Once upon a time, pole dancing was to banking as olive oil is to bruschetta. Now, however, it’s all a bit hackneyed and predictable. These days, the discerning financier on a night out with clients is generally looking for something a little more outré.
“No one really goes for pole dancers now,” one hedge fund manager tells us. “I’ve been taking my established clients to the Box in Soho instead. It’s a bit of a difficult call as it can be very outrageous – you need to be careful who you take there, but it can also be very memorable.”
On the spectrum of corporate entertainment riskiness, the Box lies somewhere on the outer limits – beaten only the infamous Lady Marmalade Adult Parties frequented by traders and brokers in London, according to the Wall Street Journal. An outlandish cabaret and dining club, the Box opens for business at 11pm with shows starting at 1am that run throughout the night. Phones, cameras and Blackberries are banned, but the Box’s own promotional video gives a flavour of what to expect. The club didn’t respond to our request that it comment for this article.
“The Box is very extreme and warped. It’s out there,” says Lucy Hughe, who does the promotion for Circus, an entertainment bar and restaurant nearby in Covent Garden. Circus offers bursts of less warped entertainment throughout the evening, says Hughes: “We have ariel performers, handbalancers, modern burlesque dancers and high quality food.” Large groups of financial sevices staff come to Circus Hughes adds, usually to entertain clients. Modern burlesque is as popular with men as with women, Hughes says. “It’s sexy, but not sleazy – all our acts are there to put a smile on your face. They’re as popular with female bankers as with males.”
Last week, we reported that BNP Paribas had accidentally booked a pole dancer instead of a stylish ballet dancer for a fixed income party, resulting in outrage. “This was just a one off,” one senior BNP Paribas banker tells us. “It’s been a nightmare – we have very strict rules surrounding this kind of thing.” Sternberg Clarke, the event booking agency which allegedly provided the act for BNP, was unable to comment for this article. However, its website reveals a conspicuous absence of pole dancers, although it does offer lightly-clad Brazilian dancers as an alternative.
Sharon Kay, founder of Burlesque Baby, which runs a burlesque school and organizes corporate events, says pole dancing is perceived as universally trashy and that risqué corporate entertainment now takes a more stylish, vintage and bizarre approach. “Corporate clients will ask burlesque performers not to go down to their tassles,” she says. “If anything, there’s been a move away from burlesque too – it’s now much more about bizarre acts. People want crazy body stuff, like walking on glass. The new theme is the old school travelling circus, or sideshow.”
Diego Lijtmaer, a former UBS banker who now runs private event company Bacanal, says financial services professionals are his key clients and that no one’s interested in pole dancing and gratuitous nudity. “People buy experiences. We don’t have strippers, but we do have dancers and sometimes they might not be fully clothed.
“The stripper thing is passé in banking,” Lijtmaer adds. “You have men and women working together and people want entertainment that’s acceptable to both sexes.”
What about the Lady Marmalade Adult parties? These are male only (except for the hostesses), seem straightforwardly salacious and yet appear to be run along corporate lines, with loyalty cards and charitable donations (although it seems highly unlikely that any banker wanting to keep his job would pay on a corporate account). Moss, the enigmatic party organizer, declined to speak for this article, saying only that they guarantee the privacy of all guests and would never ask personal questions such as their occupation, making it impossible to determine whether there are many traders in attendance.
Meanwhile, back at The Box the hedge fund manager says he feared things had gone too far when one of the performers unexpectedly urinated into a crowd which included his clients. “I was afraid I was going to be in big trouble,” he says. “But when I looked at them, they appeared to be enjoying it.”