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Interview with Peter Stringfellow

Tyke: How did someone born in Sheffield like you, end up running the most famous table dance club in London?

Peter: Well I was born the son of a Sheffield steel worker and I had a much chequered career until my early 20s when I started renting Church Halls to put on bands. This developed and eventually I opened my first club the Black Cat in Sheffield in 1962.

Tyke: Was this just disco stuff?

Peter: In the early days it was more of a live music venue, people like the Beatles, Jim Hendrix , The Who, Stevie Wonder, and The Small Faces all played there, although I was new to the business I went for all the top and up and coming names. It was a very exciting time. I then opened up the Blue Moon, King Mojo, Down Broadway, and the Penthouse clubs all in Sheffield. I sold all of these and moved to Leeds to open Cinderella Rockafella´s in 1970 by this time it was more 50/50 live and recorded music, this was also vastly successful and I sold this to Mecca in 1975. I used the money from this to open the Millionaire club in Manchester which was pure disco where Peter Tyler, a man called Brett , and myself did the DJ´ing and we became the top name DJ´s in the country. The next big turning point was opening Stringfellow´s in Central London in 1980.

Tyke: Why move to London?

Peter. I had run a number of clubs in the provinces and felt that there was a big opportunity for the right type of place in the capital. Actually we had so many problems with the council over planning that I very nearly bought a club in San Francisco and moved to the US full time instead which might have made everything a lot different.

Tyke: Why did you make the move from disco type places to table dancing?

Peter: In the 1980s Stringfellow´s was an enormous success and I wanted to expand. We bought the old Talk of the Town in London and turned it into the Hippodrome then opened clubs in New York in 1985 then Miami, and finally Beverly Hills. The Beverly Hills place opened just in time for a major recession and the other 2 clubs which had been great successes also started losing money big time. I suppose you could say we overreached ourselves. The move into striptease started in New York really as a move of desperation but the timing for this was good as there was a gap in the market for a high class club. I had seen Michael J Peter´s club Pure Platinum in Florida which I still think is one of the best places ever and initially in 1991 I got Michael to bring his operation to New York as " Stringfellow´s presents Pure Platinium ".

The business relationship with Michael did not work, though we get on well socially still, but the move to table dancing did. In the end the whole episode nearly bankrupted me and it was the success of the table dancing club in New York which saved the day and I managed to get out of the US and sell the Hippodrome.

This was now the early 90s and in the UK the old disco type clubs were under threat both from pubs with late licenses and the huge weekend "rave "type venues. I am a keen spotter of trends and I noticed that whereas in the past young girls used to aspire to the sophistication of a place like Stringfellow´s and lie about their age to try to get in they were now staying in sort of student mode until much older. As with all nightlife where the girls go the men follow and the classic type of club with dance floors, cocktail bar, and restaurant was in decline. As one door closes another opens and I saw central London as wide open to a high class table dancing venue so we converted our flagship { and by then only !} club. I already had the experience of New York and was determined to make it the best club in the UK.

Tyke: What year was that and how did it go?

Peter: It was 1996 when we finally opened but the license application process had taken 3 years. Westminster council were not the major problem at this time, it was the Police and the Magistrate´s court system that were very difficult. At first we only had girls on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights which in some ways was ideal as we got the week day corporate trade and still did the disco stuff at weekends. The public image of the club gradually changed and the perception became the "Cabaret of Angel´s” rather than the old disco and to be honest by then I much preferred the table dancing nights to the old stuff anyway. Table dancing steadily took over more nights and we eventually converted even Saturday nights last year. Overall it´s been a phenomenal success, I´d say even my rivals would agree that Stringfellow´s has remained the top place in London and I still don´t feel that we any direct competition at the top end of the market. In the early days we were really the only table dance venue in central London but now there are many others but we remain special.

Tyke: What are the main differences between running a table dance club and a normal disco type place?

Peter: You basically have less customers but take more money. The audience is 95% men who spend more in clubs anyway. The customers are a more sophisticated and therefore easier to manage type but to compensate for that you do you get a lot more attention from the authorities. The club also is busier during the week whereas disco places tend to rely a lot on Friday and Saturday nights. Our most profitable nights are Monday to Thursday where we get more of a corporate clientele. On Friday and especially Saturday the club has a lot of people in but the spend per head is much less.

Tyke: As you say there is a lot of competition in London these days, how do you regard them?

Peter: I am always happy to see new clubs which are properly run and abide by the rules but this industry attracts a lot of very unprofessional operators. This is a wonderful business if it´s run right but bad operators cause problems for the good ones. I was astonished that Spearmint Rhino should open such a superb, luxurious club in Tottenham Court Rd but then precede run it in such a down market way in it´s early days. Not surprisingly they hit immediate and serious problems with the authorities which in turn created a wave of bad publicity for the industry in general and a lot of undeserved problems for the good operators. We have strict rules in the UK and in any case my club is all about watching truly beautiful women taking their clothes off and nothing more. This business will be short lived if it just becomes a front for sex acts with the customers and in any event I would have nothing to do with that. I think it´s vital that you retain a high standard of girls and a high quality of club and that´s incompatible with an "anything goes here "policy.

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