that the number of clubs in operation will have fallen by as much as 50 percent. We may envision a summer of warm vodka sodas, sweaty strangers and Bicep blaring into our eardrums, but will anywhere be open to facilitate this post-lockdown clubbing dream? 

In these bleak times, VICE writers pay tribute to some of the clubs we have loved and lost over the last few years. Pour one out for these fallen friends, gone but not forgotten to the great smoking area in the sky. 

DANCE TUNNEL

The first time I ever went to Dance Tunnel, I thought it was a gay club. I was with my friend, Al. We were the only girls on the dance floor. “Is this a gay club?” I asked someone standing beside me on the dance floor. He shrugged. I didn’t mind either way. The music was amazing, the crowd was friendly and I could walk back to my flat in 15 minutes. I was sold. 

If you want to listen to underground house and techno in London, you either need to go to one of the mega-clubs, like fabric (expensive, creepy guys, but worth it for the programming and the sound system), or trek out to the warehouses of Bow, Hackney Wick, New Cross and Peckham. Dance Tunnel was a truly innovative offering: world-class programming, but on “the strip” – the stretch of Kingsland Road that connects Stoke Newington to Dalston. 

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Which meant: no more taxis out to a random warehouse at 1AM, no more aggressive searching by bouncers who’d yank out your bra elastic and snap it back, no more schlepping around at 6AM to find a cash point to pay for a rip-off unlicensed minicab home from a side street in Bow. 

I don’t know how many times I went to Dance Tunnel before it closed – a lot. I saw incredible DJs playing a tiny club to a sweaty and devoted audience. I hugged random people on the dance floor and told my mates I loved them. Over time, the club became messy – there’s no other word for it. The girls' toilets always had at least one girl, head propped on the hand dryer, eyes rolling, gurning, hair wet from the sink. It was all part of the fun, I guess (but maybe not for her).

I always knew that Dance Tunnel wasn’t going to be around long-term. It wasn’t hard to see why. The club shut at 3AM most nights, 4AM occasionally. But most people spilled into the club after midnight. Three hours just wasn’t enough time for the bar to be profitable – clubs need people to buy drinks, and that doesn’t just mean three bottles of water for you and your pilled-up friends.

Plus, there was no chance of them getting the late licenses they needed from Hackney Council, because the council seemed engaged in open war on the bars and clubs that brought people to the area, and made it such a desirable place to live. 

When Dance Tunnel closed in 2016, fans of the club, myself included, signed a petition to save it. But I knew it was futile. I like to think that another club will open like it when we emerge from COVID – a place with good music, a girl with her eyes rolling in the toilet and a friendly crowd, within stumbling distance of my home – but that’s probably just a pipe dream. Clubs like that only come around once in a blue moon. Sirin Kale

MANCHESTER ROADHOUSE

Growing up in the Derbyshire countryside, predominantly listening to what my mosher school friends were into, I had little musical knowledge to speak of when I arrived in the big city. The dark and dingy basement that was Manchester Roadhouse became my education. Starting with Revolver, a 60s night I attended as fresher at uni, I not only became a dedicated clubber at Roadhouse, but also an avid pupil of all it could teach me. From rap gigs that inspired me to start my own night, to life-changing shows like Madam X-led grime stalwart BPM, Roadhouse was where I discovered new music and made lifelong friends. The 200-capacity venue jutting out of a corner on Newton Street is also where I had my first (and last) scrap, met a lover or two and got kicked out for being too drunk. It was a rite of passage.

Much like other venues in Manchester’s city centre, Roadhouse – which was also adored by home-grown talent like Elbow, who worked there, and hosted bands including Coldplay and Muse – eventually found itself a scruffy anomaly in the middle of a quickly gentrifying Northern Quarter. Once a hub for artists and misfits who worked in cheap studios among the area’s sex shops and textile warehouses, it’s now populated by wellness-peddling coffee shops, streetwear brands and overpriced vintage emporiums. When it was announced that Roadhouse was to close in the summer of 2015, it was a fancy new restaurant that was teed up to take its place. 

