From the pavement,
23 Paul Street could be a private members haunt for red-socked investment bankers; the affable and smartly dressed doorman tips his deerstalker hat at passers-by and keeps a watchful eye on the club’s racing green, 1966 Daimler parked outside.
Number 23 is a discreet but stately sliver of City architecture; a 5-storey, Edwardian townhouse that was built to house a turn-of-the-century bullion broker. These days it houses a rather different activity, though one just as intrinsic to the City of London and its ebbs and flows of capital.
A discreet doorway leads guests down a staircase into the basement bar, where the initial ambience is a chic space in pale pink, brass and white marble. This is the beginning of a journey up to the wood-panelled 4th floor rooms, which are reminiscent of an old Belgravia members club. A world away from the strobe and neon lights of Soho strip clubs, the impressive interior of 23 Paul Street is a finely executed balance of tradition and contemporary glamour and oozes sophistication.
Which brings us to the people.
Humorously described as something of a ‘glamorous girl gang’ this random sisterhood of charismatic, lingerie-clad entertainers, yoga teachers, actresses and designers have a reputation for getting a hell of a party started and keeping it going until waaaaay past a respectable bed time. Sore heads and wistful memories are pretty much guaranteed, and the occasional snapshot of fancy-dress bedecked revellers on their Instagram page gives the occasional glimpse of some of those special moments.
Not surprisingly, behind the scenes at “23” is a highly creative and organised team, working hard to ensure that every visit is memorable enough to keep guests coming back for more, and that negative experiences are kept to a minimum. We spoke to the wonderfully titled Head of Experiences, Cathy Banks, about her role, the club and the unique brand of revelry it purveys.
Describe what a normal working week is like for you?
I guess I’m happy to say it’s never quite the same as the week before, the club is very, very progressive. The owners, management and entertainers are incredibly creative and we’re encouraged to work a lot on our own initiative so there’s always plenty of variety in my schedule. I focus on the creation of boutique, grown-up entertainment that fits our core company values: creativity, fun, fairness and female empowerment, but I spend a lot of time managing day-to-day operations too.
What’s your biggest challenge?
Hmmmm.. I sometimes struggle with the late nights, early mornings and tasty cocktails. Why don’t they all just get along!? The run-up to Christmas is always absolutely shattering.
What do you love most about your job?
I’d say working in a creative environment where you’re free to come up with barmy concepts. The barmier the better actually! Also the relationships I’ve forged with the girls. We have been really privileged to attract a bunch of crazy, sexy, intelligent feminists with the most amazing energy and ideas. We hang out often to talk about the club and our personal projects. It’s such an honour to work alongside them, especially in a business that, rather unusually, is supportive of us as individuals and as a team.
23 Paul Street describes itself as ‘an experience not a transaction’, can you explain please?
Well…there are always transactions, I won’t pretend that a big night out at ours is cheap! However we think that if you have giggle-inducing memories of an epic night out it puts any bill in perspective. In my experience most businesses in the titillation space just want to take your money and have absolutely no interest whatsoever in your experience as a customer. At 23 we genuinely believe that if we don’t make you a return customer we’ve failed at our jobs.
What’s the difference between a ‘strip club’ and a ‘strip tease club’?
Semantics, to a degree. But also perceptions of what is actually sexy. ‘Strip’ abbreviates ‘strip tease’ to a single word; unfortunately the wrong word as it describes what the entertainer does. Since one should always sell ‘benefits’ over ‘features’ surely the word we should focus on is the one that describes what happens to the customer? He or she gets teased. We also think there are points of difference in the detail; a gorgeous, tasteful venue and a bunch of seriously hot women who can match our customers for intellect, style, education and sense of humour. That’s so much more sexy.
How often do your regular guests visit?
Regulars are our bread and butter. Brand new customers walk in every day but what really drives our business is them coming back with friends and colleagues. Wives and girlfriends too actually! How often they come is a function of the individual, some guys are here every other week, others once a month, others much less frequently. We find that there are patterns, a group of friends can visit every week for a couple of months then fade away for a while. Our particular brand of fun can be a bit taxing so we make a point of sending regulars home when we think they’ve had too much. Seriously, it happens more often than you’d think and they are always grateful the next day! There’s both an ethical and a strategic component to that of course as we don’t want anyone to burn out, nor do we want to lose regular custom.
How often are you joined by celebrities?
That’s a very loose term these days, everybody and nobody is a celebrity here!
You recently installed two LUVVU mirrors in the gorgeous Mr Stendhal’s room; what have they added to the experience of your guests?
Voyeur’s gold! There’s something super erotic about seeing someone naked from all angles. I imagine they are used in much more intimate environments than ours in the main but they add a wonderful edge to Mr Stendhal’s room, which is something of a hall of mirrors already! Amusingly we find that the dancers enjoy looking up as much as the customers. I’ve already been asked where we got them and expect that won’t be the last time!
What events do you have planned for 2017?
A major component of my role is developing our partnerships and events and 2017 is looking pretty busy already. We’re working on two invite-only weekend productions which I can’t disclose just now and The Pecking Order which is a late Friday night after-hours affair. We’re also holding House of Tease, a partnership with the incredible Skirt Club and Mint Tease. These two are female-only events aimed at girls who like girls which we’re very excited about. Following on from Unwrapped, our lingerie partnership event at Christmas, we’re also developing Decent Exposure, which you’ll hear more about in due course.
Can you tell us anything about your most memorable event at the club?
For me that would have to be Sleazy Virtue, an entertainer-led bi-monthly event driven by some of the most impressive women I’ve ever had the privilege to work with. It’s a combination of high-level conversation, holistic treatments and risqué entertainment. Very hard to describe but a complex thing of beauty. I literally tingle from head to toe after every event because they are so positive and intense.