Situated within spitting distance of Europe's biggest financial district, Shoreditch is home to a bevy of pubs and clubs that cater to traders and bankers looking for a lapdance at lunch. There's usually a steady stream of suits emerging from them onto the high street, squinting in the daylight. But the crisis in big business has directly affected these striptease establishments. There are now less leery city boys tucking cash into their panties, for those extravagant expense accounts have been frozen. The price of a Lunchtime Special (a pint and a private pole dance) has plummeted with the stock market. I went and talked to some local strip club dancers, DJs and managers about how the global economic austerity was affecting them.
I started off by checking in at a "gentleman's pub" called The White Horse and talking to two of the dancers.
How has the credit crunch affected trade?
Nikita: Look around. There's you and one other man here. Before we'd be full at this time.
Crystal: It's been going downhill for about eight months. Every day there's been a slow decline and now we're at the point where there is no one here.
It must be a tough time to be a stripper.
N: I know some girls at a club who worked four hours and made only £18. A tenner of that goes to the house for fees, so they're left with £8. It's a joke. I didn't start doing this to be making less money than I'd make waiting tables or working at Tesco.
C: It's a worry and it's happening all over. They're struggling at the bigger places like Stringfellows and For Your Eyes only. I suppose it's just going to take time to sort itself out.
Are your regulars still coming in?
N: Yeah, they still come in. There is one guy we call £20 man who gives all the girls £20 per dance (the usual fee is £1). He still comes in. I think he gets picked up in a limo around the corner. But a lot of the guys are just normal guys, labourers or whatever. Now they have to choose between paying for girls or paying their mortgage.
C: Even the regulars are spending less now. They'll come in for one round of dances and have one drink. That'll be it. Everyone is spending less. I suppose this is a luxury for a lot of these guys but it's something a lot of them will have to give up.
Then I had a quick chat to Linford, the strip club DJ/manager.
It must be bad news that this place is so empty.
Linford: Big time mate. It's slow nearly every day now. First we had the problem of the smoking ban – that really hurt us. But this is stupid. Look around! There is no one in here. There are three times as many girls as there are punters!
What are you going to do about it?
Well, if it comes to it, the first thing to go will be bar staff. It always is. If things don't improve we will have to get rid of some of the girls. We did not see this decline coming - we're in the process of building a second floor in here. We've invested a lot into this place so we have to make it work.
The White Horse staff were so forthcoming that I was shocked when I went to the nearby Rainbow Sports Bar and they pretty much told me to fuck off. I tried reasoning with the manager but he said that the girls wouldn't
talk to me because a) they would lose money [even though the only guys in there were bouncers] and b) their knowledge of English was insufficient to discuss economics. Fair enough.
I had more luck talking to the people at Brown's, a landmark strip club on Old Street. Peter, the club's manager, offered up some expert analysis.
Peter: I've been managing and running clubs for a long time and I went through the recession in the 80s, but this is the worst time I've ever seen.
And this is all linked to the city and the economy?
Totally. We can look at the markets and predict what kind of a day and night we'll have. If something goes wrong, like at Lehman brothers, we'll have a slow day and a terrible night because all the city boys will be working late. I've never seen it so dead as when Lehman brothers went belly up.
Will you survive?
I'm positive about it. In here, for want of a better word, we're cheap and nasty. At one of the bigger clubs you'll pay £20 to get in and something stupid for a drink. In here it's cheap. We hope to get the customers from those bigger clubs when the money dries up even more. They'll have to come here because that's what they'll be able to afford.