Thursday, September 06, 2007

Club Louise and Sombrero's - London 1976/77

One facet of early punk life in London (1976-77) was that there were no punk clubs, with the gap filled for some by lesbian and gay clubs - probably the only place where the first punks could go without being hassled. Most famous was Club Louise in Soho, where the teenage style terrorists of the so-called Bromley Contingent hung out - including Siouxise Sioux - as well as members of The Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Slits. The place is described in Bertie Marshall's entertaining and acerbic memoir of the period Berlin Bromley (2006):

S.S. [Siouxsie Sioux] mentioned this exclusive little club in Soho that you had to be a member to get in and was populated by les­bians and the odd male lesbian watcher and a couple of well-known actors. We all went, led by S.S. through the streets of Soho to 61 Poland Street to a red painted door with gold plates. S.S. rang the bell and through a little peephole a voice said in lisping tones, "Are you members!" What, I wonder, did we look like through that little window; some night­mare WaIt Disney might have had! We got in. Sitting at a low desk in the entrance way was a very old lady with a pile of grey hair atop her head and long grey dress and grey fur coar- grey lady? Bits of diamonds here and there, she looked a thousand-years-old. "Ah, you must all become members, my dears," her accent was French. Three pounds bought us a little red and white member­ship card.

Michael the doorman was an American fag and Madame Louise's toy-boy. This was her club. We were all under twenty-one and looked it, but somehow they didn't care, we must have passed some test. Perhaps Louise wanted to attract a younger clientele? The small foyer led into a bar room, a large mirror ran along the back wall, very dim lighting so you could hardly see your reflection, long black leatherette sofa seating, small tables with red cloths on them, black chairs, red carpets.

It was empty except for a waiter we named 'Ballerina John', an Irish queen with really awful acne and long red hair that he kept flicking over one eye. John had been thrown out of dance school because of some sexual indis­cretion in the toilets. Ballerina John came over and took our orders-five vodka and oranges. And because of the licensing laws, it was required that we were served food-food was a few slices of anaemic-looking Spam and shrivelled gherkins on a paper plate.

S.S. had found this place on one of her jaunts with pre­tend-girlfriend Myra. Most of us kept looking at ourselves in the gloriously long and flattering mirrors. From our table we could see a spiral staircase going down. "I love these mirrors," S.S. purred. "What's down there?" I asked. "A dance floor," S.S. said, retouching her nose with her powder puff…

What did I wear to Louise's the first time? Old men's pyjama jacket with a silver grey tie over black ski pants and black plastic sandals and white fingerless gloves. S.S. in one of her fifties Swanky Modes dresses, (Swanky Modes was a shop in Camden run by two sis­ters, designers of vaguely fetish women's wear). S.S. was wearing a b/w polka dot 'Betty Boo' dress; she would do impersonations of the cartoon character now and then. We'd catch ourselves in the mirror, suck in our cheeks and pout like mad. Sipping our vodkas, we could hear strains of music, Diana Ross and the Supremes ... S.S. decided that we should all trot downstairs... a small dance floor sur­rounded by low tables with red cloths and mirrors around the walls. We sat at a table under the stairs.

There was a smoked-glass DJ booth, where a young dyke played Bowie then Marlene Dietrich ... around the room sat a couple of butch dykes with feathered haircuts and three-piece men's suits. S.S. pulled me onto the dance floor to Bryan Ferry's 'Let's Stick Together'. I followed her in a demented jive, swinging each other around and around, yelping and cooing. We'd suddenly stop mid-jive and turn and look at ourselves in the mirrors, as though fixing and freezing our features forever at sixteen. With the help of make-up and the dark lights of the club we looked perfect and glamor­ous… Louise's closed at 3 a.m., which meant getting the night bus home, a cab was too expensive.

