Cirque Le Soir nightclub founder Ryan Bish talks footballers and how to throw a decent party.
With midgets, tattooed girls, punters dropping hundreds of thousands of dirhams in one night, and more than a whiff of mischief – Miley Cirus, Kanye West, Cara Delevingne and Leonardo Di Caprio have all been drawn to the London branch of Cirque Le Soir nightclub. Its 33 year-old founder Ryan Bish, who started the club in 2009, has seen his brand of edgy and risqué circus acts evolve into one of the hottest nights out in the world. With two more clubs to his name, one here in Dubai and one in Shanghai, despite his party lifestyle, free-spirited manner and offbeat attitude, Bish clearly knows a thing or two about running a club.
Faintly brash by nature and an unashamed charmer, he thinks partying is the key to getting a nightclub right. ‘The difference is between a businessman who’s doing it for money and a party boy who’s doing it out of passion – which is what I am – I live for partying,’ he says candidly. Dismissive of the classic club DJ setup, Bish believes that guests should be stimulated and entertained from the moment they walk through the door, instead of expecting revellers to loosen up before any fun begins.
The foray into the clubbing scene all started when Bish realised he was spending all his time and money in clubs and it was draining his resources. ‘The tables needed to turn,’ he says. At the time, Bish was a frequent visitor to an underground nightspot off Regent Street in London, which was run by popstar Prince’s stylist, Hedges and Butler.
It stayed open all night and was somewhere ‘you could do what you want,’ he says. When Hedges was closed down, Bish saw a hole in the market.
His first venture into the world of clubbing came in the form of The British Luxury Club, which Bish says he launched with no marketing budget. ‘We didn’t do a launch night, we didn’t do a guest list, we didn’t do any advertising – it was strictly just a word of mouth.’
The idea for Cirque came from Bish’s involvement in another club, which had fire breathers, tattooed aerialists and other performers. Talking of the club, he says: ‘Everybody just loved it.’ He was then offered a site in London. The rent on the venue was cheap because of the short length of the lease. Bish invested in some cheap 1960s-era circus lights. Initially, it was a short- term operation. ‘We were just going to do a smash and grab and make some cash,’ he says of the club. ‘I just spent money on weird performers every week. It was the same thing – no launch party, no PR company. It just kicked off. Within two or three months it was the talk of the town.’
When it comes to midgets, Bish is clearly a fascinated advocate and has experimented with different uses for his diminutive performers: ‘I tried the midget-tossing thing before where you put them in a Velcro suit and use a Velcro wall. They [the midgets] don’t appreciate it; people don’t understand how heavy they are because they’re like solid lead. I think they have really dense bones because people think they can throw them far but they can’t.’
Evil circus master parallels aside, Bish sees his troop of performers as a family unit and recounts the time one of his midgets went AWOL and a missing person campaign was launched on his behalf. It later transpired that he had been deported to Pakistan but has since shown up at Cirque in Dubai, a narrative which Bish clearly relishes relaying.
The conversation turns to Cirque’s clientele. In London the door policy is ultra strict – either you’re known to Cirque, you are notable or you pay a very high minimum spend on your table (it’s more accessible here). He dismisses any question of selling out, insisting: ‘We regularly turn down tables. We turned down a Dhs118,000 table about two weeks ago because it was a footballer. We don’t accept footballers and we don’t take reality TV stars. The footballers are nice guys themselves but it’s their entourages we’re blocking, so I’d rather not take that short-time money.’
Bish’s visit here coincides with Cirque Dubai’s two-year anniversary. While he admits he wants to alter and improve a few aspects of Cirque Dubai he describes the club as ‘solid’, rejecting any fears about the city’s ever increasing number of competitors. True to form, he embraces the challenge, quipping: ‘I think competition’s healthy – it’s always good to see it too – it’s just a good excuse to party.’
Cirque Le Soir is open Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri 10.30pm–3am. Bookings recommended. The Fairmont Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 332 4900).