Getting Into Valentino’s

I referred to this before, in a previous post about getting my drunk friends safely home in the snow, but I thought it was also worth its own place on the blog. I’m talking about the memories attached to getting into Valentino’s and how they may serve as a useful metaphor for where I am today.

Valentino’s was a nightclub which appeared in our town when I was about fourteen or fifteen years old. As with most nightclubs in small towns, it was really just the dancehall of some local hotel jazzed up with some Saturday night disco lights and a fancy name. 

Such nightclubs came and went. ‘Maxims’, ‘Xanadu’, ‘Barbarellas’, the names all invariably evoked a sort of other-worldly sexytime which they all invariably failed to deliver on.

As with so many other things in life, the latest one was always the one to go to. So it was with ‘Valentino’s’. It sprung up one Saturday night in early 1978 and, for a time, everybody wanted to be there. It was located at the large first floor function room down the back of The Silver Swan Hotel which is now the rather prominent Glasshouse in Sligo.

In common with most young men of my age group, I badly wanted to go to Valentino’s and, also in common with this group, I had a problem. I was way too young. The rule was ’Over 21’s only’ and I was 15 at best. I had my work cut out for me if I wanted to get in and, actually, it’s misleading to say that. It implies that, through some devilish scheme, I would counter all of the odds and get myself into Valentino’s. Somehow, some way, I would overcome.


I wasn’t getting in. No way. No How. I was fifteen and I looked fourteen. I was small and puny and duffel-coated and Valentino’s had all the custom it needed. It didn’t need me. It didn’t want me. It wasn’t letting me in.

That hurt. For two reasons. 

Firstly it hurt because all my friends were getting in. Being fairly smart I always tended to be one of the youngest in my class but my mates weren’t all that much older than me. They just seemed to have a little more… I don’t know, ‘Bulk’, ‘Gravitas’ ‘Facial Hair’? Whatever it was, it meant that they breezed in past the gauntlet of bouncers while I was always halted by a burly arm across the chest and a suggestion that I go home and come back in a few years.

That was the first reason that it hurt.

The second reason hurt more though.

There was a girl inside. I liked her. And I knew that, if I could only get inside and buck up the courage to ask her for one slow dance then she would be mine. That was all I needed to make it happen. To get into Valentino’s. And I couldn’t. 

I tried every single week. I would arrive up the concrete steps with my friends. I would have my money ready and I would avoid all eye-contact and sometimes I would get so close to the box office window that I could smell the darkened interior beyond. Then, invariably, I would be drawn back, grinned at and get told to push off home sonny, come back in a – yeah, yeah, I know, in a few years.

Why didn’t I just ask the girl out somewhere else? Go up to her on the street and do the deed? Well, you didn’t, did you? There was a ritual, not written on any wall or in any book but rigorous nonetheless. If something was going to ever start, it had to start with a late dance, a request to ‘stay on’ for the last few dances, a walk home and, if all went well, a subsequent movie-date arranged. There was no other way.

If I wanted to get her, I had to get in to Valentino’s. It was as simple as that.

And I simply could not get in.

I remember trudging home one evening after being turned away yet again, everyone else safe inside, and meeting some of the older guys from my street. They were on their way to Valentino’s. “Come with us,” they exhorted, “we’ll get you in with us.” I went back with them. They concealed me in their midst and trooped up the steps in a formation which was weirdly echoed in the film ‘300’ many years later. We got quite a long way before I was spotted. My elder defenders faded away from me gently like ninjas in the night until it was only me and the dinner-jacketed bouncer. 

“Give up son,” he gently suggested, “you’ll never get in here.”

I went home.

But he was wrong. He was dead wrong. I did get in, eventually.

It was like in ‘The War of the Worlds’. It was no great and clever solution that got me in. It was the tiny thing that did it or, rather, a number of tiny things. It was a brand-new nightclub opening, customer weariness, falling attendance numbers. There simply came a time when Valentino’s was glad to have my fiver. One week, they simply stood aside and let me in and, after I got in once, I was never-ever stopped again.

