Lynn Barber

Splashing the cash at VIP nightclubs is now the favourite recreation of the rich

It’s not what you own but what you can throw away that’s become the great status signifier. But for how much longer?

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The world described in this book is weird enough anyway, but reading about it during lockdown is positively surreal. It’s about VIP nightclubs, mainly in New York, but also in Miami, Cannes, St Tropez or wherever rich people congregate. Ashley Mears is a professor of sociology, as she likes to remind us with references to Bourdieu, Durkheim, Veblen, etc, but mainly she is a very good reporter. The reason she was allowed into the VIP clubs is that she used to be a model and can still pass as one, though actually too old for admission (at 31) by most club standards. But it amused some of the promoters to have a professor who looked like a model taking an interest in their work.

Some definitions first. A VIP club is one where rich men, usually white, almost invariably heterosexual, can rent a table for the night (at a cost of up to $30,000) to impress their friends, and order ‘bottle service’. This means processions of ‘bottle girls’ bringing vastly overpriced bottles, usually of champagne or vodka, lit by sparklers — though in one Los Angeles club the bottle girls are replaced by ‘flying midgets’ on aerial cables. When a customer orders a particularly large or expensive bottle (say a methuselah of Cristal at $40,000 or a jeroboam of Dom Perignon), the DJ will sometimes interrupt the music to say ‘Alex from London is in the house and has just spent $100,000 on Dom’ and turn a spotlight on him.

The very biggest spenders are called ‘whales’ and can easily get through $100,000 in an evening

According to Mears, this particular type of club started in New York in the late 1990s and really took off in the 2000s. The status of the club is defined by the beauty of its ‘girls’.

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