Marshall also mentions that the Roxy in Neal Street, Covent Garden - the first punk club as such - has previously been 'Chagarama's, the trannie bar', and recalls that as punk exploded and Louise's became too popular, some of the scene decamped elsewhere:

We discovered another club. Sombrero's was on Ken­sington High Street and a very GAY Disco, owned by a pair of Spanish queens, it had a raised dance floor of multicoloured Perspex that resembled a boxing ring and had waiter service. A lot of Oriental and Middle Eastern queens went there, it was very faggy indeed, gold chains and sprayed hair, little leather clutch bags, rich older queens and their younger pickings. It was home in the early 1970s to the glam rock scene, Mr and Mrs Bowie.

One time Johnny Rotten was hero of the week down at Sombtero's, he intervened in a knife attack against one of the door staff, stopped the queen getting it in the gut, by kicking the assailant in the nuts! Rudy, a rotund and chirpy Spaniard was the DJ, he played 70s disco. My favourite story that he told, was one night Marianne Faithfull came down and went to his DJ booth on the look-out for free drinks; of course Rudy obliged. She repaid him by singing a drunken version of 'Little Bird'.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

I used to frequent the Sombrero club in the early 1970's. The clubs name was actually 'Yours or Mine'. It was truly was the best gay club in London at that time. The underlit dance floor was very unusual and it added to the fun. The description of the club by the author does not fit my memory - but he is talking about 1976 - aftr my time. I think the manager Amedeo was still there and also Jaunito the waiter both were Italian. I have just started a Tribute to the Sombrero group on Facebook. If anyone has any memories please post them on the site.

Anonymous said...

i well remember sombrero in early 70s camp girls done up like 40s hollywood divas one of whom was a shoplifter someone who had partial sex change and worked as a male escort a well known actor of a tv serial used club it was 50p to get in 35p for a glass of plonk camp latin waiters with purses under arm and they had supper licence you got ham potato salad it was fab innocent fun all clubs sml then paul london

Anonymous said...

I think one of the divas was maureen cleaver had a fab time also whichity corner north end road and the nashville tues and sundays west ken and a club next to barrons court libary in the fox tuesdays

Anonymous said...

I too have veery fond memories of the club .I worked there handing out the very "appetising"supper (for licensing reasons ) I loved Rudis DJ booth decorated with flowers etc on arch,over the DJ booth .The waitors were fabulous .I was a female working with the boys and they couldn't have been sweeter too me ,Lino paticularly,I still have my fairwell gift ,my lizard broochend

mako said...

I recall being thrown out of Sombrero with two very early Trannies one worked at Biba where we all used to hang out in the dark and Queen playing pool next door at the White Hart. Does anyone remember that Mrs Bowie also used to frequent Masquerade in Earls Court Rd - I think it became the Pink Pig after a while? Also anyone recall a queen called Bobby who acidentally set light to his room in a wing of the Colehern Pub?

Anonymous said...

Yours of mine, The Sombrero.Fab place! My boyish looking g/f got slung out one night for being a palone (the club was iffy about women sometimes). I used to hang around with a 40's dressed girl, Linda from Clapham who used to hoist from shops. Seem to remember some early tv/t.s girls Biba? Berlin? Philip Salom frequented the place. Used to go to the Masquerade too. It was an old launderette from memory and still looked like one. Also Catacombs!

Jerome k Jerome said...

I used to go to Yours and Mine most weekends in early 70's.One Christmas I bought the American "hat check boy" a superb box of Irish Linen Handkerchiefs from then on we were front of the queue every time!The dance floor was very small.Kensington High Street would be deserted apart from the queue outside Y and M.

Rome said...

Anonymous said of the Sombrero:
"I was a female working with the boys and they couldn't have been sweeter too me ,Lino paticularly,I still have my fairwell gift ,my lizard brooch"
I wonder where Lino is now. I know he returned to Madrid and I lost touch. Any knowledge anyone.
In those days (very early 70s) one of the stalwarts of the club with champagne for all was Kit Lambert, who is now not so far away in the Brompton Cemetery.

Anonymous said...

Used to go to Sombrero a lot from 1970+ the dance floor was circular with seating booths around it and alovely sweeping staircase down so you could make and 'entrance' NOBODY ate the ham salad, silly if you did it was to do with the drinking laws...had to be food too so the Spanish/Italian queen would show you the limp lettuce and sweaty ham on a cardboard plate and the you ordered to booze...it was a bit too fluffy for my taste but at least you could get a drink

Anonymous said...

