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Strippers, communists and cha-cha-cha: the real Club Tropicana | George Michael

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Lilos, Speedos and piña coladas: in the public imagination, Wham!’s Club Tropicana is Ibiza’s Pikes Hotel, the setting for its radiant video. The hotel’s website describes the resort and bar as “an iconic institution, steeped in rock’n’roll history”, beloved by the likes of Freddie Mercury, Grace Jones and Bon Jovi. In the new Netflix documentary about the 80s pop duo, songwriter George Michael says the song was in fact inspired by his visits to Le Beat Route, the Soho nightclub where he and Andrew Ridgeley would spend their pre-celebrity Friday nights honing their dance moves.

But as the song reaches its 40th anniversary, I think I’ve discovered the real Club Tropicana in the annals of pop culture history – an iconic institution all of its own.

An advert for Club Tropicana’s grand opening night at 18 Greek Street in 1958. Photograph: Melody Maker

A 1958 advert in Melody Maker magazine advertises the September grand opening of Freddy Irani’s Club Tropicana at 18 Greek Street. Freddy was a businessman who, along with his brother, had already put his mark on British pop culture by opening the 2i’s Coffee Bar in the 1950s. A green plaque at its location dubs 2i’s the “birthplace of British Rock and Roll”, with the likes of Cliff Richard and Tommy Steele gracing its basement stage. Freddy opened Club Tropicana thinking cha-cha-cha would be the next big thing. He was wrong. The club’s promising “3D stereophonic sound system” and “fully licensed lounge” were quickly converted into use as a strip club.

By 1961, even the strip shows weren’t exciting customers, and Freddy had put Club Tropicana up for sale. Famed comedian Peter Cook would be the new proprietor at 18 Greek Street. Those with a keen memory will also know this address as the location of the Establishment comedy club. In its opening weeks alone, you could have met the likes of EM Forster, George Melly, James Baldwin, Robert Mitchum, Jack Lemmon and Paul McCartney in the bar scrum. (Brushing shoulders with the stars, indeed.) But after a short three-year tenure, The Establishment closed in 1964. Among its various incarnations, 18 Greek Street would become another bar called Zebra (perhaps foreshadowing its current name, Zebrano), and then Marina’s Miranda Club – an exclusive members-only institution where women would undress on stage. Later still came the Exciting Cinema Club, exhibiting hardcore pornography for its members. Suddenly, Club Tropicana being a place “where membership’s a smiling face” starts to take on all kinds of new meaning.

Wham!: Club Tropicana – video

Of course, much of this history harks back to a time when Ridgeley and Michael were too young to take notice of comedy clubs or strip shows. But by the time the boys were cutting shapes at Le Beat Route in 1981, the Exciting Cinema Club was open for business just next door. They seem to have tapped into this hidden history in the making of their hit single, whether consciously or not. In Ridgeley’s 2019 autobiography Wham! George & Me, he tells of the teenage pair’s early awe at Soho’s underbelly of pornography, adult cinemas and live sex shows. This included a visit to the Triple X cinema, which they cut short upon realising that “other patrons were treating the film as an interactive experience”, as he coyly put it. And in a 2006 ITN interview, Michael speaks of cruising on and off since his teenage years. Did these entanglements with Soho’s culture of sex and music pique their interest in the neighbourhood’s not-too-distant past?

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The entrance to Le Beat Route in Soho, 1984.
The entrance to Le Beat Route in Soho, 1984. Photograph: Express/Getty Images

And 18 Greek Street is not all sex and celebrity. In 1864, it was the headquarters of the First International (AKA the International Workingmen’s Association) and the Tuesday-night stomping ground of someone more famous than even Wham!. Any self-respecting London member of the Young Communist League of Britain in the 1970s would have known where one Karl Marx had worked in the capital. And Michael was one such member. What’s more, the last record played every Friday by Le Beat Route’s resident DJs would be the Young Communist League Choir’s version of The Red Flag. (It’s no coincidence that Wham! was the first western band to tour China.)

There are a few too many coincidences for the real Club Tropicana not to have been at 18 Greek Street. Perhaps we could ask Elton John? He opened a popup music and memorabilia shop on Greek Street just a few weeks ago. And Michael idolised John as a kid. Surely he would have known that John had a regular weekly slot with his first band, Bluesology, atthe Establishment back in the day, too. Michael and Ridgeley could speak firsthand to their visits to Le Beat Route being the key inspiration for Club Tropicana. But, in the words of Le Beat Route royalty Spandau Ballet, the “songs are always buried deep”.


