Top 5 Lost London Nightclubs of the 90s

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Former DJ Magazine Deputy Editor Tom Kihl investigates what happened to the clubs that once dominated London’s nightlife


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This week, Boris Johnson has been considering a decision that will affect the future of London’s most famous nightclub. If the Mayor grants planning permission for a huge development of flats opposite Ministry of Sound, club bosses know their days at the Elephant & Castle bus depot cum internationally renowned temple of DJ culture will be numbered. A single noise complaint from posh new residents would threaten their licence and spell the end of one of the last remaining superclubs from the 1990s dance music explosion.

Luckily they are putting up a great fight, so Ministry won’t find itself demolished just yet. But many of the places that clubbers flocked to every weekend in their thousands in the post-Criminal Justice Act heyday are being erased from today’s landscape.

A ‘perfect storm’ of London property economics, redevelopment zones and major transport improvements (rather than any lack of interest from music fans) has seen off an unprecedented number of key venues in the last few years.

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Can you identify these 5 former clubs as they look today? Read on…
Lost 5 clubs together

When I was at DJ Magazine, Paul Oakenfold once said to me that important former nightclubs should, at very least, have a blue plaque on the wall. He’s right. These might have often been dank, crumbling, smelly old places, but they are where countless people enjoyed some of the most intense and vital moments of their lives. They are where modern electronic music was crafted, where couples met then got married, where career paths changed and a whole generation learned about the highs and the lows of unbridled hedonism.

Because of the sleazy, druggy, mischievous late night vibe (exactly what makes such haunts so exciting), we tend to reduce their cultural significance. And while there’s nothing worse than the club bore going on about how the music and the parties were so much better ‘back in the day,’ we should give these classic institutions more reverence. Even if we can’t – and possibly shouldn’t – prevent their almost inevitably fleeting existence.

We’ve picked our Top 5 such venues, all of which were in stumble-home-from distance for Kentishtowners (that’s why there’s no Club UK for example, if you’re wondering).

The pictures are quite shocking, but their club history often deliciously more so. Over the next few pages, we show you what’s become of these former nightlife hotspots, and pay tribute to the glorious madness they once hosted…

Bagleys Today

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  • Liam O’Hare

    Nice article Tom, brought back some great memories.

    • paul

      I Did the lighting and laser systems at turnmills for many different promoters. I was there at the closing parties on the last two nights without leaving! The place has many special memories for many people. All the new ‘secret location’ parties `I work in these days are usually stuck in cold,dirty and faceless arches. Fabric is the Only venue to stick to its principles avoiding putting in any old rubbish that draws a crowd. We need a new visionary……

      • eric barni@gmail.fr

        I was there 1993 prodigi aswell

    • Kentishtowner

      Thanks Liam. The End just had to be #1 😉
      Special times in special places all round though.

    • Jason

      I used to go to Whoop it Up every Friday during 1998-2002; it was a fantastic place to go. The music was smooth and progressive, which moved into a feeling of just less than trance. I had some of the best days of my life there!

  • alexanderjbuck

    Great article Tom. It makes me feel quite sad how our communities are being transformed into bland faceless environments in some cases. I’ve had experiences at all of these nightclub venues and brought back many memories reading your article. We do have to move on though and surely there are opportunities for a new generation of people who want to create new nightclub venues, with fresh ideas. Reading this article has caused me new inspiration – watch out London.

    • Kentishtowner

      Keep us up to date with how your inspiration is getting on. Would love to break that story!

  • Proantipodean

    Nice article Tom, brought back some memories.

  • Martyn Comley

    Wow. That’s brought back some memories. Never crossed my mind that even the buildings would be gone. Happy days. Now, is that the same Tom Kihl I employed in the heady days of Covent Garden based vegetarian restaurants? We’re you a Crank?

    • Kentishtowner

      Hi Martyn! It most certainly is me. Those Cranks days were the era that I fully embraced the concept of the 3-night sleepless weekender and other wonderous, if slightly unprofessional, ways to fill the hours between shifts. Fantastic times. I’ll email you!