I used to go with my gay friend in the early 70s, the dance floor was like in Saturday Night Fever years before the film. To drink after 11pm you had to eat a salad for some reason. It as fab there, so many in vogue people used to go there to be purposely ignored by everyone there. Music was innovative. I miss
those days.

Anonymous said...

40 years ago this month I arrived from America to study at Kings College London. It was the first gay bar I ever went to. Heard about in the summer of '73 from a blurb in Time Magazine saying Jagger went there. Walked around the block three times before getting the nerve to go in. Got picked up in five minutes and the rest, as they say, is history. Even though Mick wasn't there that night, Yours and Mine will always hold a fond place in my heart.

Anonymous said...

Ohhh yea, the Sombrero, or 'Snake-pit' as it was sometimes affectionately known to the less innocent and even the 'Chinese Take Away' on account of the number of oriental clientele, some of whom I'm afraid I availed myself. It was a great place. It was open most days of the week but on Saturday nights it was really too packed for me. I found it quite addictive and it formed a backdrop to a large chunk of my life. I was there three or four nights of the week. I remember Juanita, always prompt with a glass of wine - appalling stuff but it worked. I loved the frisson of scandal, the sociability and the great dance floor and music. In a funny way, the care free 'swinging' sex life of the early seventies ended there for me. I remember to this day hearing the news of a 'gay disease' cutting a swath through homosexual San Fransisco, whilst sitting in one of the bank bench cubicles. The news spread like a hurricane through every part of the club scene. Later it was known as Aids, and later still HIV. Suddenly there was fear in the air. Two of my friends at that table on that night went on to die of aids and I've lost many others besides. Life expectancy was only months then, largely because it was generally diagnosed kinda late. For it was a defining moment - it was like someone had turned the lights on at the end of the party, suddenly life wasn't so glamorous and fun. But as they say, we boogied on. Later a younger mixed set of dancers discovered the dance floor and came Monday or Tuesdays when it wasn't so crowded, I can't remember which. That was when I saw the most beautiful girl - 19ish, bright red Jaeger shouldered business suit, matching short skirt, red high heels and Blondie blonde hair who danced and twirled like red smoke - what a sight! Later I moved away and left the scene. I've still got an old CD of disco music given to me by the DJ from his mix. It was a wonderful time.

Karen said...

My first Gay club experience. Went with my two best friends Chris and Terry. Terry was a professional dancer ( Italia Conte School )I had never heard such wonderful music before , so different from all the normal straight 'discos'. Terry and i danced the night away ( i am straight female) We met a wonderful couple there , her name was Caroline and i bloody cant recall his , they often would wear hawain shirts, nipped with a belt and pencil skirt and stilletoes of course ! We used to bump in to them everywhere after that. Chagarammas , Global Village,The Blitz even Hard Rock for dinner before going out ! I also new Siouxy sioux when she was just Sue ! We went to a disco in Tolworth couple of times and she often rang me at home for a lift. ( my Mum would shout up the stairs 'its pretty Sue on the phone' We were really only casual mates within a group of friends and i tell you i couldnt believe my eyes when i saw her on the telly. Anyway Sombrero , happy memories , loved it ! :-)

claire lawrie said...

Hi All i am making a film about london and the gay clubs between mid 70s and mid 80s, yours and mine or el sombrero and the pink panther are discussed a lot, do any of you have any tickets -flyers or photos that you could share with me to use as archive for my project? Thanks Claire

Laraine said...

