Back when I was a wee slip of a lad, when I had only just cobbled together enough money to buy myself a fake "European Driving Permit" I found on Ask Jeeves, the places to be were not the souped-up pool halls and tropical basement bars of East London, but the midweek indie discos of the West End.
You'd hear stories about men who went to a different one of these clubs every night. Near-mythical winklepickered lotharios who tore up the sticky dancefloors to the pulsating sounds of the first Rakes album, embroiled in their own, feverish delusions of bildungsroman when really they all lived with their parents in Streatham and worked off their hangovers in retail admin departments. But they didn't care, for those four nights a week they were superstars. To an impressionable 16-year-old, these men were gods, and I worshipped in the shadow of their nascent lager bellies tiring of life the dark side of the drainpipe waistband.
Eventually I and everybody I knew moved on, and the London indie dream died in tandem with Pete Doherty's transformation from Oliver to Fagin. But I've always wondered what became of these places, and the people I kissed, embraced and glassed to "Mr Brightside" as the lights came up. So for one night only, I decided to line my stomach, fire up the Oyster and remember to bring my passport. I was going home.
The venue for the night's proceedings would be a joint called Moonlighting in the heart of Soho and its notorious Wednesday night watered-down-vodka orgy, Cheapskates. When I told people that day where I would be spending the evening, everyone talked about it in the same way old sailors talk about navigating treacherous passages.
In case you were wondering, the night ain't called Cheapskates for nothing. It's not some plush Mayfair nightclub sarcastically giving itself a downmarket name as some kind of lame society in-joke, like Tramp or Punk. The night is called Cheapskates because it's really fucking cheap.
The whole place is decked out like Peter Stringfellow's kitchen, clad with mirrors you can see your nosehairs in and Vice City-style neon lights. It might seem at first as though it's trying to be kitsch, like some kind of 80s-themed bar in the adult section at Disneyland. But I can assure you that it isn't; the owners of Moonlighting really do think that a pink neon Martini glass is a sophisticated touch.
One thing you learn about a place like this is that you're always going to arrive too early. These two decided to hit the ground dancing, no doubt spurred on by an afternoon's worth of pre-drinking, leaving their uni halls only after they'd maxed out their Spotify play allowance on a disorientating, looped combo of Major Lazer's "Hold Yuh" remix and "Cigarettes & Alcohol".
Slowly but surely, the punters began to trickle in. Think the guys on the right look lonely? Nah man, these guys were pros. Scoping the joint out and sinking a few brewskis before the honeys starting rolling in. If there's one thing you should have learnt from rap videos, it's that real Gs aren't afraid to hit the designated seating area.
I'm not entirely sure who this old guy is, but he's been sitting in that exact same spot every time I've been to this place (which is more times than I care to admit). The romantic in me likes to think he owns the joint, staring into the distance remembering a shot girl he fell in love with once. But the sad likelihood is he's just some boozy old pervert the staff have learnt to tolerate over the years.
It was at this point that I began to realise Cheapskates wasn't really an indie night any more. I felt like a man who'd been released from a ten-stretch at Wormwood Scrubs and returned to his hometown pub only to find that it'd been replaced by a branch of AllSaints. I wandered around searching for just one trilby, or a pair of braces, but all I found was chinos and hair extensions.
These girls ran over to us when they saw we had a camera that wasn't part of a phone and started doing this. I'm not entirely sure why. It's a horrible feeling when people who seem nice think you're an official club photographer who's going to immortalise their youths forever in the "party moment". Sorry, girls.
Even if I wasn't a fan of some of the DJs' selections, I had to hand it to them for their eclecticism alone. They seemed to go through just about every genre of music during the course of the night. There aren't many places in London you can go to and hear Skrillex and The Long Blondes played back-to-back.
Metallers are usually a bit neglected at most club nights, condemned to standing at the bar pretending to appreciate Lil Wayne's snare drum sound whilst they order another Snakebite. But not so at Cheapskates. This hellian was chuffed to bits when the good men on the wheels of steel dropped a couple of tracks off the first Kreator album.
