TagThe Black Orchid

The Birth of the Black Orchid – Despite the Disaster of trying to turn the Albert Hall into Babylon

Finding a site for a suitable nightclub in any town or city was always difficult. Especially back the 1980s, when everyone attending a nightclub, restaurant etc after 11pm had to consume a substantial meal so as to allow them to consume alcohol. Add to this the vociferous jockeying of the existing nightclub managers/owners who wanted to retain  the status quo, and often fuelled the police with stories of “streets of fear”. Although  the police generally took the view that enough was enough. Better the devil you know!

Nottingham was no exception. The city was regarded as prime hunting ground for nightclub customers, although it seemed impossible to even find a site. Never mind locking horns with existing nightclubs and authorities.

Then came a breakthrough. Property developers Wilson Bowen had a suitable site for a “Super Bowl” at Derby, and another one at Lenton Nottingham, which “may be suitable” for a nightclub. The infrastructure was complete, plus a completed Showcase cinema and Sawyers Bar Diner. All on the site of a former council rubbish tip.

Deals were done. Plans drawn. Project meetings planned. Spreadsheets prepared, scrutinised, and prepared again… and again. In amongst all this a trading budget was drawn up, with only the slightest hint of reality, which was deemed necessary to obtain funding.

Everything was looking good. Everyone looked forward to the birth of the Black Orchid – despite the disaster of trying to turn the Albert Hall into Babylon.

The plans and artist impressions were amazing. Terry Wheater and his team at Group Northern had really produced the goods – although those guys had also created Paradise Lost Watford, The Dome and Pagoda Park Birmingham, Pink Coconut Derby and a host of other multi-million pounds profit earners.

Everyone was ecstatic until it was realised that this would be one of the first night clubs in the country to fall under the new “Disabled Access” legislation.Then it was discovered that the chairman of the licensing committee had a disabled daughter who enjoyed nightclubs.

Back to the drawing board. Although it seemed that by providing access for a wheelchair to all facilities the project was scuppered, with the new plans presented in sombre mood. The building looked  odd; all ramps, slides and hiding places. Albeit with beautiful lighting and decor. Something of a giant Hamster Utopia.

Matters took a turn for the worse at the Entertainment Licence meeting, when the chairman announced that he had a disabled daughter, who would not want to go to the Black Orchid. Because it looked like a discotheque for the disabled, and she wanted enjoy a discotheque for the able-bodied.

After an awkward silence he smiled and said that she did not need access to every bar, or every restaurant or dancefloor. All she needed was to be able to enter and leave the building safely, get to a bar, toilet, and a dancefloor, and to be able to have a meal.

Smiles all round until he noticed the strapline “Dancing and Cavorting” and asked what was meant by “cavorting”. “Enjoying yourself”, came the reply, his look suggested that he interpreted it as “to behave in a physically lively and uninhibited way”. Mmm!

And the reality was that approximately one and half million customers danced and cavorted at what was to become one of the UK`s most iconic nightclubs.

Finally – In case anyone wonders how the name Black Orchid came about….

That`s simple.

The star of the horseracing world at that time was Desert Orchid!

 

Signing the restaurant deal at the Black Orchid – and the spirit of Mike Hilkene

Nottingham always has been special.

So the Black Orchid had to really turn it on to fit into such a proud city leisure sector; and of course needed the best team of Management, Entertainers, and Security Management to draw people from the existing  city centre attractions.

Steve Taylor from the Pink Coconut Derby became as Deputy Manager; Tracey Slade with her invaluable enthusiasm and local knowledge was appointed Assistant Manager; Shanghai Sam`s DJ Mark Jameson headed the entertainment team,  former Mr Universe Linkie Wilson became reception manager/head of security.

To complete the team Mike Hilkene enthusiastically agreed to move from Pagoda Park Birmingham to take oversee and guide the business as General Manager.

Probably the most difficult, and pleasurable, tasks was to find a franchisee to run the proposed Cantonese restaurant at balcony level. Some restaurateurs thought we were crazy; some suddenly couldn`t speak English. Others wanted more conditions and safeguards than you could shake a stick at, and effectively wanted the Black Orchid to bankroll the franchise totally. When Ocean City  came along everything changed, and it soon became time for –

Signing the restaurant deal at the Black Orchid – and the spirit of Mike Hilkene, who sparkles out of the following pictures –

The first picture below from left to right shows First Leisure MD Tony Spragg, Mike, CY Chung, First Leisure RM Dick Child –  and stunt double – Hollywood actor – and franchise manager Nigel Fan.

The Black Orchid layout plan on the table shows some detail of the ground floor, especially the dance floor, entrance way to the right, and the beer cellar underneath the VIP area to the left.

They are about to do the deal – and Mike is pleased – very!

It`s a done deal

Then girls arrive – left to right Margaret Child – Jenny Sprag – Mike`s friend – and it`s time for dinner.

How do you approach a lobster with chopsticks – Mike is not sure – and can you eat both ends?

The two guys who deserve all the credit for the phenomenal success of the first Black Orchid restaurant franchise.

And so the story of the Black Orchid moves on. There is much more to tell, but that will follow at another time. Mike moved into Europe to be Regional Manager for a company called Whitegates, and the indomitable Ian Bomber Harries took over the Orchid.