The dj was called John the most gay man ever !!! But a brilliant dancer . Boy George and Marilyn used to go and after we all used to go to a wine bar opposite regines and if you wanted a drink they served it in a tea pot !!!! I am female but they were all brilliant although I now realise that Juanita fancied my boyfriend who was a great friend of his. It was the best club I have ever been to and at that time I went to them all, blitz legends, embassy pussy cat , Madame jojos but nothing had the sombreros atmosphere. Wish it was still here so my girls could go and be safe !,

david read said...

goodness me came across these comments and thought that perhaps el sombrero had been a wild dream for me!! I went there in the late 70's as a young 17 old out on the gay scene in London and had a wonderful time. the dance floor was amazing and so was the atmosphere. i actually met my first boyfriend there who was Malay and we were together many years. other places around at the time were harpoon louies in Earls Court, the Phoniex in Oxford Street and the Embassy club...such great memories. of course Heaven also started around then and i remember being astounded by the size of it and was very much in a monrity as a pretty little thing surrounded by mainly clones ( I did very well though ha ha!) Anyone else remember this period..and before I forget the tricky dicky disco in Euston...used to go into the loo put on the headbands and spray glitter..camp was the word!! the music was also fabulous but much prefer to what's on offer today..I know there were still drugs and too much drinking but it seemed in a way a more open and less violent time than now. I never encountered any anti-gay atmosphere either inside or outside these clubs and London seemed a much better place to be gay then now. You only have the wild excesses of the rave type clubs with bodybuilders or the screaming queens at GAY now and no one really dances as they used to it's all about posing, mobiles etc..oh for the good old days!!

Anonymous said...

I remember a sex change called Biba and her friend Kelly, they were both very good-looking and made a packet on the game, I was fascinated by them as 16 year old and wanted to be like them, 18 months later I was!

Anonymous said...

Biba was a dominatrix/working'girl' possibly worked with another Berlin?? They both gave a certain extremely high profile chappie a fab time on his stag night! Cough cough.

Unknown said...

Hi I just found this posting,I used to work there too,just spoke to Mr Harry Lambs Cher a few months ago he lives in Switzerland a day is doing well,Amado poured Gasoline over his Boyfriend and set him on fire so I've heard,Belinda lives in Munich and I live in miami and own a German restaurant www.schnitzelhausmiami.com and my name is Alex aka Axel please contact me, I would like to chat with you a little,was wondering whatever happen to my best friend Monica Shell lost contact to her also Ashley Lloyd Johnson
Would love to hear from you Greetings from Miami
Alex

Alex Richter said...

I used to work there, so I was very happy to find this blog,was always wondering what happen to all my friends,spoke to Mr Harry Laubscher a few month ago,he's well and lives in Switzerland,last thing I've heard that Amado poured Gasoline over his friend and set him on fire,does anybody ever run into Monica Shell or Ashley Lloyd Johnson? I was actually working at the restaurant but helps at the club from the very beginning, Harry didn't want to opened it because of his reputation but then we kinda talk to him into it and he sure made some money with it
Belinda lives in Munich, remember Fernandez Trevino (ex "By Appointment "on Queens way. .haha Juanito (Banana) DJ Rudy,
Anna the French girl
I live in Miami since 88 and own a German restaurant
Www.schnitzelhausmiami.com and if anyone wants to chat and reminisce pleas hit me up
Alex Richter on Feb aka Axel from Munich

Alex Richter said...

I remember Lino also,and Juanito (Banana) Fernando,Belinda Tony DJ,Anna,
I worked there too
Axel

Wendy said...

Hi, check out Facebook. There are pix of Lino and Jaunito on 'Tribute to Yours or Mine aka The Sombrero'.

Pilar Ruiz said...

Hello everyone! Im a Spanish girl, my dad used to work in "el sombrero" around 70,s he lived in I lived in London for long time, his name is " Juan Carlos" i lived in Colligham place! Now is he's dead and I go to london for my first time, if someone who's knew him can tell me something about him I really appreciate it, thanks very much

maltese said...

I am not gay but the Sombrero was my favourite haunt in the 70s. I used to bounce in the maltese Soho stripjoints, and being stunningly handsome, I once got picked up by a gay cabdriver called Malcolm who took me there and from that day on I got hooked on the atmosphere. One memory that will follow me to the grave is once meeting there Charles Gray the actor who played Blofeld in the Connery Bond movies who took me over in a limo to somewhere in Park Lane and insisted on reading excerpts from Shakespeare while I got pretty sloshed on his booze. Great days that alas have passed us by never to be seen again.