Fortunes won and lost in Sheffield’s 1990s evening economy
The mere thought of New York clubbers making a beeline for 21st century Sheffield would be laughed off the dance floor, but 15 years ago it was a reality.
Steel City was renowned as an after-dark tour de force and UK cities were queuing up to follow its example.
The pace of the rise and fall of Sheffield as a nationally renowned party city was quite incredible.
Fortunes were made and lost (mostly lost) seemingly overnight and at one point it seemed every disused building in the city centre was being eyed as a potential nightclub or bar.
One venue that really came into its own in the era was the City Hall Ballroom. The scramble to book club nights in there was relentless. Brighton Beach, Hotpants, Drop – everyone seemed to want to entertain their audiences in the historic space that originally opened in 1932.
Former banks, building societies, shops, leisure centres – everything was fair game in the overarching rush to open a venue.
And when space was running out in the city centre, eyes drifted down the East End to Attercliffe and the shiny new Valley Centertainment area.
The era certainly didn’t start that way.
Clubland in the early 1990s was a bit of disaster area.
The licensing magistrates, in their infinite wisdom, hadn’t handed out a new nightclub licence for years and flatly turned down one for the £1.4m ‘style club’ project (later to be unveiled as The Republic).
It took the venue three years to finally win their case.
Though the club ended up going bust within months of opening, it helped instill a sea change in the attitudes of the magistrates ; they took a step back and started leaving it up to the market to decide when there were enough bars and clubs in Sheffield, rather than simply refusing new ventures out of hand.
It quickly became open season for would-be venue owners.
New life was suddenly coursing through the veins of Attercliffe’s then derelict Adelphi Cinema as it opened as a nightclub; a former suit outlet opened as Capitol club on Matilda Street; Ponds Forge sports centre threw its own clubland hat into the ring with The Roundhouse and the cavernous Pulse and Vogue and Club Wow opened in the shadow of Sheffield Arena as investors decided ‘out-of-town clubbing’ was the way forward and invested in the Valley Centertainment area.
All-night venue Niche gave clubbers every excuse never to go home whilst Gatecrasher – the organisation that moved into the former Republic – became a global clubland powerhouse.
Sheffield seemed almost blessed with a cultural Midas Touch while London looked on dumbfounded as we landed the multi-million-pound funding for our very own National Centre for Popular Music and Jarvis Cocker’s immortal ‘Sorted For Es and Whizz’ line became the buzz phrase for an entire generation.
Culinary sophistication largely stayed away from the city centre for the majority of the 1990s – you had to go to the suburbs for that – and it wasn’t until after the Millennium that decent restaurants started popping up in great numbers.
Clubbers were more than happy with the marvelous Pepe’s on Cambridge Street which served coffee and pizza all night or Greasy Vera’s mobile catering.
We also lost the alcohol-infused carnage of the Pyjama Jump. The student fundraiser that turned much of the city centre into a marauding cross-dressing party zone of almost mythical proportions.
The gay scene tried and failed to make an impact in the city centre and had more success in Attercliffe.
Paul Smith said: “The party scene in Sheffield in the late 1990s was absolutely phenomenal. There was little to touch it. There was so much happening. It was such a cool time to be in the city. Who could forget amazing nights like Trash and Viva Salsa? There really was such a great mix.”
Today there’s little left of the clubland renaissance. The Roundhouse is a fitness suite; Pulse and Vogue was sold off as office space; Club Wow is a kids’ play centre; the Music Factory is now Sainsbury’s and Gatecrasher burned down.
Licensing deregulation signalled the death knell for many nightclubs as bars were given late licenses and allowed to set up in direct competition. DJing was also losing its attraction as rock music returned to prominence towards the end of the decade.
But, to many, the 1990s Sheffield club scene was the absolute zenith of after-dark action that successfully attracted punters from the four corners of the country. The party was only punctuated by a week or two in Ibiza every year for many.
Danny Clark said: “Sheffield was a true party land capital in the nineties – it was absolutely amazing”.
These days the tide has seemingly turned against the clubbing generation. Even Gatecrasher, who were looking to move back into the city centre, were given short shrift by the powers that be, in 2010.