  • Fulvio Perniola

    I played at the cross several times .. 4 me one of best uk clubs where i played 🙂 great memories 🙂

  • Gary Thomson

    I have the Cross book. Fantastic to look through it every so often and remember what was…a very much loved and much missed club 🙁

    • Linzi

      What is the Cross Book? Would love to have a peek!

      • Kentishtowner

        It’s a hardback coffee table monster, full of lovely photos and quotes. Remaining stock was given away free at the apocalyptically hedonistic farewell party so they do crop up online occasionally. Keeping mine though 🙂

        • Linzi

          Sounds great, have been looking for a fb page for The Cross but can’t find anything at all, would be amazing to see pics over the years

      • matt

        Its a hardback book called the cross 1993-2003 by j. cutting. http://www.amazon.co.uk/CROSS-1993-2003-Jonathan-CUTTING/dp/B0010786KI

  • Hawko

    Great article and very sad reading. Had some amazing times in those clubs, never to repeated in TBA East London warehouses. It’s also a shame to lose 93 Feet East recently too.

  • Sebastian

    Great article. I’ve worked in Turnmills from 1996 right to the very last night in 2008. Breaks my heart to see what’s happened.

  • Louise

    Bought back some memories

  • pete wardman

    Thanks Tom – sad to read but glad you’ve documented. hope you’re well? Pete x

    • Kentishtowner

      I’m good thanks Pete. Hope you are too. Sad to see the old clubs flattened, but everyone clearly took so much from their experiences there that I hope the post is also a real celebration. Turnmills building being totally destroyed is the ultimate, inexcusable vandalism though. Maybe we can campaign to put a blue plaque up on the inevitable bland glass front of its replacement… I wonder what on earth it would say?!

  • Criths

    Slightly off topic but I fear for the Camden Brewery bars license once the new ‘posh’ flats open at Talacre…

  • nostalgic clubber

    thanks for the article, spent many crazy nights/days in all of these places, Velvet Underground aside. My walk to work takes me past what used to to be the entrance to Turnmills every morning – it never fails to bring a smile to my face when I think of the good times I had there. RIP Turnmills, I’m glad I was there to experience it.

  • Chloe Fontaine

    Nice read 🙂 Scary thought that Ive actually worked at all of them!!! Memories from each venue for sure

  • Steve B

    Great article, had some great and messy nights at most of them. Love it, smiling from ear to ear thinking about some of them.

  • Ang

    Great memories for me too…but pickling clubs in aspic is a sign of ld age, new generations inven their own ‘vibes’ in new venues.Some of those big clubs that are eulogised here were seen at the time by older clubbersd as too corporate and bland. And its not true that they are being lost despite fans interest…fans lost interest, or they would all still be milking it!

  • graham tonge

    great memory lane artical and a shame

  • Sarah

    The Cross, bouncers nicking you gear *unts. Bagley’s moody security also trying to half in your gak. Velvet Rooms on Monday’s was one of the only places to continue getting even more spangled… Wicked. Turnmills – chutney – still so much messy fun. The best til last- no one did it like The End. Shelves in the loos. One for you beer and one for the other…That place was magic.

  • Dave

    surprised Heaven isn’t in there…as well as Soundshaft…Good article though!

    • Eamonn Fevah

      The sound shaft and heaven where legendary , as was the London Astoria

  • Joel

    Fascinating to read about the origins and teams behind such monumental moments in London’s clubbing history. Unfortunately, I can’t say I experienced all of them. However, I do hold dear the fact I took advantage of the last ever NYE at The End..needless to say Laurent Garnier did not disappoint:)

    Great article Tom. New venues although arguably more suitable in some considerations like “Matter” just don’t possess the necessary special ingredient like the late great Turnmills anymore. However, a thumping set and fab laser show by the master PVD at the re-invented Fridge aka Electric Brixton a while ago demonstrated, with the right amount of desire, opportunity and application it can still be done. As you pointed out Fabric is the benchmark for a well organised, respected, profitable club in the modern era but you only have to look at the demise of Pacha to see what a dangerous game financially it is nowadays.

    I completely agree would be a fitting tribute to see them all immortalised appropriately in some way. After all they shaped today’s society in one way or another. I will be following developments closely.