But no matter how much they tried, the DJs just couldn't shift our barfly from his stool. He sat there staring into his triple Southern Comfort and lemonade like a disco Bukowski. His endless melancholy doing its best to harsh the rest of our collective cray. Come on mate, they're playing "Party Rock Anthem"!
Ignore mini-Arg and his rubber arms for just a second and let's hone in on the guy on the right. That jacket doesn't look tailored, does it? Does that mean that high street menswear shops are actually selling clothes that make you look like a pubescent schoolboy going through an awkward growth spurt now? Either way, his hotel bellboy steez made me wonder if I should be tipping him for something.
As if it wasn't already easy enough to get yourself a dose of alcohol poisoning here, they also employed this periphery booze vendor, who stood around juggling beers like an alcoholic street performer forced into juggling beer cans for tourists. His eyes seemed as hollow as a dancing bear's or a woman who gets boned every hour on loop in an Amsterdam sex show. But then, £2 for a can is pretty good by today's prices.
Hey guys, you don't look like some kind of Swingers-style lothario tag team with your (almost) matching shirts. What you look like is spoilt French children who are dressed by their nanny. If variety is the spice of life, these guys are eating Korma.
This isn't the kind of place that commissions a pair of Camberwell art students to create some avant-garde "video installation". They just sort of had a couple of TVs going in case people got bored of rubbernecking at all the puking and groping going on. Thoughtful, really.
Civilised people often use the phrase "meat market" to describe places like this, but Cheapskates isn't so much a meat market as it is a pile of rotting offcuts left behind the butcher's for foxes and the people from Occupy to fight over. Most of the guys were preening sleazebags in deck shoes and the girls succumbed to them with a tragic desperation. But it was this guy's cuntbands and the thought of his surfer past that really had me riding a wave of suffocating nausea.
I don't know if these guys were actually Scottish and going for a kind of Ewan-McGregor-at-the-Oscar's-honouring-their-culture kind of flex, or if they were actually just English Uni Lads trying to get girls to grab their balls, but trainers and a kilt is not a good look. You end up looking more like Axl Rose in the height of his coke hell rather than Mel Gibson in Braveheart.
If love is the answer, what is the question? Probably something like "What will I never find if I keep wearing kilts to nightclubs and hanging out with guys like this?" Kudos to the guy in the glasses though, who is maybe the only Highlands Guido on earth.
The glamour factor increased significantly when Prince William turned up on the pull. Don't let K-Middy know about this young Camilla.
At this point, it became apparent that no matter how much of the vodka content was actually tap water, it could still send you home arm in arm with somebody in a high-vis jacket. It can also make you pull stupid, photo-ruining poses, as I'm expertly demonstrating in the foreground.
Eventually, the atmosphere began to sour. The explosive combination of ethanol and bro-step began to send the guys crazy, and they started behaving like dogs trying to warn us about an imminent hurricane. The bouncers went from bastards to heroes in a matter of minutes, bravely pulling people from the booze crush like firefighters at a Topshop 9/11.
There's always someone who thinks that he's on some Kimbo Slice shit after a few plastic jars. Sadly, being captain of the UCL rugby team doesn't translate into fighting a trained professional who's as sober as a judge. If you look hard enough, you might be able to find some of his teeth next time you're there.
Eventually I made it out to the smoking area, not to smoke, but just to remind myself that was some humanity left in the world. I was planning to go back in for another round of cash and carry vodka, but then I saw these guys. And if there's one thing that will remind you it's a fucking Wednesday, it's binmen. They let us know that we have responsibilities, like waking up and going home. They are the cockerels of our conscience.
My sinuses hurt, my jumper smelt like a pub towel and I can still taste the flat cola in my mouth. Oh, Westminster; I tried to love you once, like the days we used to have, but alas, we've grown apart. I'm too old and too tired for this. I just want to sit on tables and wince every time I open my wallet at the bar. Maybe one day we'll see each other again, but it won't be in this lifetime. Cheapskates, you have killed me.
Follow Clive on Twitter: @thugclive
Photos: Nicholas Pomeroy
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