As it stands, the venue is still unoccupied, while fraying posters for pre-pandemic music events adorn its boarded-up doors. Perhaps like many other buildings in the area, it’ll end up being bulldozed to make space for yet another block of flats. I hope not. Even if the building never becomes a nightclub again, I’d like to keep a bricks-and-mortar reminder of where so many great memories were made. Kamila Rymajdo.

DIY SPACE

In the five years DIY Space for London existed, I never knew it to be a comfortable place. The South Bermondsey punk venue had sofas that were lumpy and damp, the dance floor was perpetually covered in footprints and the cans of Red Stripe that everyone drank were always a little warm. DIY Space wasn’t where you went for luxury, it was a place where you went to create something you always wanted to exist.

DIY Space was cheap enough that a new band with a tiny following could put on their own gig there and not lose too much money. It was also open enough to try out any acts. Many of my nights out in the last few years have been spent at DIY Space, watching popular bands like US post-punk group Priests or Glaswegian dance punk trio Shopping, but I’ve also had some amazing nights watching unknown acts at First Timers, an annual event where bands play their first gig. An evening of inexperienced musicians might seem chaotic, but the welcoming environment of DIY Space made for the perfect home, and crowds often cheered and encouraged each act to continue if they seemed nervous.

I know the stage well enough to feel like it’s part of my living room, having played there regularly in my band Big Joanie, and also helped organise a festival there – Decolonise Fest, an annual event celebrating people of colour in the punk scene.

When DIY Space’s closure was announced in June of 2020, I was heartbroken but not surprised. After the loss of Dalston basement venue Power Lunches in 2015, many in the punk scene weren’t holding out for a longstanding venue. Still, it feels like the end of an era. The collective behind DIY Space say they are looking for new premises, but it’s difficult to stop the sinking feeling that we’ll always be searching for space that feels like home, while the shadow of homogenous, middle class gentrification follows not too far behind. Stephanie Phillips

THE BISTRO

It’s hard to think of a less dignified end for a once-beloved institution than it being turned into a Peaky Blinders-themed bar and then shutting down, but that’s what happened to Katie’s Bar in Stirling last year. 

Commonly referred to by its old name, The Bistro, it was always a mythologised place. People who studied here in the 1980s would speak about it as the epicentre of Stirling, and it was easy to imagine that it used to be a kind of Parisian salon, a bohemian enclave in dour central Scotland. Whether students did actually congregate at the Bistro to debate Kierkegaard, I’m not sure; it seems just as likely they went there, as I did, for the cheap cider and karaoke nights.

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I asked a family friend who studied here in the 1980s what the Bistro was like, and she said: “It was very trendy and the only place in town where students would hang out. The concept of a place where you could get a coffee and a beer at the same time was really new. Most places back then were either tearooms with fur-hatted old ladies or pubs for drinkers.”

When I was growing up, it wasn’t thought of as a cool place. It did, however, have the advantage of being willing to serve teenagers alcohol, as long as they had a “European Driving Permit” ordered online, or a passport stolen from an older sibling. It was also gay-friendly, in an ambiguous way that you wouldn’t necessarily recognise if you weren’t looking for it (apparently it was like this in the 1980s too). I’m sad that it’s closed down, although I was sadder when it got turned into a Peaky Blinders bar. There are still good pubs in Stirling, but I’m not sure we’ll see anywhere as idiosyncratic as The Bistro again. James Greig

EFES

These days, the idea that you could leave one venue at 2AM closing time and go to another one until 4AM seems really old fashioned (nowhere is open until 4AM!!). But for a while, Efes – a Turkish-run snooker club in Dalston, east London – was the one place you stay at until 4AM. It was the last and final place. 

Efes’ opening times were its main draw, but not its only one. It also had £3 drinks and endless pool tables and occasionally a makeshift dance floor on one side where they played Jason Derulo and Rihanna beneath cheap flashing lights. The queues were never too long, the clientele was never one fixed thing and I’m pretty sure you could play crazy golf somewhere in there too sometimes.

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When it closed in 2018, I can’t say I was surprised. It was the kind of place you wouldn’t have expected to stick around in 2010s London – especially not in Dalston – which made it a special kind of treasure while it lasted.

