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The Hambone club: a long-lost Soho nightspot reimagined

Tristan Parker

London nightlife is great right now, of course, but if you could go back to any point in time and visit any nightclub in the city, where would you go?

That's the question we asked journalist, author and former Haçienda resident DJ Dave Haslam. He's already a bit of an expert on nightlife, having spent years researching the subject. In fact, he's just published a fascinating book tracing the history of nightlife venues around the UK.

Turns out that Dave would go back to 1920s Soho if he had the chance, to visit jazz-fuelled, whisky-drenched club the Hambone.

'In Ham Yard, Soho, there’s a hotel on the site of one of the most significant nightclub buildings in Britain. In the 1920s there was a club called the Hambone, just to the right as you entered Ham Yard, up on the first floor. The Hambone was one of the Soho clubs of the 1920s where flouting convention was the convention.

'Novelist and regular Ethel Mannin called the Hambone “chronically Bohemian”. And though 1920s flapper fashions didn’t percolate through the whole nation, if there was one place you’d find a knee frock, the bob and the Eton crop, it was the Hambone.

'There was no standing on ceremony there. Women at the bar casually ordered their own whiskies – at that time, there can’t have been many establishments in the country where you’d see such a thing. The venue was a microcosm of the inter-War years – the reckless twenties, the headlong rush into hedonism in the jazz age, amorous encounters soundtracked by saxophones. Novelist Radclyffe Hall was another regular. Among the women, dancers and actresses predominated, while the men included shady types, like gun-runner Jack Ball and artists including sculptor Jacob Epstein.

'The stock market crash of 1929 didn’t dampen demand for nights out, but nevertheless, the Hambone eventually fell out of favour. Competition from other clubs around Ham Yard was strong, including from the Blue Lantern, which opened more-or-less next door to the Hambone in 1929.

'In a newsletter to members, a eulogy to the Hambone and its clientele – and perhaps to all great clubs and their clientele – was published: “Oh! We are the great Progressives, we are the Passionate Few, we pay ninepence for fourpence lagers, and dream of the things we’ll do!”'

Dave Haslam's latest book, ‘Life After Dark: A History of British Nightclubs & Music Venues’, is out now. See some amazing photos from the book that show London's lost nightclubs in pictures.

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