OH WHAT A NIGHT!; Major cities all around the world proudly describe themselves as being alive 24 hours a day. Finola Lynch set out in Birmingham to see if our own city could stake this same claim.
Next day he played back all these obscene messages on his answer machine. That was the kind of night I had in Birmingham.
Smiler was meant to be our host for the night, our guide to the Birmingham club scene said to be thriving but in secret. He has just taken over management of the Steering Wheel Club, in Wrottesley Street, and promised to introduce me to at least 10 clubs that night. "I can take you wherever you want to go," he said, as though he could give me the world.
We arranged to meet at Legs Eleven, the lap dancing joint at 11pm. In the end, the fact he never showed did not matter.
My brief sounded impossible. Stay up all night in Birmingham and find something to do. I imagined wandering the streets in agony on my wedge heels at 3am, stuck in the rain until breakfast time because all the clubs had shut and there was nowhere else to go. Or there was somewhere else to go, but those who knew those kinds of places were not the sort you wanted to be stranded with in the early hours of the morning.
So we hit Birmingham with no obvious plan in mind, except to drink the city dry and survive until sunrise Sunday. With me were two mates from Manchester who knew the scene there as though they had invented it and a couple of friends from Moseley.
Driving over the A38 flyover I could tell my Manchester chums viewed the city with jaded cynicism. The concept of enjoying a night out in Brummie land was simply an alien one to them. Surely nothing was going to beat Manchester's Gay Village? I on the ot her hand was an old hand from the London scene, spoilt forever by the exotic atmosphere of Soho and Carnaby Street and a city famous for never going to bed.
But the night went with a swing, so much so that my previously sceptical companions were won-over enough to say Manchester looked rubbish in comparison. Some victory.
So to help this article go with a swing, I have divided that legendary night into chapters. If it is not the Birmingham you know, do not mistake this write-up for a work of fiction. It all happened. And if it does not sound like your idea of a nightout, bear with me. You had to be there.
pm to 1am.
Getting tanked up:
Brindleyplace was the obvious starting-point. Its eclectic collection of cafe bars and restaurants was the closest thing to cosmopolitan culture we were going to get. It was admittedly a safe bet.
The evening started sedately enough with a cappuccino at the new Costa coffee bar under the evening sunshine. Situated slightly apart from the main bustling cafe bars and restaurants, the ambience was pure Italy, heightened even more by the fact that a m odelling shoot was going on in the square while we sipped our coffees. Two Amazon-looking women were arranging themselves around pillars and cafe tables, their thigh bones clinging to dresses which looked more like another layer of skin than an itemof c lothing. Nobody could keep their eyes off them and I suddenly felt really proud of Birmingham as my Manchester mates gawped in amazement. The city seemed glamorous with possibilities.
Off then to the Malthouse, now famous for US President Bill Clinton's bevvie stop during the G8 summit. After 7pm you cannot get served inside if you are wearing a T-shirt as we discovered when one of us was practically arrested on the doorstep. Thefact it was a Scottish World Cup shirt I am sure had nothing to do with it.
The Malthouse is a good place to impress your non-Brummie friends when they come to stay because you can do the tourist bit and buy a pint of Clinton's ale, Greenalls Bitter. Outside you can sit on the wall overlooking the canal. If the view of the Natio nal Indoor Arena is not to your taste, remember this is about as good as it gets. There are grimy warehouses just round the corner, as Jonathan Meades cruelly pointed out in his recent documentary on Birmingham.
Then it was food time, our chance to line our stomachs before some serious drinking. Pizza Express, also a stone's throw away in Brindleyplace, does great dough balls and authentic pizza bases. You cannot book in advance but we were told the best time to arrive and get a table straight away was between 7.30pm and 8pm.
The waiters are more than happy to indulge your propensity for alcohol, constantly checking to see if we were OK for wine. Three litres of Chianti and two Amaretto shots each later and we did not mind the bill coming to almost pounds 100.
Where to next? It was 10pm and by now Brindleyplace was packed. Crossing Broad Street we toyed with the idea of slamming tequilas in the Australian pub Walkabout Inn until we saw Ronnie Scott's Club.
The heaters outside might make you feel like a kebab, as one of my companions commented, and you are unlikely to grab a table straightaway but it is one of the best drinking joints when the weather is Mediterranean. The music was jazz funk and the atmosp here was noisy and friendly. Suddenly it seemed a great idea to have three bottles of champagne at pounds 30 a throw after tequilla and white wine.