Lilos, Speedos and piña coladas: in the public imagination, Wham!’s Club Tropicana is Ibiza’s Pikes Hotel, the setting for its radiant video. The hotel’s website describes the resort and bar as “an iconic institution, steeped in rock’n’roll history”, beloved by the likes of Freddie Mercury, Grace Jones and Bon Jovi. In the new Netflix documentary about the 80s pop duo, songwriter George Michael says the song was in fact inspired by his visits to Le Beat Route, the Soho nightclub where he and Andrew Ridgeley would spend their pre-celebrity Friday nights honing their dance moves.

But as the song reaches its 40th anniversary, I think I’ve discovered the real Club Tropicana in the annals of pop culture history – an iconic institution all of its own.

An advert for Club Tropicana’s grand opening night at 18 Greek Street in 1958.
An advert for Club Tropicana’s grand opening night at 18 Greek Street in 1958. Photograph: Melody Maker

A 1958 advert in Melody Maker magazine advertises the September grand opening of Freddy Irani’s Club Tropicana at 18 Greek Street. Freddy was a businessman who, along with his brother, had already put his mark on British pop culture by opening the 2i’s Coffee Bar in the 1950s. A green plaque at its location dubs 2i’s the “birthplace of British Rock and Roll”, with the likes of Cliff Richard and Tommy Steele gracing its basement stage. Freddy opened Club Tropicana thinking cha-cha-cha would be the next big thing. He was wrong. The club’s promising “3D stereophonic sound system” and “fully licensed lounge” were quickly converted into use as a strip club.

By 1961, even the strip shows weren’t exciting customers, and Freddy had put Club Tropicana up for sale. Famed comedian Peter Cook would be the new proprietor at 18 Greek Street. Those with a keen memory will also know this address as the location of the Establishment comedy club. In its opening weeks alone, you could have met the likes of EM Forster, George Melly, James Baldwin, Robert Mitchum, Jack Lemmon and Paul McCartney in the bar scrum. (Brushing shoulders with the stars, indeed.) But after a short three-year tenure, The Establishment closed in 1964. Among its various incarnations, 18 Greek Street would become another bar called Zebra (perhaps foreshadowing its current name, Zebrano), and then Marina’s Miranda Club – an exclusive members-only institution where women would undress on stage. Later still came the Exciting Cinema Club, exhibiting hardcore pornography for its members. Suddenly, Club Tropicana being a place “where membership’s a smiling face” starts to take on all kinds of new meaning.

Wham!: Club Tropicana – video

Of course, much of this history harks back to a time when Ridgeley and Michael were too young to take notice of comedy clubs or strip shows. But by the time the boys were cutting shapes at Le Beat Route in 1981, the Exciting Cinema Club was open for business just next door. They seem to have tapped into this hidden history in the making of their hit single, whether consciously or not. In Ridgeley’s 2019 autobiography Wham! George & Me, he tells of the teenage pair’s early awe at Soho’s underbelly of pornography, adult cinemas and live sex shows. This included a visit to the Triple X cinema, which they cut short upon realising that “other patrons were treating the film as an interactive experience”, as he coyly put it. And in a 2006 ITN interview, Michael speaks of cruising on and off since his teenage years. Did these entanglements with Soho’s culture of sex and music pique their interest in the neighbourhood’s not-too-distant past?

skip past newsletter promotion

The entrance to Le Beat Route in Soho, 1984.
The entrance to Le Beat Route in Soho, 1984. Photograph: Express/Getty Images

And 18 Greek Street is not all sex and celebrity. In 1864, it was the headquarters of the First International (AKA the International Workingmen’s Association) and the Tuesday-night stomping ground of someone more famous than even Wham!. Any self-respecting London member of the Young Communist League of Britain in the 1970s would have known where one Karl Marx had worked in the capital. And Michael was one such member. What’s more, the last record played every Friday by Le Beat Route’s resident DJs would be the Young Communist League Choir’s version of The Red Flag. (It’s no coincidence that Wham! was the first western band to tour China.)

There are a few too many coincidences for the real Club Tropicana not to have been at 18 Greek Street. Perhaps we could ask Elton John? He opened a popup music and memorabilia shop on Greek Street just a few weeks ago. And Michael idolised John as a kid. Surely he would have known that John had a regular weekly slot with his first band, Bluesology, atthe Establishment back in the day, too. Michael and Ridgeley could speak firsthand to their visits to Le Beat Route being the key inspiration for Club Tropicana. But, in the words of Le Beat Route royalty Spandau Ballet, the “songs are always buried deep”.

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