I actually only found out that it was closed because I was walking back from a club once with a friend and we buzzed the buzzer, at around 3AM. Someone actually picked up. “We’re closed,” they crackled through the speakers. “Forever.” Daisy Jones

THE FLAPPER

Birmingham famously has more canals than Venice, and I’d wager that our canal-side pubs are far better craic as well. One such waterfront boozer was The Flapper on Kingston Row, which also doubled up as an important part of the city’s live music scene, and was a key venue for smaller touring acts as well as local bands and promoters.

Ironically, the Flapper stood in the shadow of Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena, a major concert venue in the city, and ultimately faced multiple threats from local housing developers before it shut for good in January of 2020. It was a great venue and I will treasure my days of sitting in the beer garden, looking at boys in bands – but crucially being far too shy to speak to them – in my heart forever. Lauren O’Neill

FIVE MILES

I remember when Tottenham Hale in north London didn’t have a retail park, and the roads between Broad Lane and Monument Way were even more chaotic than they are today. When Five Miles opened on Markfield Road, following fellow independent venues Grow and The Cause, it sealed the area’s newfound reputation as a place to go for a good night out. 

In some respects, these clubs were there to serve Tottenham’s growing population of students and young professionals – not necessarily the native community. But Five Miles knew how to cater to local tastes, which is why it was revered among customers and promoters alike, hosting regular drill, jungle, garage and techno nights. Located on an industrial estate, the warehouse-cum-nightclub reflected the landscape, as well as north London’s rich history of rave culture. It made sense for a place like Five Miles to be in Tottenham, close to the marshes and out of sight. 

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My grandmother used to live on Ferry Lane Estate, and Markfield Park was where I’d play with other local kids in the early 90s. Thirty years later, when I found Five Miles, I liked the idea of discovering another playground on Markfield Road – only, this time, it was one where I could drink. 

It made Five Miles’ closure last year even more frustrating. I hope that if another venue eventually takes over the spot, they’ll remember the local community. Ultimately, that’s how these places leave their mark. Jesse Bernard.

STYX

In Greek mythology, the Styx is a river that marks the boundary between Earth and the underworld. As bad as the gentrification of Tottenham in north London is getting, I’m not quite sure I would call it hell – not just yet. 

Founded in 2015 by Josh Nawras and Felix Mortimer, Styx made its home in a former warehouse across the road from The Cause and Grow. These proud Zone 2 and 3 venues, along with Low Profile House in Manor House, showed that London’s nightlife was finally outgrowing the shackles of Kingsland Road and Shoreditch High Street.

Styx was truly what you made of it. Their infamous summer parties, which started in the late afternoon with ping-pong tables, DJs, and food trucks serving Caribbean food, would carry on until the early morning, as the party moved into the warehouse come nightfall. The team behind Recess, AKA “your WCW’s favourite night out”, used the club’s out and indoor space in a similarly innovative way. 

Also, Styx was in Tottenham, which will always be dear to me. We had some great parties there, the owners were the best we’ve ever worked with and always had dates available for us. As Jojo Sonubi of Recess told me: “Days and nights at Styx hit different. We’ll never see a venue like that again.”

Styx has been knocked down as part of a £500 million plan to “regenerate Tottenham Hale”, leaving nothing but the lingering odour of spilt Wray’s and echoes of Sneakbo “Touch Ah Button”. Rahel Aklilu.

GWDIHŴ

A brightly painted building on one of the oldest streets in Cardiff city centre, Gwdihŵ (the Welsh word for owl, pronounced ‘good-ee-hoo’) opened in 2008 and became an immediate cultural cornerstone. Like all good grassroots venues, it was all kinds of things to all kinds of people. The main room was small with dark hardwood floors, low ceilings and walls of exposed brick, so every event felt like it was going off in someone’s living room, even if there was a full brass band on stage.

Hosting everything from Welsh folk events and techno nights to match days and full weekenders, Gwdihŵ was a people-first venue and a close-knit community. They kept their fees almost non-existent and gave pretty much anyone who wanted to put on an event a shot (they even let me put on a gig there once, for my sins). It was one of the few places in Cardiff you could walk into any evening of the week and not know what to expect, but know that you’d have a class time anyway.

