This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site you consent to our use of cookies unless you have disabled them.

eMag | Directory | TNT Travel Show 2017 | Events Search | TNT Jobs

Back in the mid-90s, soon after moving to London, I worked as a part-time cloakroom attendant at Madame JoJo’s, the legendary cabaret in Soho.

In the 80s, the club had featured drag artists such as Lily Savage, Ruby Venezuela and Regina Fong.

Not only was I able to watch the cabaret very comfortably from my seat, as the cloakroom was located directly opposite the stage, but the whole experience of working there was akin to taking part in real-life theatre three or four nights a week.

The staff consisted largely of drag queens, although one or two of them were very convincing transsexuals. Most of them performed on stage, dancing and singing, and a few others worked as barbettes, an exotic-sounding synonym for waitresses.

The bar staff were mixed: gay and straight, boys and girls; real girls. The glass collector was a sweet and sexy Spanish man who would only ever wear a black leather apron, a spiky S&M collar and a pair of black leather boots. Not many could resist the temptation to pinch or spank his bare bottom as he walked past. And then there was me at the coat check: just one big happy family!

At the entrance upstairs was the receptionist: an evil-looking blonde who was actually very likeable once you got to know her. An equally if not more evil-looking drag queen worked alongside her “welcoming” the customers who were in fact scorned and insulted from the moment they stepped into the venue. They seemed to love it, though, and kept begging for more. They were mostly girls on their hen parties - usually drunk by the time they arrived at the club, let alone by the end of the night. The verbal and psychological abuse they received from the drag queens was a crescendo directly proportional to the general intake of alcohol and drugs. The male side of the clientele was a totally different breed. They were the so-called “tranny admirers”: straight-acting -looking guys who happen to be sexually attracted to drag queens and male-to-female transsexuals - in other words, gay guys who need their men to look and act like women in order to delude themselves into believing they’re actually straight. Bless.

Last but not least, there were the patrons who made my night - the trannies: a mix of transsexuals and drag queens, some of the latter so outrageously dressed and made up, you could have stared at them in amazement all night; while some of the pre- and post-op transsexuals were so convincing and damn good-looking that anyone would have been proud to take them home and introduce them as their girlfriends.

One of the bartenders - a handsome and somewhat naïf Lithuanian - thought for weeks that all the “girls” in the show were actual women until I had a quick chat with him and shattered his illusion.

Some of the transsexual patrons looked like classy ladies, until they were on their fourth or fifth drink, when their voices would start getting deeper and their behaviour less and less ladylike, at times to the point they had to be thrown out by the bouncers. They were hilarious.

After work, some of us would go to an illegal after-hour bar called Jilly’s, located beneath a sex shop on Berwick Street. One of the “lady-like” trannies was an habituée there. She wore the same Chanel suit and the same pearl necklace week on week, her dyed-blonde hair always up like Patsy Stone in Absolutely Fabulous.

One night the police raided the dive, but Chanel Lady was unfazed and remained calmly seated on her stool, glass in hand. When asked by one of the cops to follow him to the police van, she looked at him with disdain and replied, in her North American accent: “Can’t you just let me finish my drink?” Then she turned to the plain-looking policewoman and screeched, in a childish tone: “I know you’re a lesbian, anyway!” drunkenly spilling her gin and tonic onto the woman’s uniform. I almost felt sorry for the police officers who seemed mortified and short of words.

As much as I enjoyed working at Madame JoJo’s, it couldn’t go on forever. After a three-year break, I decided to go back to university, so I began working as an usher in a West End theatre, where the hours and the environment were much more suitable for a full-time student.

The front-of-house staff at the theatre consisted of an interesting mix of people from different backgrounds: from English working mums to migrant African workers and mature European and Australian students; unlike the actors and back-stage crew, who were all white British and seriously looked down on the ushers and bar staff. In fact, they didn’t even acknowledge us. Except the lead singer, Lyn Paul, who would always smile and greet: what I call a real lady. Great voice, too.

But there was one serious drawback to the new job: the uniform. We all had to wear black trousers, a white shirt, a very unsightly multi-patterned waistcoat, and a bowtie. It was dreadful. And what a difference from the jeans-and-T-shirt look I could get away with at the old JoJo’s.

Images: Thinkstock


Back to the 90s: TNT revisits Madame Jojo's
Digital Mag

Latest News

Stay connected on social networks
Like us on Facebook
Follow TNT on Twitter