    Joel

    • lokitio

      the cross in king cross the best partyever is vertigo italian style

    • dominic

      thanks Joel… glad you like Electric and the Van Dyk show smashed it. I think great venues have heritage. Electric benefits from the amazing history of the Fridge. best dominic madden

  • I miss 1996

    Sundays @ The End with The A corner crew slapping the walls to Malcom Duffy. Nuff Said

  • Phil Huckle

    Great article. I worked at AKA for many years. So sad to see it all boarded up. Great memories though.

    • Kentishtowner

      Glad you like it Phil. And good to see you the other night (I was in the ridiculous blue jacket). The End & AKA were a true second home. Even more so for you, of course!

  • Julian Blake

    Excellent piece Tom. Sad to see the blandification of London continues. I lost my marbles in all of these places in the 90s. If anyone sees them please can you let me know?

    • Kentishtowner

      Thanks Julian. Seems quite a few people would like to get their hands on The Cross book – don’t suppose you’ve got a lockup full of a last, forgotten batch? Or did that go the way of the marbles…?!

      • Julian Blake

        I have one precious copy, sadly. Ask Billy if there are more?

        • Kentishtowner

          Same here. Pretty sure the very last ones got dished out at the end of that rather special final bash, Xmas ’07. Must be sat looking pretty on a fair few coffee tables to this day…

  • Mark Wilford

    The cross & turnmills, nothing did or has come close

  • teamjanine

    I used to be the membership ‘girl’ at Freedom. Hilarious times. I would work a ten hour shift at a newspaper then drive to Bagleys to spend 5/6 hours talking to ravers, taking photos of people, checking they weren’t eating their tongues and giving out free condoms (Durex sponsors had given us hundreds of boxes of the things). I found some of the pictures a couple of weeks ago including some rather x-rated ones. My favourite break-time activity was to go up to the rafters and watch everybody raving. Nights spent on the VIP/guestlist gate were also quite entertaining as was the office at 5am in the morning when I went to pick up my wage before driving home to my university campus in Watford. Lots of good memories but it was living on borrowed time even back then in the early 00s.

    • Robert White

      Hey Janine, I remember you well! I used to do the guest list at Freedom! Hope you’re healthy and happy
      Darling,

      Robbie X

  • Pezz

    Fantastic article – how about expanding the idea to the rest of the country. The demise of seminal clubs like Shelley’s In Stoke, Quadrant Park in Liverpool and Coventry’s Eclipse should also be documented…

  • Jason Jones (@trinijayjay)

    Great memories of perhaps the greatest clubbing/club music period history has known! Magic was created on those dancefloors and longstanding relationships and friends. So blessed to have lived through that experience and a special mention to my ex Alan and DJ Chris McKoy.

  • Andrew Field

    Great article. The demise of so many iconic spaces, ‘proper’ clubs, remains a tragedy for a city that still considers itself a capital of European partying. Kids going out today won’t realise it’s a tragedy, but it is.

    Today, bar the indefatigable fabric, it’s ‘secret warehouse parties’ all the way – invariably cold, austere and over crowded, with awful sound and non existent facilities (one toilet between 500, anyone?) It’s really not surprising nobody has any sense of ownership or love for these places, because both promoters and punters are using them on such an ad hoc basis.

    Worse than that, advanced ticketing is now the only option promoters are now willing to risk, destroying that brilliant spontaneous thing of being in the pub and deciding who you wanted to see and where (knowing you had a good choice of reliable venues that you knew inside out.) These days? Sold out, obviously, although there might be a ticket on the door for £30.

    After searching for ages I’ve just stumbled across an archaic website that still has photos and even videos of all three Kings Cross clubs – Canvas, The Cross and The Key.

    http://www.moviemakersguide.com/data/c/cross0630/cross0630a.htm

    Oh, the memories.

  • Phil

    I think I’ll go and cry in the corner

  • house music addict

    Nice article that has brought back some wonderful memories.

  • MR Music 2013

    Thanks to this article I have found a local website for local people. The article was well written and for a change the comments are a nice read as well. 9/10 – you lose 1 point for making me feel old!

  • Barnie

    Fantastic and long-needed article, thanks for bringing back the memories. Now can you expand on one for the rest of London please, would love to see Club UK brought back to life if only in words!

