From the outside, Cirque Le Soir looks inconspicuous. There’s no sign or lettering of any kind on the black metal door, tucked between a Chinese restaurant and an office building. And that’s just as it should be, says the club’s co-owner, Tom Burg. Because the nocturnal goings-on at Cirque Le Soir are not for casual passers-by, or revellers of a sensitive nature. All those who enter must be prepared for what’s behind the door – namely London’s wildest and most indecent nightclub.
A 7ft-tall clown in a black and white striped suit greets new arrivals with the words, “Welcome to Wonderland,” then you descend a narrow staircase lined with distorting mirrors to reach the main area. Two topless fire-breathing ladies are writhing around on the stage. To their left, a Viking in a leopard-skin cape is thrusting a sword down his throat. On the other side of the stage, a bearded cheerleader is dancing with a huge baby with a grotesque face. At the bar, a tattoo-covered waitress in sexy underwear hands out Champagne to partygoers. Her colleagues barge their way through the jubilant, dancing crowd, carrying metal buckets full of ice and magnum bottles of vodka.
The Cirque Le Soir experience is 1920s Berlin burlesque club meets Alice In Wonderland; Studio 54 gatecrashed by a circus freak show. “That ambivalence is the appeal,” says Burg. “You can experience whatever you want in our club, except boredom.” Since opening in 2009, the venue has won numerous trophies at the London Bar Awards – including, this year, Best Club – and its clientele includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Nicole Scherzinger, Rihanna and Benedict Cumberbatch. Because they all know Cirque Le Soir is a portal to another reality, to a decadent parallel world where visitors forget their everyday lives and take on another personality.
Here, six regulars tell us about their experiences at the club:
32, circus director and co-owner
“When friends and I opened the venue six years ago, we wanted to create a cross between a circus and a club – something for dancers who expect more from a night out than alcohol and music, and a place for artists whose shows are too extreme for other clubs. As the circus director at CLS, I look out for the clubgoers’ wellbeing.
Stars such as Kanye West and Rihanna are regulars here, because they know they can really go wild without the need for bodyguards. Miley Cyrus knows that she can smooch with a dancer in a baby mask at our place and no one will take photographs. That’s because we provide a private place for the stars, and also because at CLS they don’t stand out among all the drag queens and oddballs.”
24, performance artist
“By day, I get paid to whip men in my job as a fetish model; by night, you’ll find me dancing in a latex suit at Cirque Le Soir.
And although the work I do at the club is more innocent than my daytime photo sessions, I find the atmosphere here more surreal.After my performance, I’ll go backstage and see a dwarf massaging two bearded cheerleaders. Next to them, there will be a belly dancer polishing her machine gun. And yet it all seems like the most natural thing in the world.
Clubgoers who come to CLS might feel as if they’ve entered a whole different world, but when I’m here, it just feels like I’m with my people. This club gives freaks like me a home.”
26, make-up artist
“I’ve been a regular ever since I discovered the club three years ago. It gets you hooked because you’re constantly discovering new things about yourself.
Before I started coming to CLS, I could never have imagined that the best feeling on Earth would be dancing on a bar with four snakes creeping their way up your body. I started working here a year ago – I went from being an innocent English student from the countryside to working as a make-up artist at the craziest club in London.
I give the clubgoers a new identity for the night in my make-up corner. A mask of neon mascara and glitter helps them discard their inhibitions and forget their everyday lives.”
30, snake charmer
“When I roam around the club with my snakes around my neck, it’s not unusual for some people to try to get away from me in a panic – especially when I’m showing off Shiva,who’s a 4m-long albino python weighing 48kg. But most are curious and want to have a photograph taken with us.
You even get that response from people who are usually terrified of snakes, because they embrace the unknown when they come to Cirque Le Soir. It’s almost as if a lot of them leave their fears and inhibitions with their coats in the cloakroom.
That applies to Lindsay Lohan, too. She is completely smitten with Shiva and demands 20 minutes of one-on-one time with her every time she’s here.”
THE GREAT GORDO GAMSBY
30, sword swallower
“The best part of my performance is just before I stick the blade in my mouth and hang the helium canister on my tongue. That’s the moment when the people watching realise this is no magic trick.
They shriek, they close their eyes, but then they always end up watching, because my show arouses their sadistic streak and they don’t understand what’s going on. Actually, the technique for sword swallowing is very easy to explain.
You have to learn to control the oesophagus muscles, and that takes years of practice. Because if you end up with the sword stuck in your throat, there’s no point in calling an ambulance.”
“For five days a week, I’m stuck in a dull, open-plan office, but I’ll be bubbling with excitement about Friday night and that moment at 1am when the performances begin at CLS and the club is transformed into an adult Disneyland.
You might have female dancers dressed in bondage gear whipping you from the stage, or topless nuns breathing flames just past your face. Even if you’re a regular at the club, you never know what to expect. In that way, a night at CLS is like a weird dream – you’ve got no control over it and you wake up baffled the next morning. But then you see the whip marks on your arm and you know it was all real.”