York by Night

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Katie Price, Marmite and the nightlife in York. What links the three? Sadly, not some rather amusing anecdote about Jordan coming a-cropper with a sandwich in Ziggy’s, but the rather more cliché-d truth of “you either love it or you hate it”. It is apparently a fact that York has a pub for every day of the year – quite a catchphrase. Despite being a relatively small city, I think it’s fair to say that what York does in terms of nightlife, it does well. No-one pretends we’re terribly cool (except maybe the odd poser in Gallery), but we can live with that. After all, you expected to hear the Baywatch theme tune on every night out, didn’t you? Didn’t you?

Going out in York is a structured affair. Everyone goes to a certain place on a certain night. If you dare to upset the order, you’ll be faced with outrageously expensive drinks, eerily quiet dance floors and probably a vague sense of unease. This has its advantages – you’re almost guaranteed to bump into someone you know and have a vague drunken conversation about things you’d never actually say to them when sober – but it can feel rather repetitive after a while. Everyone has a favourite night and everyone has one they can’t stand; it won’t take you long to sort the wheat from the chaff. Avoid town on Saturday nights, unless you like fat locals and grievous bodily harm, but apart from that there’s a place to go on any night of the week if the mood strikes you. The Charles XII in Heslington is where everyone goes on Mondays, for cheap drinks, a barbecue and perhaps even a dancing Biology lecturer (don’t ask). Tuesdays are all about Tru (hence becoming known as “Truesdays”, etc. etc.) – expect to see drunken people embarrassing themselves playing on a Nintendo Wii for reasons known only to themselves, although you do at least get a choice of music, with an indie room next to the main dance floor. Ziggy’s still reigns supreme on Wednesdays, thanks to the sports clubs and the bizarre blind loyalty of everyone else. The music is awful, the walls sweat and you risk death by lethal staircase merely to get into the place, but everyone just keeps coming back for more. Gallery is for Thursdays and Sundays, and its undoubted highlight for me is that you never have to queue for the toilets – there are thousands and they’re always clean, something which has brought me great joy on a fair few drunken adventures. Friday was a bit of a barren night until the indie club The Duchess caught on this year. I love it, but my friends hate it, which was rather unfortunate. Every so often they have silent discos, a cause of much hilarity when you get half the room screaming along to Muse in a fit of melodrama while the other half attempts to do a conga around them. Oh, and there’s always the Willow. But the less said about that Chinese Restaurant-cum-nightclub, the better. Think Jackie Chan meets Phoenix Nights.

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If you are not club-minded, York can offer a vast selection of bars, which can be divided into two rough groups: the more expensive ones which do food during the day, and the grim ones. The grim ones can mostly be found in Micklegate (attempt the Micklegate run at your peril) and the others on the other side of the river. I went through my first term with a strange philosophy that one should never cross the river on nights out, thus consigning myself to either a grim night or an expensive one – a rookie mistake, feel free to mix and match. Perennial favourites include the Nags Head, Rumours, Evil Eye, Dusk, the Lowther, Vudu Lounge, Montey’s, Reflex and so on and so forth. There are many.

But far be from me to suggest that going out in town is the only way to while away the hours of darkness. Colleges hold various campus events from time to time, with varying success. Club Ds – run by Derwent College JCRC – are normally good (if they avoid the fire alarms) and come complete with hilarious fancy dress costumes, but the others can be a bit hit and miss. The campus bars are good for a drink if you manage to catch them in the five minutes they’re open, but things have greatly improved on this score since The Courtyard opened. Moving away from alcohol (shock), York has legions of restaurants, ranging from the very expensive to the very cheap. The Grand Opera House York is host to many travelling plays and musicals, and Fibbers and The Duchess have gigs pretty regularly and sometimes hold “alternative nights” – make of that what you will.

So, for nightlife, I’d say that York strikes a happy medium. We’re no London, but on the other hand, we’re not Durham either. And if you ever fancy a change, Leeds is only about half an hour away on the train. But if the prospect of being lost in a big city probably whilst very drunk is as terrifying to you as it is to me, I’ll be in Evil Eye (on the hunt for Johnny Depp), and then bouncing around the indie room in Tru, singing as loudly and as irritatingly as the cocktails will let me. I’ll see you there.

(Photo at top: Georgi Mabee; Photo of The Parish: Michael Brunsden)

5 comments

  1. Leeds is just one of many places within easy reach. Without meaning to describe York as a ghost town, it’s major advantage for nights out was the fact that trains go to and from Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Durham, Newcastle… regularly and at all hours of the night (or so it seems)… even London is do-able for an early evening jaunt so long as you can get back to KX for 10 or sometimes a bit later.

    Back on campus, the Courtyard is a catch 22 – it’s undoubtedly the place to be, and therefore far better than any college bar, but it’s for precisely that reason that college bars are going – like Derwent’s. But that’s a debate for another time.

    By the way, the food-and-drink Google Map thing on the previous page is brilliant! But there are so many more places that could be added…

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  2. “Avoid town on Saturday nights, unless you like fat locals and grievous bodily harm”.

    I can’t believe how scared York students are. It’s good job you came to study here rather than Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, any city with a vibe. You would be shitting it!

    no wonder York club promoters don’t rely on Students to get the party started at weekends. Long live the locals!

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  3. 29 Nov ’09 at 10:47 am

    Daniel Linderman

    We’re not really that scared, I personally just don’t want to get in a fight with drunken, balding old men who still think they’re 18, and still think that they can drink as much as they used to and handle it. The truth is though that they’re not 18 anymore. The way locals act on Saturday nights is appalling and embarrassing. I’ve seen more fights on the two Saturday nights I’ve been out in York than I’ve ever seen on the many many nights and campus events that I’ve been to in the last two years. At least the worst us students do is get drunk – but we can handle it most of the time cos we drink a lot and regularly – and then go sleep with each other. No hassle for bouncers, the police, or courts there.

    And I’m sure club promoters are very happy for locals to have their nights in York, and for Students to keep them alive during the week. We might not have that much money, but I can safely say the majority of me and my friends income goes on drinking and entry into clubs in town.

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  4. Fair comment, and believe it or not i too never want to get into any sort of confrontations with idiots in York (of which i agree there are many).
    It’s unfortunate that York has a ‘market town mentality’. But it’s been here for ever and it will never go away.
    But i would love it if the night i promote (freakin @ HUB) was attended by more students. Not because i want their money – just because i think they’d love it and see that there is never any hassle at the night. I maintain a strict policy to keep louts away from my night as the most important thing is that everyone has a good time and is safe.

    I was a student in Liverpool and i know first hand that all proper students spend most of their cash on booze n clubs.

    I was just pointing out that it’s not always bad. If you know where to go you’ll have a good night. Even on Saturdays.

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  5. I say we all just stay out, it’d save us a lot of energy walking to and from town every night.

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