    • matt

      club uk was awesome, so was the complex, leisure lounge, the cross, turnmills, home in leciester square, camden palace, ku club in leicester square.. All gone… I was there though so the memories stay !

  • dids

    Sorry the plaque should be pale blue with a Dove on it

  • DJ_VJ

    Ah…. I remember them all so well!! Well, sort of in fairness as all venues involved being pretty blitzed. I do remember my first time in Trade and deemed it like the descent into Soddom and Gomorrah ….. and there were many happy times there after!! Heads of whistling into the sunset….

  • Ben S

    Great article. I’m surprised The Gardening Club wasn’t there. Isn’t that, now, the Apple shop? Me and my brother went there, 2 days before we flew out to Zante in 1994. Crazy night. LuvDup were djing (one of them fell over on the stage), Princess Julia was stood by the decks dancing. A real eye opener, that night.

    I remember me and my brother went up to Soundshaft one night (I was about 22), with, erm, a couple of associates.. The plan was to go up there, see someone and come back. Anyway, as the corridor joined Soundshaft to Heaven (and Heaven being pretty legendry), I decided to go to the loo.

    I walked into the toilet and my brother was stood at the urinal. I stood at one and there was one in between us, “unmanned”. I was just chatting away, when I heard this rhythmic, squeaking sound, along with heavy, thundering footsteps. It became louder and louder.

    The smell of leather was unmistakeable! As I looked up from the urinal, there was this dude, about 6foot 6, clad in all leather, not too dissimilar to that of the guys in the Blue Oyster bar in the Police Academy films, peaked cap, studded peak, leather trousers, jacket…. The works. Oh, the most impressive “handlebar” tash I have ever seen on a Man. He looked down at me, then to my brother, we both leant forward in unison, looked at each other, as if to say “Have you seen this, dude?” and then back up at him.

    He then says, whilst his tash does this little dance/shuffle thing, in the deepest booming, bass-like voice “Awighht, Lads, you havin yerselves a good night, then?” Me and my brother just cracked up. He was a sound guy actually. He was about 50 years old and massive. We then went our seperate ways. It was the image I had in my head before we got there of what Heaven might be like and then this guy walked in.

    It is quite sad seeing a place that holds so many memories for whatever reasons e.g. musical boundaries being broken, relationships being formed, inspiration etc, is then taken and truned into something else. But it’s about the memories though, for me. The music, the mixing, the vibe. Hearing those tunes led to me pestering the record shops for a record I didn;t kow the name of, who it was by but it went something like this… Mmmm, mmm,mm uh-uh dah-dah! I’m rambling anyway.

    Great article, thanks for posting

  • Mike Mackeeg

    I love this article! I frequented all of these bar Velvet and had many a great night in all. I DJed at the Cross’ 13th birthday and was given a copy of the book on my way out. I also have a book given out on The End’s 10th birthday which is a coffee table book but still good. They also gave these out at the closing party in a goodie bag with a poster and a sleeping mask!

  • Pete Stean (@thelondoneer)

    I remember Bagley’s – that was a long time ago…

    I think the concern is that given the way that redevelopment is happening across town, one day soon there won’t be any suitable spaces where clubs can settle.

  • Andrew

    Wow, it was a long time ago. Doesn’t seem that long now. All the London clubs now are appearing and disappearing like mushrooms.

  • Davey Ravey Wavey

    OMG London clubbing in the 90s, was there ever a time in history that was better? I don’t think so. So many wonderful memories, so many great pills. Have to confess my favorites were Frantic at the Academy, and The Fridge.

    Reliving my 20s again still with a younger GF (cliche’ alert) and the new wave of EDM. Electric Daisy Carnival in Vegas this year was truly magical and a top ‘clubbing’ moment, but some periods of your life can never truly be repeated. Glad to have been part of that London dance scene. I will never forget it. I will never stop thinking it was incredible. THANKS

  • John

    This made me rather emotional. Went to all of them, I think Turnmills shades it for me for atmosphere, but I probably had my best nights out at the End. No Bar Rumba though? Gilles Petterson on Monday, Kenny Hawkes and Luke Solomon on Wednesday, Bryan Gee on Thursday, Garage City on Saturday. Plus I think Friction was there for a bit to. Big small club!

