Whatever happened to Bunga Bunga? Don’t forget your local sticky-floored club

You remember, the place you went to forget exam results, dance in a circle and rainbow-vomit in a sink: the bread and butter clubs of British nightlife are disappearing

Close your eyes and think about the funniest night out you’ve ever had. Not the best, not the most impressive or life-changing – the funniest. Chances are it took place in a high street club called Revenge or GLAM or something with the words “Bar & Grill” on the end. A sweatbox with laminated booklets of sambuca deals strewn along the bar and posters for pyjama parties glued to the walls with Tresemmé Freeze Hold and body fluids. They are the temples of “90s, pop and cheese”. The places you go to celebrate your A-level results, or on a Tuesday. They are the cornerstones of British culture, and they are dying.

Figures shared by the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) this month revealed that there are only 1,130 nightclubs left in England, Wales and Scotland. That’s a 20% drop since March 2020. The UK’s nighttime economy has long been in tatters, with small music venues shuttering at a rate of one a month even before the pandemic (98% of grassroots venues are rented, leaving them especially vulnerable). However, the more recent storm of financial pressures has led to renewed calls for government support. The NTIA attributes club closures to a “culmination of pandemic debt, growing energy bills, workforce challenges, supply chain issues, insurance premiums and landlord pressures” – big-picture problems that require big-picture solutions. In the meantime, the question for the average person is: where do we go to get on it now?

It’s fair to say that most nightclubs in the UK are not cool, vibrant spaces where good DJs play and culture gets pushed forward. The loss of inner-city clubs such as Manchester’s South and London’s Printworks to ravenous redevelopment is a misery of its own, but there is also the other side of the industry to consider. That is: the clubs you go to when your one and only goal is to get wasted, dance in a circle around your bags and maybe snog someone to the dulcet tones of Ava Max. Clubs such as Coast Bar & Nightclub in Kingsbridge, Revival in Rawtenstall, and Bunga Bunga in Battersea – named, of course, after Silvio Berlusconi’s infamous sex parties and offering a mix of karaoke, three dancefloors, and metre-long pizzas. All of them slain by the same economic forces, all of them shutting up shop with the same heartfelt sentiment: “So long and thanks for all the memories.”

‘The kind of “drunk” you get in these clubs is unlike the kind of “drunk” you get anywhere else on Earth.’
‘The kind of “drunk” you get in these clubs is unlike the kind of “drunk” you get anywhere else on Earth.’ Photograph: Everynight Images/Alamy

These places are the bread and butter of British nightlife. While high street mega-club chains such as Oceana and Liquid have had their day, replaced primarily by roaming party machines like Propaganda, smaller clubs have stayed reliable purveyors of good old-fashioned fun. Offering an experience somewhere between a pub lock-in on Christmas Eve and a foam party in Costa Brava, they’re as ramshackle as they are routine. No frills, no C-list celebrity appearances, no renting a big jacket and entering a room full of dry ice just to drink flavoured vodka shots out of a freezer: just a room the size of a small flat, a load of purple strip lights and a DJ who knows where the crossfade setting is on Spotify.

The kind of “drunk” you get in these clubs is unlike the kind of “drunk” you get anywhere else on Earth. Typically, confirmation of where you’re going will be met with a chorus of: “Oh God” and the compulsion to steel yourself as if you’ve just been drafted. A combination of exhilaration and panic propel you into the night as you crumple jelly-legged into a morass of shot sticks, fishbowls and “signature” cocktails made from Haribo and premixed tequila evil. Only in this specific environment will you order “three VKs and a pint glass please” and then projectile vomit rainbow sludge into a sink. Only in this specific environment does Party Rock Anthem by LMFAO feel like one of the most sublime compositions in music history.

Strangely, these clubs aren’t as impersonal as their cookie cutter approach might suggest. There can be a sense of community to them: places such as Tiny in Middlesbrough, which closed in July and boasted “fun, inclusivity and tolerance” alongside the promise of £1 Jägerbomb parties. Perhaps it’s their size and the fact that every time you go you’re likely to see the same 50 faces from the week before, but there is a comforting familiarity that at least gives the illusion of community. It’s hard not to feel a sense of intimacy when you’re crammed arse to arse in a box room – screaming, uninhibited, as vulnerable as an upside down newborn. It’s a great feeling, a slice of everyday euphoria that flies so close to the sun it can’t help but end with someone crying, fighting or falling over.

These clubs might not be written about in decades to come, but as far as cheap thrills go there is nothing better. And when the lights come on, we’re all spat out on to the same road. Indistinct shouting, taxis honking. With a hazardously rolled cigarette between our lips and no fear in our hearts, we drift into the night toward the glow of the nearest chip shop, oblivious to dawn.

• Share your memories of your favourite sticky-floored local club in the comments.


Emma Garland

The GuardianTramp

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