BY JULIA GREGORY
Local Government Correspondent
The legendary Madame Jojo’s drag cabaret club in Soho, which was closed five years ago after a serious incident, has been given a new licence – helped by backing from broadcaster Stephen Fry.
The club was well known as a premiere drag cabaret venue which has attracted big names including Shirley Bassey, and has redeveloped the building off Brewer Street since it closed in 2014.
Its application was supported by Mr Fry, who wrote a letter of support.
He wrote: “I have written to you previously in my capacity as chairman of Save Soho and of the Criterion Theatre Trust to express my support for the licensing of creative venues in Westminster.
“I’d like to take the opportunity to do so again in both a professional and personal entreaty in favour of a much-loved and much-missed Soho institution, Madame Jojo’s.
“What would London be without the enduring glory of Westminster? What would Westminster be without the preservation of the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey or the glittering square mile of Soho?
“In turn what would Soho be without its nightlife and in corollary, what has Soho’s nightlife been for the past few regretful years without the jewel in its crown – Madame Jojo’s?
“To restore and rejuvenate a noble British institution to its rightful place is a noble and magnanimous duty. Denziens will rejoice at the reopening of a reinvigorated Madame.”
A bone of contention Westminster City council’s licensing committee heard was the plan for an entrance off Brewer Street, rather than on the nearby Walker Court, and residents say they are concerned about noise and potential “ne’er do wells” attracted by the queues to get in.
However Soho Estates lawyer, Alun Thomas, said “not having the entrance in its original place would be the death of the scheme.”
The club can trace its life as a club back to the 1950s, and owners Soho Estates want to reopen it in a redeveloped site on Walkers Court.
Westminster City council’s licensing committee heard it needed to have its historic entrance in Brewer Street – “we have to retain that cultural history”, it was told.
But residents said they would prefer an entrance in Walkers Court to reduce the noise and disruption.
They said the area can be troubled by a “sinister environment,” with drug dealers plying their trade.
Conrad Roeber, who lives nearby, said when the club was open “the noise was tremendous” and told the licensing committee there was no room for single file queuing in Brewer Street.
He said: “You end up with an extraordinary number of late-night queuing” along with minicabs lining up and people moving off the pavements, it gives the area a sense of disorder.
“Pedestrians behave in an orderly way, once that’s broken because it seems a bit anarchic, it’s like a war zone.”
He added that the pimps and drug dealers take “no notice” of security guards.
He said he had backed the scheme using Walkers Court as an entrance but was concerned about putting the entrance in Brewer Street.
“This whole area has become much more residential. The nature of Soho has really changed,” he said.
Madame Jojo’s licence was revoked in 2014 following an incident allegedly involving a baseball bat.
Celebrities including Benedict Cumberbatch and Stephen Fry joined a campaign calling on the then London Mayor Boris Johnson to “stop the gentrification of Soho”.
Protesters took to the streets in 2014 and “there was an outcry when Madame Jojo’s closed down,” said Mr Thomas.
“There was a funeral for it. The city council and Soho Estates got a lot of flak for it.”
The company pledged to reopen it and now wants to create a club
with theatre-style seating overlooking the stage.
Please support your local paper by making a donation
Please make cheques payable to “MSI Media Limited” and send by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing recently: “A free country needs a free press, and the newspapers of our country are under significant financial pressure”.
So if you have enjoyed reading this story, and if you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can buy our newspaper or make a donation, which will allow us to continue to bring stories like this one to you both in print and online.