Buffalo Bar: A Farewell To Highbury Venue

The well-loved Buffalo Bar in London is shutting up shop on New Year's Eve after almost 15 years of revelry. We caught up with two of its musical alumni, as well as boss Stacey Thomas to get her side of the story

The acclaimed Highbury venue the Buffalo Bar will open its doors for the last time on New Year’s Eve with a special ‘Last Stand’ club night. It brings the curtain down on 14 years of seminal live shows and club nights featuring a host of iconic artists past and present.

Barely a month ago, employees at the Upper Street venue showed up to work to find an eviction notice from new landlords, Stonegate Pub Company, stuck to the door.

Stonegate recently bought the property – which includes the Famous Cock upstairs – but it is a decision that ultimately falls at the feet of their parent company, County Estate Pubs Limited, whose legal negotiations with the Buffalo have resulted in the impending closure.

A petition to save the bar has attained over 5,600 signatures at time of publishing this piece, as well as the support of Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury, Emily Thornberry, who has promised to try and "save what must be a remarkable venue". The New Year’s Eve ‘Last Stand’ sold out in well under 24 hours.

The news follows other London venues, including Madame JoJo’s and the 12 Bar Club on Denmark Street, calling time. All have rich musical histories, and their fate highlights the worsening struggles of small music venues throughout the city.

Rupert Orton, guitarist for the now-defunct rock & roll firebrands The Jim Jones Revue, says that he owes a large part of his success as a musician to the Buffalo itself (and its surplus of cheap alcohol…): "Jim Jones had approached me about managing his then-band, Black Moses, which I agreed to do, and arranged a show at the Buffalo Bar to test the waters. Blank Moses were a Blue Cheer-type hard rock band, but when they started their set – I was at the door so could hear them but couldn’t see them – instead of the Black Moses archetypal power rock I was expecting to hear, they appeared to have had a radical change of direction towards avant-garde experimental noise! Intrigued I went back down into the club to check what was happening, and discovered the bass player was blind drunk and falling all over the stage, bumping into things and people with his bass, causing the strange sounds I heard upstairs. The band pretty much fell apart on stage that night so afterwards I asked Jim what he was going to do next. That conversation continued and ended in the start of the Jim Jones Revue, so indirectly the Buffalo Bar was responsible for my musical adventure with the JJR for the next eight years!"

The Buffalo Bar has served as a platform for up and coming artists ever since opening in 2000. Former performers include: Hot Chip, Sleaford Mods, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Art Brut, Savages, Factory Floor, Fat White Family, Bloc Party, Mclusky and Friendly Fires. The National, at their recent November O2 Arena show, paid tribute to the scene of their first two UK shows, by dedicating ‘Mistaken For Strangers’ to the Buffalo Bar.

Dorian Cox, lead guitarist of five-piece indie rock band, The Long Blondes, and veteran of many night-time jaunts to the Buffalo remembers it thus: "I was lucky enough to play there with the Long Blondes a handful of times – easily some of our best London shows. The room was perfect, it was underground, every band sounded exciting in that room, there was always a decent club night so you could make an idiot of yourself dancing and kissing people. Simple pleasures but pleasures that are being wiped out. I’m sad I’ll never play there with my current acts. Rest in peace a legendary indie venue."

"The first time I went, sometime in the early 2000s, I was under the influence of too many substances which caused me to fall down the stairs landing at the feet of Bobby Gillespie. It was immediately my kind of place: you could be a mess at the feet of a pop star."

Despite the surge in support for the bar and its staff, their remains little hope of a sudden turnaround in events, and the Buffalo will most likely cease to exist following the NYE blowout. It’s a great shame for a club that has been a vital part of London’s music scene for a decade and a half, and the Quietus will be one of a host who will miss it. We sat down with Stacey Thomas, boss of the Buffalo, for a chat about her experiences running a small music venue in London’s ever-changing musical landscape.

How difficult is it to keep a place like the Buffalo Bar open?

Stacey Thomas: You’ve got to move with the times, you’ve got to compete, you’ve got to pick the right bands or you just won’t get the punters in. We have an irregularity within our license, it’s a subletting which they’ve exploited and haven’t given us much notice. I’m taking them to court over it because they’ve done it in the wrong way.

What’s the situation at the moment?

ST: There’s been an online awareness campaign run by the people who put on the club nights, but it’s not reached the ears it needs to, and if it has they don’t give a shit.

Does Emily Thornberry’s support count for nothing?

ST: I don’t think it’ll help. She was lovely and she came to meet us and all our promoters and she hung out with us for a couple of hours, she’s a really nice lady. She’s written a letter to various owners of the property leading the case and she did an early day motion in parliament last week. I don’t think it’s going to have any effect at all. I don’t think she’s even had a reply.

Quite a few similar venues have closed recently. Why do you think this is?

ST: Really small music venues struggle. I mean, when we opened it really put the nail in the Luminaire’s coffin. The 100 Club had a lot of problems with its rent a few years ago, and that seems to be cleared up now. The Windmill has always been there and feels like it always will be. What other small venues are there around anymore?

How can people stop the decline of local music scenes?

ST: Go out more, support the local venues. Go see bands, people don’t do it so much anymore… People don’t just go to see bands now, they want to have a complete night, they want to go for a meal and then they want to go clubbing. People don’t see bands as going clubbing.

Why do you think the Buffalo Bar is so special?

ST: Its intimacy and the friendly staff, people want to go back, people feel comfortable there. It’s one of the few places in London where a girl can go there on her own and know that she’s going to know the staff and half the punters and feel safe. It’s a very safe place, we don’t have any theft, we never have any trouble even though it’s a 4 am license, ever. That’s why Emily Thornberry didn’t even know it existed, because it was never called to attention, the police don’t know where we are because we never call them. We called them one time and it took them an hour to find us and they’re only up the road.

In its time the Buffalo Bar was one of the best small venues in London. It was a stepping stone venue onto bigger and better things for bands. I look down the list of people who have played here and think, wow, some of these band are fucking huge now.

How will you remember the place?

ST: It was like my lounge room. We all stay around after every night, have a few drinks, put our feet up and kick everyone out. Look around the place, the red walls, you’ve got your own bar. We’ve had all sorts of games down there, Wii, darts, bowling. We pulled up the empty bottles from the floor and used gaffer tape to play bowling. I’ve been drunk with my staff more times than I can remember. Almost every night for fucking years.

We’d urge you to sign the petition to save the Buffalo Bar here. For full details of the upcoming shows the venue will be hosting, head to their Facebook page

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