At this point, let me address the ladies. If you need to get rid of the first half of the night's drinking, Ronnie Scott's is the not the place to do it. There are only two loos and keeping a cubicle to yourself for longer than five minutes is likely to cause a huge queue into the bar and a fulcale riot. I will not confirm, however, if I speak from personal experience.
Ronnie Scott's was still heaving when we left just after 1am and we grabbed a black cab to Legs Eleven, a lap dancing joint in Ladywell Walk. Smiler was meant to ring me at 11pm to confirm our rendezvous but if Mohammed would not come to the mountain, th e mountain would come to him.
Two men lay on the ground outside the club which gave it that nice sleazy flavour we were looking for. But despite giving Smiler's name on the door they would not let us in. In fact the manager was rather heavy with us and we were not going to get in wit hout being charged pounds 10 each for the privilege. We shrugged off his rudeness and headed for clubland.
am to 6.30am.
There is a wide variety of clubs in Birmingham which cater for most tastes but if you are serious about your dancing and where you are seen then your best bet is to keep to the city centre.
Be prepared to fork out a standard pounds 10 for each one. However, the night we hit town several of the main clubs were closed. The Steering Wheel was not an option, although it is holding a relaunch soon, so we headed for Wobble in Branston Street.
Once the girl on the door came to terms with the fact one of us was wearing boatie shoes - "You can't come in wearing boatie shoes," she said to our incredulous faces - we squeezed up the tight staircase to the action.
The floor throbs and vibrates to hardcore house. There is not a particular dress code here (although there seems to be a shoe code). Lycra and denim cohabit quite happily and a good sign of a happy club was the fact there were few bar stool hoggers.Peop le are here to dance. Several hours can pass before you realise you have not sat down and you will need a scalpel to remove your shoes without considerable pain.
But by 4.30am we were looking for something different and we asked the barmaid where we could go. We had heard about Dusk 'til Dawn in John Bright Street which is open from 2am until 7am but she warned us off. "You only find dodgy types in there." That d ecided us.
A bouncer outside ordered us a cab on his walkie talkie and we walked into Dusk 'til Dawn expecting more of the same. Here there are two floors. Upstairs is mellow and people prefer to dance in their seats than on the floor, over which hangs a very kinky -looking mirror. Both the men and the women are beautiful, young and slim. They looked like professional dancers or high-class hookers. It felt like a pimp's lair. Body worship hung in the air. This was no place for imperfection and we soon escaped downs tairs looking for some normality.
But here we found some of the most amazing dancers we had ever seen. It was the kind of place where all you wanted to do was sit and watch. You just could not help it. The music again is hardcore house and the dance floor is for performers, not drunken g ood-timers.
But despite all this beauty it made us all feel rather wistful. What else was there to these beautiful people apart from their looks? Nobody seemed interested in pulling anybody. Nobody wanted to catch your eye. But it made fascinating viewing and when w e finally stumbled outside into the daylight at 6.30am, the atmosphere was still clinging to us until our stomachs began to rumble.
am to 9.30am.
After a hard night's drinking and dancing there is only one kind of breakfast to have and it involves lots of bacon and lard.
The kind of hunger which overtakes you is similar to that craving for a Mars Bar after a gym workout. But where could we go?
We did not want to succumb to a fast food breakfast and somebody on our travels had recommended the West End Bar, in St Chads, which is open from 7am until 2pm. It is the kind of place club bouncers will retreat to for their missed Saturday nights.
We could hear the music throbbing from the door and one look at my tired friends was enough to hold us back. We wanted some peace and quiet, a terrible sign of age catching up with us.
The ideal solution seemed to be to grab another cab and get a Birmingham-savvy driver to take us to breakfast.
However, one tip for you. Do not ask for bacon if you get into a cab with a Muslim driver. More than pounds 12 later we finally found a greasy spoon breakfast at the Medaillon Vert restaurant and B&B, in Wake Green Road, Moseley.
But a very nice Brummie waiter pretended there was nothing unusual about a group of dishevelled, drunken clubbers turning up on his door at 7.30am looking for food.
It was a strange feeling sitting in leafy green suburbia after our night of debauchery but breakfast was perfect. Cereal, lashings of toast and a plate of bacon, egg, sausage and beans for just under pounds 7.
I also feel I ought to apologise for my friend who nearly fell asleep sprawled out on the table and another who giggled loudly through breakfast while a wedding party ate politely on the next table.
Fed and watered we stumbled into the rain and grabbed another cab back to the city centre.
But as a coda here is a little warning for you. No matter how sober you feel after a night out, do not get into a car. As a precaution we got our friend breathalysed at a police station and he practically broke the machine.
We were miles from home but still smiling.