It’s the Christmas party season, and many of us will remember when a festive do in Harrogate ended, often rather messily, in one of Harrogate’s nightclubs.
The town’s club scene was once so good that names such as Carringtons, Jimmys and Josephine’s live on in fond memories of sticky dancefloors, cheap drinks and great music.
Recollections may be hazy but the love remains for the likes of Legends, Flares, Ministry of Sound, Rehab, The Old Bourbon and the many other nightclubs that have come and gone in Harrogate over the years.
But no more. Next weekend will mark a year since the last club standing, The Viper Rooms, closed its doors. So is this the end of the nightclub in Harrogate and, with it, the end of a guaranteed great night out in the town?
The death of the nightclub
Harrogate is not alone in its declining nightclub scene. Data from the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) shows 31 per cent of the UK’s nightclubs closed between June 2020 and June 2023. The report blamed an increase in operational costs, rents, utilities and maintenance, and called for initiatives to help nightclub owners finance their venues.
But even before a pandemic and a cost of living crisis, NTIA research shows that nightclubs were already in decline. Between 2014 and 2019 the number of clubs across the UK fell from 1,924 to 1,446, with Yorkshire seeing a 37 per cent loss.
Jay Smith, the owner of Montey’s bar, says this corresponds to an increase in later bar licences:
“In the halcyon days of nightclubs, bars were open until 11 and then the clubs took over. But as licensing reforms started to take hold and then customer demand followed, we ended up opening later. Now Montey’s is open until 4am on a weekend and we’re not alone. It’s being driven by the consumer and that’s all you can react to.”
Montey’s has just marked its 27th year in Harrogate and Mr Smith says drinking habits have changed during that time.
“People aren’t going out as much as they used to. There’s a whole generation of kids who turned 18 during the pandemic and have never been clubbing. And a large number of our customers don’t drink alcohol. When Montey’s started we had one alcohol-free beer and now we have a whole section on the menu. It’s not a money saving exercise for people either; they are just more health conscious.”
- Harrogate nightclub Viper Rooms closes suddenly
- Harrogate nightclub owner: ‘Government wants to kill us off’
- Friday night live music returns to Montey’s in Harrogate
Has demand gone?
With opportunities for clubbing in Leeds and York and the ease and affordability of sharing an Uber back to Harrogate, is there even any demand for a nightclub in Harrogate?
Jay Smith says:
“To be honest, a town the size of Harrogate probably had a disproportionate number of nightclubs a decade or two ago. If we do get another one I suspect it will be a lot smaller. Nightclubs are really expensive businesses to operate.”
So is Harrogate still a great night out?
You’d think not, judging by the negative response on The Stray Ferret’s Facebook page to a story last week about Harrogate’s best venues. “Go to Leeds or York” was the general response to an appeal from a Bath-based events company for someone ‘with a love of partying’ to report on the town’s bars and clubs for a ‘full night out experience’. “Nightlife is dead in Harrogate” was a common refrain.
But Yannis Dervishi, owner of Best Bar on Parliament Street, doesn’t agree. He thinks perceptions changed when The Viper Rooms closed, and that people who think the closure left Harrogate devoid of nightlife, need to get back out on the town and see what’s on offer.
“Viper Rooms closing down took away decades and decades of that location’s history, which promoted the perception that nightlife in Harrogate is lacking, he says.
“However, this is just perception over perspective. Harrogate contains a variety of bars scattered through the town centre and each one is different and unique in their own way. The face of the town’s night-time scene may have changed but it’s not like there’s no music and no dancefloors.”
The rise of the all night bar
The success of bars in the face of nightclubs’ decline was underlined this week when the UK’s biggest nightclub operator, Rekom, announced it’s going to start focusing more on its bars. And last week The Viper Rooms owner Paul Kinsey’s Harewood Group said it had taken over the Pitcher and Piano bar in Harrogate and is aiming to create a ‘great night out’, introducing live music and DJ Christmas party nights.
Mr Dervishi, who has been in the industry for over 20 years and also runs Mykonos and Santorini restaurants, says the demographic has widened at Best Bar since The Viper Rooms closed. The bar, which is open until 6am at weekends and includes a ‘nightclub’ style room with a dancefloor and DJs, attracts between 300 and 500 people on Fridays and 450 to 750 on Saturday.
“We’ve got customers of all ages, from 20 year olds to the over 70s. We didn’t plan for that kind of mix when we first launched, but when Viper Rooms closed we adapted our offering and it just fell into place.”
Mr Smith also thinks it’s unfair to say the town has no nightlife: “We’ve got some really great places to go on a night. Independent bars are on the rise nationally, and in Harrogate we’ve got some really great players.”
He says the loss of nightclubs is a shame, but times have changed:
“My first job in hospitality was as a DJ at Night Out in Knaresborough. It was amazing. I would get there at 10.30pm and by 11 the place would fill up. For those of us who lived through that generation, you’d finish your night in a club. But what nightclubs have become in the last decade is very different to what they were when I was younger.”
Although he thinks the general trend in the decline of nightclubs will continue, Mr Smith is not sure we’ve seen the last of them in Harrogate.
“I still think there is a demand for a nightclub,” he adds.
Do you think Harrogate should have a nightclub? Do you have fond memories or pictures of nights out in a Harrogate nightclub?
We’d love you to share them with us. Get in touch and send us your thoughts at [email protected]