Back in the day, Soho used to be the centre for London’s sex industry – full of strip clubs, peep shows and porn cinemas. Now, one of the area’s oldest X-rated venues, The Windmill, wants to bring back a slice of old Soho by reintroducing nudity at the club.
A stalwart of Soho’s seedy late-night scene, The Windmill Theatre opened in 1932. To get around obscenity laws in the 1930s the club had nude performers pose motionless in artistic tableaux. It became a successful adults-only bar, claiming that it ‘never closed’ and bragged about staying open even during the Blitz.
However, in 2018 the venue was forced to close after an investigation claimed that it was ‘prostituting’ its performers. The BBC’s Local Democracy Reporting Service discovered that a women’s rights group hired ex-police officers to investigate the venue undercover and collect evidence. The former officers found that dancers ‘regularly broke no-touching rules’, and one claimed he was offered a ‘VIP dance’ for £150 while the dancer paid a security guard £10 to turn a blind eye. The report from the women’s group, which was never named, also alleged the club allowed groping, slapping and pinching of its performers.
The activists said that the women performing needed better rights and protections, comparing them to ‘artists and athletes, much the same as a Victoria Secrets model, but vulnerable without high-profile agents’, adding that ‘some struggle to pay their mortgage’.
The report added: ‘They are within the control of management who could be pushing the boundaries and even prostituting them.’ At the time, the Windmill management said it would ‘work tirelessly to ensure no future lapses’.
It reopened as a celebrity cocktail bar in 2019 after a £10 million makeover, before rebranding again in 2021 as a 350-seat cabaret venue. Now, the Windmill is hoping to bring back naked dancers, the BBC has reported. On its application, it says that reintroducing striptease would be ‘in keeping with the historic nature of the famous Windmill Theatre’. Bottomless brunch, anyone?
Windmill Theatre, Great Windmill St, W1D 7ND.
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