CY moved out of the franchise to concentrate on a new restaurant called Ocean City 2, based on a Cantonese nouveau theme, then to the famous Pretty Orchid Thai Restaurant in Bridalsmithgate. Tony and Jenny Spragg opened their own business in Spain, while Nigel went to star with Robbie Coltraine in the film “Nuns on the Run”

Sadly, since then we have lost Margaret, Mike and Nigel to the big C.

Bet they had some tales to tell St Peter when they arrived at the pearly gates.

Absolutely wonderful people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How the Black Orchid Nottingham Emerged from a Disastrous Licensing Application to Turn the Albert Hall into……..

During the mid 1980s an application was made to convert the Albert Hall Nottingham into a nightclub.

The operating company already had successful clubs throughout the country, the nearest being the Pink Coconut Derby, with Nottingham earmarked a city ripe for nightclub investment.

This was during the days of the old liquor license, special hours certificate and entertainment license.

Terry Wheater and his team of architects at Group Northern were commissioned to draw up plans, prepare spectacular artist impressions of the finished works, and obtain the necessary planning permission.

Full of confidence, and armed with the best licensing lawyers in the area, the entourage made its way to the Magistrates` Court to present the proposal the the Licensing Justices (Magistrates) to obtain the liquor licence.

It was at this point that everything began to fall apart, and is probably best remembered as  –

How the Black Orchid Nottingham Emerged from a Disastrous Licensing Application to Turn the Albert Hall into……..

Babylon………………. which was compounded by a very distinguished gentleman, who had given clear and emotional evidence earlier, who exclaimed “The biblical city of sin” – which clearly the swayed the licensing justices into deciding that a former house of worship and temperance venue should not be turned into a house of cavorting revellers under the influenced by alcohol.

Fortunately this post could be concluded with “and they all lived happily ever after”.

Which is probably quite true…………. but the search was still on to find the illusive site for what was going to be one of the key nightclubs in the UK

 

Former Black Orchid Nightclub Nottingham Opens for Special One Nighter on Saturday 23rd – Sunday 24th March 2013

It`s absolutely true and everyone at Locarno Boy is delighted!

Former Black Orchid Nightclub Opens for Special One Nighter on Saturday the 23rd – Sunday 24th March 2013

Neglected and abandoned after years of mismanagement and abuse, the former entertainment icon – The Black Orchid Nottingham, once again opened its doors for “Shakedown” – possibly the first nightclub squat.

This time there was a massive obstacle to overcome – the interior of the building resembled a bomb-site .

But the organisers were not deterred.

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Health and safety risk assessments were undertaken. Electricity generated. Toilets connected with running water. And the mother of all clean-up operations completed.

This may have been the first nightclub squat, but the organisers had no intention of scrimping on safety aspects

Four police officers made a short visit to the event, saw no problems and left.

“From Nottingham and around the country Shakedown brought together the best soundsystems, party collectives, performers, visual artists and community groups for a big DIY all night party” – quoted Nottingham Indymedia. Which is exactly what the building was designed and built for.

Furthermore it  ridiculous that the building has stood empty for so long, victim to to the folly and foolishness of poor management, ground-hog day thinking and incompetence.

What the organisers of this event achieved in such a short space of time is outstanding, and we complement them for giving the former Black Orchid the opportunity to entertain as only she knows best.

Yes – we are aware that the “Orchid” was refurbished as “Isis”, but by then magic was fading.

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Isis was as Egyptian goddess, and the friend of slaves, sinners, artisans and the downtrodden……….. And we at Locarno believe that she was also the friend of those who go out and make things happen in a responsible and peaceful manner

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The image on this post is from Nottingham Indymedia. You will find further images and details of the event by using the following link –

http://nottingham.indymedia.org/articles/5492

 

Note – Many thanks to Nick North for supplying this link

 

 

Under the desk – it`s a robbery – Black Orchid style

The Dome at Birmingham was not the only club to have its robbery problems; we had two very frightening incidents at The Black Orchid, and the first went something like this – the second can wait for another day.

It happened on a Monday morning; there were three of us in the building, Heather the cashier, John the handy man, and yours truly.

The time was around 9am – half an hour before the time lock on the safe was set to release.  On reflection – perhaps the “robbers” had a pre-planning need here.

The handy man let them in, then went to the top of the stairs, looked at them, then legged it into the cash office and locked the door; leaving me “out in the open” in my office. To my right was the cashier`s office, and to the left, the managers – Ian Bomber Harries.

I crawled on my hands and knees into Ian`s office and pressed the panic alarm, which sounded in the Police Station. Then hid under a desk and waited….and waited and….waited…

What I didn`t know, was that the robbers had legged it back out of the building when they saw the handyman run towards the cashier`s office. There was a CCTV monitoring system in Ian`s office, but I daren`t creep out to look in case I was seen.

I stayed under the desk for ages – long after they had gone – and only dare scramble out when the police arrived.

What haven`t told you is that I was “fuming” even prior to all this.

The parent company, First Leisure, had appointed a twonk called David as senior to me, so you can imagine my fury when he waltzed in some four hours later and asked sarcastically “everything all right?”

Shall we just say that he wished he`d never asked – in fact I hope he wished he`d never seen Nottingham, but I coped and got on……….. as you do.

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