I remember it so well. It was just a dance floor and people, that’s all. But the lights, the tables around the side, the drinks, the music, the friends, the fun, the dancing, the fights. It was a great place and a great time. I was glad I kept at it, I was glad I finally got in.

That’s it for this week, see you next w_


I’m forgetting something, you say?

Oh, the Girl. I’m forgetting to tell you about the Girl.

Yes, well, as I said at the start, all I had to do was get in the door and she was mine. It was written in the stars from the moment I first saw her.

Of course, you know the script all too well.  She didn’t want me. She never really knew I existed, I reckon. It was never to be.

And here, finally, we come to what the memory of Valentino’s leaves me with today. A rather neat metaphor for my writing career. You see, I always felt much the same way about my writing as I did about that Girl in Valentino’s. I thought that all I would ever had to do was get through the door and then everything I wanted would be mine. Sure, I would have to keep trying and keep trying, suffer disappointment and rejection, humiliation and shame but when I got in, oh when I got in, everything would be fine.

What a neat metaphor Valentino's is, in some ways at least. I tried and tried, eventually (to some small extent) I got in. But, like the Girl, writing has never ever really known that I exist. It was always been about me and the writing rather than about the writing and me, if you see what I mean.

This could be a rather dismal idea, if I let it, but, as I usually do, I keep on pushing the metaphor until it takes me to something I can live with. I don’t have to push too far with this one.

I may not have found what I thought I would in Valentino’s in the seventies but there were other subsequent nightclubs, in subsequent towns, in subsequent worlds and there, without really expecting anything, I sometimes found the best of things, the best of opportunities, enough perhaps to last me a lifetime.

So it may yet prove to be with writing. Someday I may yet get to come inside. 

And, in the meantime, all that I can really do is keep on creeping up those hard concrete steps, fiver in hand, and hope that, someday, somehow, that dinner-jacketed man will smile, step aside, and allow me to come inside and dance a while. 


Jim Murdoch said...

As you probably know, Ken, when I respond to your posts usually try and dredge up something from my past to either compete with or show solidarity with the position you’ve taken in that week’s post. This week, however, I’ve come up blank. I have nothing to compare with Valentino’s. I’m not actually sure if our wee town had anything that could be called a nightclub. We had pubs—it was Scotland for God’s sake, there was a pub on every corner—but nothing so classy as to deserve the designation ‘nightclub’. Secondly, from the age of about sixteen I could probably have got in anywhere I chose to. At fourteen, unless I was dressed in school uniform, the conductors would ask me to pay full fare on the buses. At sixteen I walked into an over-twenty-one off licence and came out with a bag full of various bottles of hard liquor; the two old dears behind the counter never batted an eye. Even when I got older I have no recollection of being in any establishment that wasn’t just a pub albeit a posh pub, i.e. one without sawdust on the floor. Maybe it had a wee bit of a dance floor but it was definitely a pub-with-a-dance-floor not a nightclub. The only place that might have been a nightclub was this place my brother and I ended up in the day our sister got married (the first time): we ended up in this basement with the bridesmaid and her pal—her pal is now a well-known TV actress—and both my brother and I were fawning over the bridesmaid; quite pathetic really although to her credit she kept both of us at bay without offending anyone. That might have been a nightclub; it’s a long time ago and the events are buried behind a haze of alcohol and time. There are things in this life I’ve often felt I missed out on—I never had a pogo stick or roller skates growing up (sniff)—but not going to a nightclub is not one of them. I never even had any problems getting into X-rated films not that I tried very often as I’d’ve had to go along since my two mates were short, skinny nerds. Such is life.

Ken Armstrong said...

Nightclub is really to strong a word for what they were, Jim. Yes, I know I used it, 'Disco' didn't work for me. :)

The pogo stick is in the post, I can take a hint.