Robyn Vinter 14th May 2018
Some of London’s most exclusive nightclubs tell staff not to let black people in, turn away people who are not deemed attractive enough and forcibly remove women who change into flat shoes, many clubgoers have claimed.
It’s common for exclusive nightclubs to have a dress code and to select patrons based on whether they fit in the with the tone of the establishment, but The Overtake has spoken to many people who believe they were illegally discriminated against based on race or gender.
Bethany* had planned a night out at Toy RoOm in Soho with two friends. “I’ve been before and I know from previous experience that they charge the guys more money, the girls are either free or they just come up with an amount of money to charge them,” she says.
When she picked me out, I just felt mortified
But when she got to the door she was told she wouldn’t be allowed in, and given no reason. She was left thinking it was because of her acne, which she’d tried to cover with makeup.
“My friends are two stunning girls so I was made to feel like it was about how I looked and it just confirmed how I was feeling about myself,” she says.
“At that point I’d been feeling quite happy. When she picked me out, I just felt mortified.”
It was a similar story for Anna-Rose Taylor, who believes she was singled out at The London Reign Showclub because of her dress size and the size of her breasts. As a size 10-12 — which is far below the UK average of size 16 — going out with friends who are slimmer, Taylor was told she had to pay more than the entry price because she didn’t have “the right look”.
One thing I noticed was how hypocritical the club was: on the bathroom doors there were inspirational quotes about empowering women
“This is the first time I properly felt ugly and overweight even though I’m a very healthy person and a good size.”
She adds: “One thing I noticed was how hypocritical the club was: on the bathroom doors there were inspirational quotes about empowering women. There were burlesque women my size dancing in their underwear with men touching them and there was the song ‘Anaconda’ by Nicki Minaj playing, which is about loving your curves.
“I ended up going to my boyfriend’s house in tears feeling at my absolute lowest.”
While these experiences are unpleasant, there’s no law against turning someone away based on their appearance. However, many clubs with dress codes that require women to wear high heels while men are able to wear flat shoes discriminate on the grounds of gender, according to the Equality Act 2010.
Chloe Attreed says her 22nd birthday was ruined after she changed into flat shoes while in Toy RoOm because of an injured foot and a bouncer “literally grabbed my arm and walked me out”.
Despite saying she’d had only one drink, the bouncer said she was too drunk and needed to step outside for a glass of water. Many customers who claim to have been discriminated against or treated unfairly report being told that they’re too drunk and need to step outside for a moment but will be allowed back in, and then are blocked from entering again. Attreed thinks this is a ploy to remove people quietly without them making a scene.
She says staff laughed at her when she asked to be able to go back into the club and made reference to her footwear. When her friends came outside to find out where she was, another friend who had also changed into flat shoes was denied re-entry.
“We had come all the way from Essex paying £90 for a taxi there and £20 entry to be kicked out after one drink on my birthday because I put flats on.”
She complained the next day and was eventually offered a free table and champagne as compensation but says she would never go back again.
Speaking to The Overtake, another clubgoer says ToyRoOm door staff told her and her friends they were “too ugly or fat to go in”. She adds that the Polish women behind her in the queue were told “to go back to the Ukraine”.
Katarina Eliseeva says while she was allowed into Toy RoOm, she overheard the security staff saying she shouldn’t have been allowed in because she’s Russian. She says: “One of them heard me speaking Russian after I entered the club and he went to the girl at the door and asked her if I were Russian and why had she let me in.”
The Overtake made a number of attempts to speak to Toy RoOm, The London Reign Showclub and the other bars and clubs mentioned in this story but none were willing or available to comment.
Discrimination because of race, which includes colour, nationality, citizenship and ethnic or national origins, is strictly against the law “regardless of how the goods and services are provided or whether you have to pay for them or not”, according to Citizens Advice.
Yet some people feel racism was very much the reason they were refused entry.
Model and actor Frankie* was one of a group of seven women who had booked a table at The London Reign Showclub for her friend’s 21st birthday.
All six of my white friends went through and she shut the rope just before me and said, ‘I’m really sorry but it’s going to be a no to you today’
“We were dressed up really nice — they have a stupid rule that you have to be gorgeous and glamorous and stuff like that to get into the club.
“Everyone she invited to her birthday party was white, apart from me, I was the only black girl. All of our names were on the list so we should all have been allowed in.
“We got there well in advance of the time we said we needed to be there and we were waiting in the queue for ages and ages, but finally got to the front and she asked to see all of our IDs. She took our IDs and went back into the club, behind a podium into a room, but the door was kept open and I could see what she was doing in the room. It’s not like she took them to scan them to check we were old enough, she gave our IDs to this man and he put six IDs in one hand and mine in the other.
“She came back to us and said, ‘OK yes come through’, so all six of my white friends went through and she shut the rope just before me and said, ‘I’m really sorry but it’s going to be a no to you today’. And asked her, ‘What do you mean it’s going to be a no, I’m not auditioning for the X Factor?’. She said, ‘I’m sorry we can’t let you in today I’m afraid.’”
It was really humiliating and really frustrating, because it’s 2018 and how ridiculous is it that I can’t go to a club and enjoy a night out for a 21st birthday, simply because of my colour?
