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Wednesday, 19 June, 2002, 12:08 GMT 13:08 UK
Club firm finds school days are pay days
School Fields publicity shot
School Disco is attempting to attract 40,000 people to its Clapham festival

Think that mixing school and alcohol represents a recipe for disaster?

For bar firm Po Na Na, the stirring of class culture with shorts of the inebriating kind is proving a prosperous cocktail.


Because no one is allowed in without school uniform, you get a great atmosphere inside

Christian Arden, Po Na Na
The demand for blazer-and-trainer themed nightclubbing has proved sufficient to drive one of London's most historic venues back into profit.

Chief executive Christian Arden credited once-a-week theme evenings run by School Disco for the fact that the firm's Hammersmith club - formerly the Hammersmith Palais - has recorded an operating profit of 100,000 for the year to the end of March.

School Disco has brought "capacity attendances and high bar spend", Mr Arden said.

"Because it is a large venue with a high rent, you need good attendances to keep it going."

Back to the future

Yet ironically the revival in the Palais' fortunes has depended on dredging up records from stars who once saw it as a prime venue for live performances.

Ticket for Elvis Costello concert at the Hammersmith Palais
Elvis Costello played the Palais

In the 1970s and 1980s the venue attracted the cream of punk and rock bands, and was the celebrated in a song by The Clash.

Artists who played at the Palais, which was founded in 1919, included Elvis Costello, the Rolling Stones and Queen.

Now Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" is one of the most requested songs among the 2,500 nostalgia seeking club goers the School Disco events have attracted every Saturday for the past year.

"School Disco is still going strong," Mr Arden told BBC News Online.

"It has lasted far longer than we had anticipated."

Code for success

School Disco itself, founded in Chelsea by a DJ sacked for playing Shakin' Stevens' 1980s hit "This Ole House" at a more contemporary leaning venue, said the movement's success was spreading countrywide.

"It's just good relaxed fun," said a spokesman for School Disco, which also operates in Manchester and Ibiza, and is hoping to attract 40,000 people to a festival on London's Clapham Common on 13 July.

"You get people in the mid-20s, you get people in their 40s. It attracts all sorts."

Mr Arden credited School Disco's success the strictness of its dress code, which prescribes clothing such as school tie and dark trousers for "boys", and pinafore dresses and high heels (eh?) for "girls".

"Because no one is allowed in without school uniform, you get a great atmosphere inside," Mr Arden said.

"It is not a case of half a dozen people wearing school clothes while the rest just eye up the girls."

The phenomenon has also proved popular in the locality, with one Hammersmith resident saying the weekly queues of uniform-wearing clubgoers outside the Po Na Na "attracted all kinds of attention".

Staff at the fire station next door also showed a keen interest in the event, a taxi driver told BBC News Online.

Get rich quick?

Not that School Disco has been able to solve all Po Na Na's problems.

While Po Na Na saw underlying earnings rise by almost one quarter to 5.6m in the year to the end of March, performance at many venues was so dismal that four of the firm's 57 sites have been sold, with a further nine up for grabs.

"The board has determined to dispose of the underperforming parts of the estate," Mr Arden said.

Indeed, a little dose of patience - that pupil-derided virtue - could reap dividends for budding bar bosses who believe they could do to a failing Po Na Na site in South Wales or the north of England what scuffed shoes and pigtails have done for the Palais.

"We're at contract stage on a few of the sites," Mr Arden said.

"As for the rest, we'll probably give them away if we can't get rid of them in the next couple of weeks."

See also:

02 May 02 | Entertainment
05 Apr 02 | Entertainment
27 Nov 01 | Entertainment
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