Meeting the lost souls trapped in the cul-de-sac of Western culture.
Ah, West End clubbing. Something for Bulgarian backpackers to do after Thriller: Live and the Angus Steakhouse. The home of junior sales execs from Hounslow perspiring blue WKD as they combust on the dancefloor to the five Rihanna songs which constitute the entirety of Western recorded music. Leicester Square is the clubbing capital of Britain for people who've never been anywhere else in Britain. It is the place where the zeitgeist is just a combination of the German words for "time" and "ghost".
The great thing about the West End is that it doesn't really change. Sure, it may be more Guetta than Blu Cantrell in 2012, but the central tenets have altered little in the past ten years: get expensively mashed, grind aggressively on a stranger's botty-bot, sway uncertainly in a corner for five minutes, get ejected by some grizzly bear in a suit, then take a night bus in the wrong direction for 55 minutes before catching a rape taxi home.
Anyway, sick of missing out on all this, I pulled up my socks and headed into the middle of Leicester Square to meet the Brits.
Oh my god. Is that Zach Braff? Oh my god. So weird. As we were heading out, we walked past the actual star of actual Scrubs. Zach had his new play on, and he'd decided to stand out in front of it, presumably to test whether he was still famous. Conclusion: there are plenty of people on your average W1 street who spent a lot of time watching E4 with a hangover in the previous decade.
First stop was Ruby Blue. An upmarket downmarket bar just behind the Square. Would you like to buy a £6 shot of Jaegermeister in exchange for some low-level flirtation? Of course you would. You're very drunk.
Shooters girls, this svelte creature told us, can earn between £150 and £200 a night. But her pal begged us not to take her picture. “You're from VICE??? So... why are you here?” She was suddenly cursed with sentience. “This,” she pointed out, “Is the worst place on Earth.”
But how could we drink to that when high rollers like this were chilling in the VIP? You can find them in the club with a bottle of Bud. And yes, sippin' on some Moet too. These VIPs are VIPing up a storm on their exclusive artificial leather banquette, just kicking back and rewarding themselves via their personal reward structure after another big week of telesold pensioners switching from E.On to Npower. Later, they will climb into a bath of five-pound notes.
The ceiling of Ruby Blue had a kind of basilica feel. You looked up, and you could almost imagine you were in Il Vaticano, hushed into reverence by another masterpiece of Renaissance iconography, a people's Pieta, a Sistine for the sisters. Something a bit off-kilter about this one, mind. Couldn't quite put my finger on it.
And of course, there were dickheads there getting paid to take photos of people looking drunk and lairy. I mean, how unoriginal.
We blew the gaff. Turned out Ruby Blue was lame. Yates's Wine Lodge would be much better. Is the coming of girls some sort of feminist statement? Perhaps it is an aide de memoir for going to Boots the morning after for emergency contraception.
A dancing Pole... A Pole on a pole! AHAHAHAHA! For some reason, no one else seemed to find this particularly amusing. Just Mateusz and me. Locked in a wormhole of empathetic amusement. And they say that moments of intimacy are impossible to find in chain bars.
Well, looks like those Doubting Thomases are even more wrong. Yates's is the kind of inclusive environment where even heteros can feel free to flaunt their sexuality without fear of reproach or abuse.
And the Ace Faces of London's solosexual community were out on the pull, too.
A glass of D'Vine in one hand, a pole in the other, a handsome man at tit-level – it's every modern woman's ultimate fantasy.
Meanwhile, back outside, it was ten to eleven, and the Angus Steakhouse clientele were delivering their final verdict.
And for some reason, the M&M store was still open, packed with Arabian holidaymakers greedily getting their fix of London's two great icons: candied American chocolate peanuts and tourist traps. Who is buying M&Ms at 11PM on a Friday night? A lot of people, that's who.
We headed up Shaftesbury Avenue to Bar Rumba. All hell broke loose outside when Lenny Kravitz and David Bowie turned up.
This guy said his name was Tobias. He said he comes here almost every Friday. We asked whether he was on the pull. He said “They come to me.” Which was interesting, because he seemed to be sat on his own the whole time we were there. Perhaps because he couldn't see well enough to risk moving around.
When Tobias did get up, he managed to stumble blindly into this cul-de-sac of Western civilisation – JLS grunge shirts and jokes about blow jobs.
As Bar Rumba shuffled through its three-song changer from Rihanna to Guetta to LMFAO, we decided to move on. Outside, VICE photographer Holly Lucas and I were endlessly touted at by club PRs. “I know what you're after, yeah... you're looking for somewhere proper classy. OK. Have you tried Penthouse, yeah? Normally it's £15 to get in, but I can give it to you for ten.”
“Actually, what's the biggest shithole on the square?”
“We're looking for somewhere that really makes you abandon all sense that humanity is one forwardly-evolving brotherhood. Just a sort of petri dish with shooters and hooters.”
The man didn't seem to understand what we were on about, so we thanked him, and moved off to KINK, whose PR said it was, “Probably quite bad, I guess.”
Well it wasn't, it was brilliant. You could watch people in other parts of the bar, upstairs, just going about their business on big LCD screens. It was like the party equivalent of the 135 bus.
Later on, we returned to Yates's. By this point, however, they had selectively eliminated all genres of music, and the DJ was just spinning their price list of cocktails and their annual financial statements.
This man buys FTSEs and sells HANGS SENGs in the time it takes to you to pull out your Nando's black card. What sorts of shares does he recommend? Blue Chips, of course. What's his trading philosophy? Buy low, sell high. Derivatives, originals, futures, pasts, you name it, he's into it. Midway, George Soros walked into Yates's, then walked back out again. There could be only one centre of gravity here.
Meanwhile, back at Ruby Blue, things were hotting up.
It was like that fantastic performance Blur did at the Brit Awards all over again.
We had to sit down so we could contemplate just how much fun we were having.
This man had spilled some champagne on his zipper, and his friend, a dry cleaner by trade, was helping him get it off.
By 1AM, someone had smashed the front door glass at McDonald's. Yeah! Riot! The Golden Arches' security pigs wanted us to delete the picture. But we knew our rights. Sucks to be you, Maccy D's, now the world can finally hear the truth: You attract drunks on a Friday night.
Time flies when you're having fun, and after approximately nine hours, the hands of my wristwatch had dragged themselves around to 3AM. We swayed in a corner, we were ejected, we sat on a nightbus for 55 minutes in the wrong direction. We were slapped awake by some bruiser called Jerome somewhere outside Plaistow, who, seeing the state we were in, thankfully declined to rape us. Thanks, Leicester Square. Let's do it again next week.
Follow Gavin on Twitter: @hurtgavinhaynes
All photos by Holly Lucas