26 July 2015 marked the last ever night that The Willow Disco opened its illustrious doors to students desperate to channel their alcohol-fuelled souls into dancing to Taylor Swift, engage in deep meaningful conversation in the seating area and daring adventures into the toilets. The climactic final night of Willow featured no-holds barred entry, the chance to claim the posters on the walls and the upstairs windows opened, giving the distinct impression that Willow was really going to be torn down.
After 43 years, the closure of the disco-restaurant comes as the owner of the premise, Aviva, and Tommy Fong, the owner of the former Cantonese restaurant, finally call it a day after operating under a tenancy at will lease since 2012 when Fong’s lease expired.
Since the announcement that the venue would be closing, student reaction has been one of disbelief and grief as hundreds have commented on Willow’s Facebook page, many have signed an online petition demanding to keep the club alive and even to have it be made into a English Heritage site, and there have been nearly 17,000 views of a YouTube video of Hitler reacting to the news that Willow is closing.
If the final night of Willow is anything to go by – one in which despite the student population being low over July saw a turnout of epic proportion – it is hard to envisage somewhere in the foreseeable that can replicate its majesty.
If Willow had been a TV show, I like to think it would have ended like The Sopranos. Just when the hit is about to come on and the final song reaches its close, everything cuts to black – as many nights in Willow have gone – and the ultimate result is that it is left unclear whether Willow, and indeed Tommy Fong, get to see another day (or indeed, night). Yet the reality is apparent. It has gone too far to be a joke that Willow is actually closing. The dust settles on Willow’s erstwhile sticky floors and students are left to question what is to happen next for student nightlife.
As the consequences become clear, Willow will stay if not within our memories then at least within our hearts as the home to the best nights that we can’t remember.