Gwdihŵ sat on a row of terraced buildings along with two other family-run businesses – Thai House, the first Thai restaurant in the UK outside of London, and Madeira Restaurante, a Portuguese restaurant that had been there for over two decades. Named Guildford Crescent, the buildings were historic and remained largely unchanged since the 19th century. Naturally, they had to go. When the landlord declined to renew the lease of the buildings and the land, redevelopers swept in. Over 20,000 people signed a petition to save Guildford Crescent, and thousands marched in protest in 2019, but it was demolished anyway, and is now due to be replaced by – what else – a fucking massive 29-storey block of flats.

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Gwdihŵ is one of the more recent in a long line of venue closures in Cardiff, which has been forced to part with more venues than there are films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So much for the UK’s first so-called “music city”. Still, Gwdihŵ spent over a decade at the heart of the community, and is a rare example of a venue whose doors didn’t close due to financial issues. Last I checked, the team were looking for a new home. Hopefully they find one soon. Emma Garland

PEOPLES CLUB

In 2013 I moved into a squalid five-bedroom house off the Holloway Road with four other guys. We were very much in the midst of our wild years, and stuck deep in the club culture of London at that time. Every night of the week seemed to promise some boozy transgression, and we travelled far and wide in search of it.  

One night, my housemates happened on Peoples Club, a Caribbean “social club” on the main drag of Lower Holloway. It had a burgundy brick facade, kept strange opening hours and gave little away about what it was. My friends went in for a drink and a dance, and happened upon the venue they’d been looking for: a space for a regular party that would be more relaxed, less dominated by DJ worship than the headsy electronic music scene of the time. 

Quickly, they struck up a friendship with the club’s owner, Tony Hassan, a 50-something Cypriot guy from Southgate who was already embroiled in a long and complicated dispute with residents and the council.

The night my friends put on there became known as Eternal, and soon enough acts were queuing up to play un-billed and free to mess around in this funny little club with painted walls and fizzy peach wine behind the bar. The likes of Arca, Jam City, MSSNGNO, Evian Christ, SOPHIE and so many more played. The night existed alongside the same ones that had been going on at Peoples for years, and there was a nice bit of cross-pollination from both sides. One night, I remember a bunch of north London villains in Gant chinos turning up in a Bentley, only to find themselves at a PC Music night. 

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As it happened, it was a short-lived scene. Within a year, Islington council shut Peoples down, freezing it in licensing hell – where it still sits today. It wasn’t COVID or property developers that killed Peoples, but those who’d moved to the most densely populated part of northern Europe and started to complain about the noise – emboldened by a local authority far more keen to listen to them than the regulars of an Afro-Caribbean nightclub. Clive Martin

BIRTHDAYS

Right before the Dalston strip ends and you land in Stoke Newington, there used to be a place called Birthdays. The live music scene was already struggling by the time the slightly cool, slightly wanky venue popped up in 2013, but – as well as selling burgers upstairs, which presumably helped turn profit – they also booked some really good acts.

Birthdays was the best place in London for watching bloggy mid-2010s rappers. You would often be packed in tight, dripping with sweat alongside the other 249 people (and probably a few extras) squeezed into the extremely small venue. No one ever left Birthdays without having their shoes ruined, but getting so close and messy with one another was the point. Whether it was enigmatic rap acts like Yung Lean and Corbin, heavy rock guys Nothing or grime MCs like Big Narstie, the venue was really loud. This was good too.

Photo via Birthdays / Twitter

Despite it being a very new venue – and, to some, emblematic of gig venues morphing into “food and music experiences” – Birthdays maintained an edge because they excelled at booking groundbreaking acts for the room downstairs.

It wasn’t exclusive, or weird, though I saw Robert Pattinson and FKA twigs on a date here once. Rumour has it that Harry Styles spent his birthday here and crowd-surfed the dance floor atop the hands of various VICE staff members (no, I don’t have the footage to prove it). But despite being a place to spot the odd A-list celeb or D-list indie band member, Birthdays was just a place to watch music, really. You could get some chips if you wanted. It was great. Ryan Bassil.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this article included an entry for The Lexington, but The Lexington is still very much alive and kicking.

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