I have to confess to being absent for too long when I find out, a year late, that an old friend has written and published a book about the place where we met.
Bernie disappeared from my life years ago and re-entered it last night while doing a curious search for an old workplace, The Groucho Club. I came across an article in the Independent that talked of his book and himself, The Prince of Soho, as Stephen Fry christened him.
I worked at the Groucho Club during the last semester of university and the following summer, autumn and early winter of despair and loss of comprehension of what exactly it was I was supposed to do next. I moved slowly through the club, night after night, a nobody in a crowd full of ‘somebodies.’
Only members could visit the Groucho. It is a legendary joint, created for the brightest of the British arts and media world. Celebrities roamed without fear of being papped and egos were allowed to run free, unchallenged. On any given night, any given member could either think me wholly invisible or there to be recruited into listening to their megalomaniacal ramblings. It was only an old American Beat writer that sat at the bar and listened to me talk.
At the time of my tenure, those same young artists would grumble about the direction their club was taking. Since being bought out by a big businessman with a significant surname and an Eton schooling, the Groucho’s membership list had bloated, allowing in the Fat Cats of which Mr. X was surely an acquaintance. Money, not art or integrity was beginning to set the barometer for membership.
Last night, while searching for long-lost threads to the Groucho and accidently stumbling upon Bernie’s book, I saw how this had set a precedent for what was about to come in Soho, that “territory of anti-romance, a demi-monde of chancers, drunkards, crooks, degenerates and tarts with hearts of solid flint.” As the Independent’s piece describes it. The Colony Room—more secretive than the Groucho and arguably more authentic—had closed down, from what I gather, to make way for a block of luxury flats.
My dear, dark Soho is cleaning up. The bright XXX of the neon lights seem to have diminished every time I visit. I have the same experience with Tokyo’s Kabukicho district each time I go there. I grieve the dimming of my beloved red lights. Leave them be, I say, leave the Sohos of the world to the whores, the hustlers, the lost, the degenerates, self-proclaimed Dandys and anyone else who feels a kinship to our sordid little carnival. Long may the lowlife reign.