ANGELA GREGORY: NYE at the Piazza Level

Summerland Site.

Summerland Site.

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AS thoughts turn from turkey to tequila (or Christmas to New Year as it’s more commonly known) I thought it was high time to reflect on the demise of the New Year’s Eve night out in Douglas.

I’m no expert on NYE in other parts of the world, having only ever spent two of them off-island – in 1999 I stood shivering, trapped and desperate for the loo on London Bridge as some fabulous fireworks exploded over the Millennium Eye which wasn’t working and one year in the early 90s I went home three hours before midnight in Ulverston after downing a disgusting shot of Aftershock.

But I do know a good New Year’s Eve in Douglas when I see one and these days they are definitely about as thin on the ground as a Rushen MHK on a bus driver’s Christmas card list.

The kind of nights out I’m talking about started for me and for my friends in Casey’s in Strand Street, as did most nights out at the start of the 1990s. Usually there was a spare bottle of Kiwi 20/20 doing the rounds in someone’s handbag.

A couple of ‘circuits’ around the oval bar in and we’d got the measure of the night. We knew who was with who, who we wanted to talk to later and who we wanted to avoid. And at around 11pm we all headed out of the door, ID in hand, and made the exciting journey along Douglas promenades to Summerland.

A trip along Douglas prom in a cab in those days was a pretty exciting experience, whether it was New Year’s Eve or just another Friday or Saturday night out. Endless groups of people would be making their way from hotel bar to hotel bar and quite often there’d already be a queue at Toffs. On NYE, because it was no normal Friday or Saturday night, the cab wasn’t stopping at Jimmy B’s or Paramount City, it was carrying on to Summerland, or more accurately the Piazza Level, which for one night was turned into Mecca for revellers.

It was a cavernous place which held everyone in the Isle of Man, or so it seemed to us. Every single person you knew was there and it was fabulous. No doubt a sober and less rose tinted view would be that it was a heaving mass of drunken young people running riot over a carpet sticky with spilled tequila, but to us it was amazing. The sheer excitement and sense of anticipation as you climbed those stone steps on the seaward side of the prom, crossed the bridge over the road and headed towards the big main doors was immense.

You could hear and feel the thudding music coming from inside and the only people standing in your way were the bouncers. We’d always weigh up which bouncers were there and head for the most sympathetic of the lot. At that point they were the most important people in the world, standing as they did between you and the best night out of the year.

There was one, I’m sure I knew his name at the time but have forgotten since, with a handlebar moustache who never smiled. He had long dark hair in a ponytail and was always scowling. If you got him, there was every possibility you were going home to Terry Wogan and Big Ben.

Once past the bouncer barrier and safely inside it was a question of getting a single drink (not many could be bothered queueing at the bar more than once), walking round and round for a while and trying to tactically position yourself next to the person you fancied just in time for midnight. If you were armed with a sprig of mistletoe then all the better. Oh, and you tried not to lose your friends as well.

After that it was usually a blur of bad dancing and worse singing.

Kicking out time varied but usually that meant one of three things – an ill-advised trip to the casino, a two-hour wait to flag a taxi down or a long walk home. It all ended with a power nap, often still in the clothes you’d been wearing the night before, before New Year’s Day festivities began and you could phone all your friends to find out who they’d ‘happened to find themselves standing next to’ at midnight.

Although I’m not sure I could be bothered with it all now, it’s not like we have the choice any more. Trips along Douglas prom on any weekend night can be a sad experience with the loss of most of the hotels and bars. There’s no Toffs or other late night equivalent, Paramount City has been dark for a while now and Summerland has been reduced to rubble and the remnants of the Aquadrome’s top diving board.

Long before Summerland was razed to the ground, they stopped the Piazza Level New Year’s Eves for revellers and turned it into a family night. I remember being absolutely gutted. After that it was difficult to find anywhere like it, somewhere that allowed everyone out celebrating to gather in the one place.

And the decision by many pubs and bars to actually close on New Year’s Eve 1999 really killed the spirit of it all. NYE in Douglas never really recovered. I think you can probably pinpoint that moment as the one at which people started looking to home entertainment as the way forward. Add to that the advent of ‘event’ programmes like the X Factor and the huge success of games consoles and you’ve got yourself a social revolution of the kind I could do without.

This Saturday night I will be watching Jools Holland and drinking a glass of champagne and to be quite honest I’m not complaining.

But somewhere at the back of my mind there’ll still be a thudding baseline and the distant memory of the taste of that last tequila shot.

I wonder what that bouncer’s name was?

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