Cover Charge Refugees

“So what are you doing for new years?”, my friend Graeme asked when he called at about nine o’clock last night. “Well nothing really”, I told him, having spent the last hour or so trying to get my phone and my computer to sync properly. I’d made the decision that if Graeme called and wanted to have a beer for NYE, I’d go, but if he didn’t call I’d happily stay at home and watch the fireworks on television. I mean, you reach a point in life where the idea of spending NYE amongst a bunch of drunken yobbos (and then unable to hail a taxi to get home) loses some of its appeal.

After a brief conversation, we agreed to meet just after ten outside the Midnight Shift. “The Shift”, like just about every other bar on Oxford Street had an outrageous NYE cover charge. “Wasted drinking money”, I thought to myself at the idea of paying twenty dollars to go into a bar that’s normally free. So after wandering up and down Oxford Street looking for somewhere without a cover charge, we walked into The Columbian. I’ve only ever been there half a dozen times, and while it’s normally full of “triple a gays” (upstairs at least), tonight it was full of what I soon realised were “cover charge refugees”.

As a consequence of their no cover charge policy, as the night went on, the venue attracted an increasingly diverse group of people. As we chatted and drank at a table near one of the entrances, we watched as some impossibly young people were asked for ID (and were able to show it), and some incredibly drunk people were refused entry (and rightly so). We also noted how many girls used flirting with the bouncers as a means of ensuring entry. Perhaps the most amusing, though, was a bloke who we both instantly agreed look like a drug dealer who tried unsuccessfully not once, but twice to gain entry. The broad smile on the face of the bouncer said it all, as he listened to the bloke give an implausible explanation as to why he had a bottle of pills in pocket. “Personal use? Yeah, sure mate…”

Having sent a text message to a couple of friends wishing them a happy new year and advising them to make sure they’re standing near the hottest guys in the room just before midnight, the actual stroke of 12 was not all that exciting.

Seconds later everyone rushed outside and we saw flashlights going off. “Was it Paris Hilton”, I thought to myself, as we too rushed outside. No, it was just everyone taking photographs of the fireworks on their phones. As Graeme later observed, “camera phones are dodgy at the best of times, but what on are they thinking, imagining they can take photographs of the fireworks from this far away”.

It was about this time two young blokes (mid-late 20s), walked over to our table and said, “Do you mind if we sit here?”. We had been sitting alone at a table which could accommodate four for a while and thought it would be fun to have a chat with them. Over the course of the next half hour or so we learned a little about them, before they moved on in search of more beer and a little bit of lovin’ (if you get my meaning). They were almost instantly replaced by a English bloke and his sister who had just arrived from the UK. “Would you look after my sister?”, the bloke asked us, as he went outside for a cigarette. Over the next thirty minutes they shared much of their life story with us, their dramas, their dreams, and their aspirations, in an incredibly candid manner.

Graeme Read

As soon as they left, they were replaced by a trio of blokes who also wanted to reveal the inner most secrets of their life. Suddenly I began to giggle, as I lent over to Graeme and said, “I feel like we’re the hosts of a mid-morning talk show, and we have this endless supply of amazing guests”.

We were then joined by a fairly straight looking middle-aged couple, both originally from the country. They told us how they had been to see the fireworks, and we learned a little about their lives in a very general sense. After a while, however, the wife began to quiz us about our sex lives. “Are you guys in a relationship?, she asked. Emphatically we both said no. And then she asked, “and have either of you ever done it with a woman?”. Progressively the conversation with her became racier and racier. We knew for sure they were swingers when they told us about how they had asked a cab driver to take them to the nearest swingers bar, and how they had engaged him in some “back seat action” in lieu of a cab fare. At one point I actually had to leave the conversation to go upstairs – ostensibly to go the toilet – but actually to laugh out loud.

As soon as they left, they were replaced by incredibly cute Russian man we shouted a glass of red wine for, before he too disappeared into the night.

Oh yeah, and there was the girl who took photographs of us for her website. WTF? Goodness knows where the photographs (non-incriminating) will end up, so I thought I’d better get in first with a photograph I took on an incredibly dodgy-camera phone myself. We look okay, I think.

Reflecting on all of this today, Graeme observed how people can often be stand-offish when it comes to opening up to strangers, but once given the opportunity to open up, it’s like a dam wall breaking. Graeme also observed how totally self-absorbed people can be, and that everyone last night seemed to have a major expectation about what NYE would deliver to them. “Whether it be a foursome for the swingers or a one-night-stand for Mr. Melbourne, they weren’t just hanging around and doing que sera sera – they were intent on getting what they wanted from NYE”, he said in an email.

In some ways it was very very funny. In fact, one of the funniest NYE I’ve ever experienced. But in other ways it was also very sweet. Obviously we both have very warm, open faces, that inspire trust in strangers. The trust that allowed them to share so much of their lives with two blokes sitting in the corner of a bar on Oxford Street.

Overall, a great night, and cheers to the owners and managers of “The Columbian” for hosting a great NYE and for not having a stupid bloody cover charge.

  1. Yes, I was there – I remember now ;-) Getting home at 5.30am has dented my short term memory somewhat!

    Fabulous evening and completely surreal experience. Perhaps if we could find a way to charge for our services, we’d be rich. “Psychiatric Help 10 cents.”

    The evening was many things but certainly never dull!

    Oh, and until last night, I thought swingers only existed in 60s and 70s movies!

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