Frankie asked why and was first told her shoes were “inappropriate”.
“I said, ‘What do you mean, you’re superficial and I’m wearing Louboutins, you can’t more superficial than that. Literally what more do you want from my shoes?’
“I was just so confused and they didn’t really give me a full answer. They were giving me random excuses while ushering me out, not really telling me why, but it was just so evident that the reason was that I was black.
“It was really humiliating and really frustrating, because it’s 2018 and how ridiculous is it that I can’t go to a club and enjoy a night out for a 21st birthday, simply because of my colour? It’s ridiculous.”
I said to the staff, ‘How can you not see this is racist?’ and they just laughed, they literally laughed in my face
While Frankie’s friends were arguing to allow her to enter, she was stuck outside watching other people be rejected.
“I was looking at the people who were getting ‘no’s and there was not one white person. I was watching all the people who were let in and all of them were white. Anyone who was a slight colour at all, whether it was Asian, or even light-skinned mixed-race people, were being turned away. Anyone who was not white and skinny.
“While I was there, I said to the people who were pulling up the rope: ‘How can you not see this is racist? It’s so blatantly racist. It’s just white person after white person going in while everyone who is ethnic at all, is being shoved to the side’, and they just laughed, they literally laughed in my face.”
Exclusive clubs in London are known for their racism but nothing is being done about it
She says, in the end, her friends decided to go somewhere else and they had a nice night, but the evening had a lasting effect on Frankie who is in the early stages of putting together an anti-discrimination organisation, which already has support from people like Stormzy and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.
“It’s not fair. It’s such a well-known thing that the most popular and exclusive clubs in London are known for their racism but nothing is being done about it,” she says.
She feels a lot needs to change. “The racism and stuff is horrible but the whole fact that you have to be dressed in incredibly expensive clothes and looking expensive and skinny and all of that, just to get into a nightclub is ridiculous anyway. I think that whole movement is horrible.”
Yasmin Hassan says she experienced a similar situation at Toy RoOm with a group of her friends, who are a mixture of black, mixed race and white.
I said to my friend: ‘Look at the queue, we really don’t fit in and I can see why.’ My friend was like, ‘No, the only difference I can see is that they’re white and I’m black, that’s it.’
“We mentioned that we were on the guestlist and before she would even look at the list she literally just stood there, she looked us up and down and she said it’s going to be £20 each,” she says.
Her friends argued that they were not expecting to pay because they’d arrived before 11pm, as advertised, and were eventually told it was because they were “not attractive enough”.
“When I turned around and looked at the queue, it was all white people. I said to my friend: ‘Look at the queue, we really don’t fit in and I can see why.’ My friend was like, ‘No, the only difference I can see is that they’re white and I’m black, that’s it.’
“I started talking to the security guy, asking why they treat people like that and I could see the security guy wanted to say something because he was an African guy but he just kept quiet.”
If they’ve got the idea that black people only bring problems, they need to think twice
The women asked if it was related to their skin colour.
“I just wanted them to tell us and we’d walk away. And when I said: ‘Is it the colour?’ he looked at me — sort of like smirked a bit — and I just left.
“It’s just frustrating because it ruins your night, it spoils your mood. If they’ve got the idea that black people only bring problems, they need to think twice.
They don’t even hide it. They look at you, look you up and down one by one. It makes you feel like shit
“It was embarrassing more than anything. We go through stuff like that all the time, you know, at the airport, so it’s not like we’re not used to it. But when it happens at the front of a queue — that’s why I didn’t want to cause a commotion. It was humiliating.
“When you’re standing there at the door, they don’t even hide it. They look at you, look you up and down one by one. It makes you feel like shit.”
The Overtake spoke to many more people off the record who didn’t want to go into detail but felt their race had played a part in being turned away from venues.
Racism in a context where people are being rejected for lots of different, often vague, reasons can be hard to prove, though.
Door staff were told not to let black people in. It was outright racism
However, one whistleblower who worked on the door of another West End club confirms that race absolutely does play a part in door policies.
She says: “Door staff were told not to let black people in, basically.
“Staff were openly racist and sexist. It was outright racism on the door.
“The male staff allowed male guests to literally sexually assault drunk female guests. Basically if you were white and had money you could do anything you wanted,” she says. While the management made the decisions, she adds that the owners of the bar knew very well what was happening because they spent a lot of time drinking there.
I was made to feel like a little girl if I complained
In addition, women were banned from entering without high heels, and this extended to the staff too. “The women who worked there had to wear heels, even when feet bled or we cried in pain.
“I was made to feel like a little girl if I complained. You know that feeling? And because they were all wealthy I felt a bit too working class to kick up a fuss.”
If you feel like you have been unlawfully discriminated against, the Equal Opportunities Commission explains in depth the different types of discrimination, including exemptions to the Equal Opportunities Act, and Citizens Advice offers lots of information for anyone who feels they may have suffered discrimination.
UPDATE: After this story was published, Westminster Council launched an inquiry into racism in nightclubs in London’s West End. Councillors used evidence from The Overtake’s investigation and are calling on the public to help provide more witness testimony. Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you can help.
Robyn Vinter 14th May 2018