Alex Proud, is a big fan of nightlife: “That won’t come as a surprise as I own a number of bars and clubs, all of which have Proud in the name” says Alex Proud. “For much of my life, I’ve worked in the dark. For years, I knew London better by night than I did by day.” but it isn’t all about business and money. Alex Proud genuinely loves Nightlife.
“I couldn’t have done this if I didn’t love it. Nightlife – in its broadest sense – is a huge part of what makes London London. If you want to know what a city is really like and what really drives it, you need to go out after dark.”
London is as compelling now as it was to the 20 something Alex Proud who left Sussex to move to the bright lights of the big City.
Alex Proud feels that nightlife drives the beating heart of the City. “From the back streets of Soho through the modern pulse of Shoreditch on a Saturday night, from 400 year old pubs to brand new pop up bars and supper clubs”.
However, identifying what makes a City buzz is tricky. What is the magic that makes for a vibrant nightlife? Is it the variety, the proximity, is it the demographic of the population? Soho in the 90s was a pretty perfect mix, thinks Alex Proud, and possibly Shoreditch a decade later, but where is that hotspot now?
So many areas of London have been sanitised and gentrified. Although Alex Proud wouldn’t advocate the sleaze that used to surround Soho – the prostitution, sex shops and drug dealing – he also acknowledges that without the underbelly, Soho has become so glitzy and shiny that it lacks all individuality and excitement.
Alex Proud says: “In Soho 20 years ago, you felt anything could happen. It was unpredictable and that gave it a certain energy. These days you know anything most definitely won’t happen. You’ll have an expensive meal with friends who work in the media and then you’ll get an Uber home. Soho has become distinctly middle aged.”
Alex Proud says: “Even Old Street now feels a bit fake and scrubbed up. Modern hipsters look pretty corporate to me these days. All the grotty dive bars and tiny corner shops and ancient one product shops have closed down to make way for another cocktail bar run by hipster mixologists or sushi joint serving bankers.”
Shoreditch and Soho drew a lot of their energy from that original contrast and clash and the vibrancy it fuelled. “I suspect, says Alex Proud, that trendy, fashionable nightlife is a bit like tourism. It makes areas vibrant and exciting and creative and then, eventually, it kills them.”
I suppose it’s worth noting, says Alex Proud, that there is an obvious link between a creative cultured City and one with a great nightlife. Young musicians, artists, filmmakers and entrepreneurs like to live somewhere with funky bars, restaurants and clubs. “You need a City’s nightlife to be vibrant to attract youth and entrepreneurship.”
And of course, that creates a virtuous circle. The more creative, experimental people move to a city, the more interesting, innovative new places open, and it in turn will mean more interesting people come.
Alex Proud feels passionately about this: “We need our government to see that London’s nightlife is a critical part of our city rather than just a cause of complaints and location of potential crime. We need it to be seen as a tourist attraction and a source of dynamism and energy.”
However, while hyper-gentrification is a very real cause for concern, Alex Proud believes there are always reasons to be hopeful. “The energy of London’s nightlife can still perform a remarkable kind of alchemy” says Alex Proud. Areas that are perceived to be dangerous and run-down can become global destinations in the space of 12 months. From Peckham to Dalston, the dirtiest and least desirable areas of London have been transformed.
Alex Proud says the two big things London can do to develop its nightlife are to improve and modernise the licensing system and to put some sensible checks and balances in place to slow down hyper-gentrification. If we can do that, we can preserve bars, pubs and clubs that have been a part of London’s heart and soul for as long as people have lived, loved and drunk in its streets. Alex Proud would argue that London’s nightlife is the true source of the City’s energy and excitement and the reason that young people continue to make it their home. Without that new blood, a City stagnates.