  • crashchris

    Turnmills was the first and best, never surpassed and so fondly remembered, well as much as my pitted brain will allow. I was there solidly for several years and partook in all you have mentioned above (and more). The very social cafe upstairs, the dense dry-ice on the main floor with the mesmerising lasers, hottest guys, new bizarre sounds, the knowledge that the rest of England was sleeping and had no idea that such hedonism was taking place on a Sunday morning and night (you missed out Warriors) all fuelled after an initial polite and orderly wait in line to see ‘Nick’ (is he out yet?) or one of his ‘friends’ in the first arch of muscle-alley. All this created the friendliest and most fun crowd on the clubbing scene. Real friendships were made, some that lasted a few hours and some, decades.

    There were a couple of years I was there 8 nights out of the Christmas/ New Year season. I couldn’t do it now, but I so glad I did it all then.

    • Paul

      Nick, the big bald black guy who always had a smile on his face, pretty much the master of ceremonies at Turnmills. Surely he must be out by now. have always wondered where he is now and what he’s up to. lol

  • Lee

    Memories that pop into my head:

    The tranny on stilts
    The arcade room downstairs
    Trying to find your mates
    Getting lost
    Cans of beer
    The Whirlitzer seating in The Cross Garden
    Pre-club beers in the Backpacker

    I was never really that keen on Turmills as I felt the space was a little awkward

    Other clubs that deserve a mention:

    Salmon and Compass in Angel. Ok, it’s technically a pub and I’m not sure if we were going there in 90s. Saw Joey Negro play there a few times.

    Home. The small room was great. Then Dane Bowers went and ruined it all

    Electroworks (I think this was the name?). It was around the corner from Angel station. A former Goth club with 2/3 rooms over 2 floors.

    Bar Rumba.

    Velvet Rooms

    Ministry of Sound. A great club pre-2001.

    Plastic People

    Bagleys started to go downhill for me after the drugs raid. I remember having to take my shoes off for them to be searched. It always felt like it was on borrowed time after that.

    We went to the opening night of Fabric. I remember one of their selling points was “drinks at pub prices”. It was £2 for a beer which was great value at the time. It didn’t last long though.

    I think the last great night I had in a bigger club was Shelter at Egg in 2005.

    The Soul City nights in Covent Garden were also really good.

    I wouldn’t even know where to go nowadays for a night out.

    • Antonio M.

      Electrowerkz was the name!!!
      Have some great memories from that place when the people from Hooj used to celebrate their parties there. Remember one night trying to adjust the needles for them not to jump on the vinyls. It was almost impossible due to vibration from the soundsystem… Later feeling sick in the stomach because of the same reason. Or many others, would not stop writing and remembering about them.
      For me it was just a little bit over a year that I lived in London. It was around 2000 and I remember those times as probably the best of my life.
      Will come back around and write more.
      So goooood memories!!!!

  • Paul

    Wonderful write up of some of the clubs that paved the way for the scene today. It’s a shame that the ones boarded up or abandoned aren’t brought back to life. Anyone have a time machine so I can attend the all night Cox party or a Laurent Garnier night.

    http://www.lalovesedm.com

  • Dan Schofield

    Great article. I lived in London back in the late 90’s early 00’s and went to all of these clubs. The End, The Cross, Turnmills and Bagleys were all favourites.

    I half remember a night at Bagleys sitting in an ice cream fridge next to the dancefloor. A perfectly acceptable thing to do at the time.

    It’s really sad that the times have a’changed and in a reflection of this, all these fantastic places are being bulldozed. Those that were there will never forget and those that weren’t would wish they were if they knew.

  • Joe Blogs

    A most excellent post Tom..
    Enjoyed the trip into nostalgia very much.. I (just about) have wonderful memories of all 5 of those venues. Standouts would have to be Logical Progression and Gallery at Turnmills, Buzzin’ Fly, Ram and Underwater @ The End and Type and the mighty Peace Division @ The Cross… happy, happy times.
    I would also like to add The Blue Note to this list of sadly missed. Stealth on a Thursday night, marvellous… http://wharferj.wordpress.com/2011/09/29/stealth-the-blue-note/
    Many thanks
    Joe Blogs

  • Rob Maynard

    Great article Tom and indeed sad loss for London’s once outstanding clubland.
    We set the standard for many years I wonder….. What can we create next >??
    -d(-L-)b-

  • Thedancingfinn

    Great article. Reminded me of my mis-spent but highly pleasurable youth on the dance floors of a London.

    I discovered house music whilst on holiday in Ibiza in 1990 and after that London was the only place on my “to move to” list. So move I did, all the way from Helsinki.

    Bagleys was always my favourite. Dirty, worn, in your face, street cred with banging, hard but funky beats.

    At the Astoria I met a bloke who ended up being my significant other for a decade. At Camden a Palace, I met my best friend, who is now the godmother of my 7 year old son.

    I am now all grown up at 42 with a respectable job and look like I am, a middle aged mum. But I will never forget the fabulous nights and camaraderie that I shared with friends and total strangers whilst waving my hands in the air like I just didn’t care x

  • Svetlana Ceca

    I met my husband at The Cross in 2004, now happily married with kids. Would have kept going there for anniversary, shame it’s closed but glad we’ve done it all at the best times…

  • Luke

    I’m an Aussie that worked the doors at imperial garden, car wash gigs, sunny side up, cafe de Paris (wanky but fun)

  • Pete Pete

    how about PLEASED on a wednesday at the Velvet underground !!! migrated from the Milk Bar around the corner, Danny Rampling ruled wednesday night, and Jon Pleased took over the tradition….Shoom, Pure, Glam, Pleased… the weekends fun used to begin on a wednesday,,,,OMG !! so much fun should be illegal…. it probably was ha !
    Pete..

    • eric barni@gmail.fr

      Remind trade on sat nite dj smokin joe the paradise at angel station the lazerodrome in peckam carl cox at m.o.sound crazy nite misss you

  • Eamonn Fevah

    I was a fresh of the boat straight laced Kiwi lad who was let loose in London in the mid nineties , I was lucky to become a promoter of Fevah and Fahrenhite ,I was blessed with bring able to run events in most of the iconic venues , experience the glamour and the seedy side of all , to me the cream was either the sound shaft or the London Astoria , but have so many sensational memories and adventures from most .
    A great article , and so sad that many of these truly iconic places may be but a memory in the minds of millions .

  • Deano

    I’m amazed u didn’t mention that John Newman was the father of both Danny and Paul Newman.
    I’ve loved reading ur write up about the old clubs and the memories came flooding back with the pics!!

  • aldhous

    Great article, and I’ll second and third and fourth what has been said here. Memorable days and nights.

    I took a diversion myself up York Way a while back and took similar snaps of Bagleys and The Cross. Turning around and seeing floor fountains and Mail on Sunday readers sipping lattes and eating Danish pastries made my heart sink. Losing those places feels like losing a family member – never to return.

    What I would say is be glad we are the ages we are. Fact is we WERE around when these incredible bastions of modern culture were in their pomp… negotiating a route through the tunnel room at Turnmills, walking up that incredibly long slope towards the cab rank at 5am after The Cross and getting hopelessly lost in those pokey rooms at the bottom of Bagleys.

    Then of course there was The Fridge, Studio 33, and some fantastic railway arch clubs buried away around London (Imperial Rooms in Camberwell New Road a particular memory).

    We WERE there, we DID live it, and now we’re sentimental old bastards. Amen.

  • Nick

    Thanks for the article, brought back awesome memories! It’s sad though, as these were truly iconic clubs… I am not from UK, but had a chance to party in Turnmills and The Fridge at their best times… I felt ‘everyone is equal’ kind of things there. Best crowd ever!

  • Gwen burgess

    I was the promoter of Double Dipped at Bagleys on Friday nights around 91 – 93
    We also ran revesceen magazeen
    At that time the venue was owned by Terry (cant rememember his surname) and he’d made his money from jiffy condoms and then for some reason he got involved with starting up bagleys as a venue
    We had amazing nights, including joint parties with labrynth and raindance. We put a swimming pool onthe terrace one night, fairground rides another. but it went wrong after the terrible stabbing on a bank holiday sunday night.
    A great venue
    Much better than the cross! Didnt boy george have a residency there? And some ex-boxer DJ?