You could walk past Tramp without noticing it. There is nothing about the Edwardian building to suggest that for almost 50 years it has been a byword for unashamedly decadent, champagne-fuelled hedonism.
The only hint of exclusivity is a discreet brass name-plate telling passers-by and would-be visitors that entry is strictly ‘members only’.
And yet for half a century, royals, Hollywood stars, the super-rich, the famous and the very beautiful have been lured down the dimly lit stairs to descend into the basement club in search of unbridled — and expensive — fun.
It was the nightclub where Princess Margaret felt reassured enough to let her hair down and it was at Tramp that Prince Andrew first met Koo Stark. After his marriage, he and the Duchess of York were regulars.
Mick Jagger was a founding member and a frequent guest. On one occasion, staff held their breath when, while his estranged wife Bianca was in the ladies powder room, he appeared with Jerry Hall on his arm.
Princess Leila, youngest daughter of the last Shah of Iran, was another regular on the tiny dancefloor before drugs robbed her of her looks and her health and she died a lonely woman in a West End hotel.
Roger Moore boogied with Cary Grant’s wife Dyan Cannon and once got down on his hands and knees to mop up after a flood, cajoling his friend Tony Curtis to give him a hand.
Novelist Jackie Collins, whose husband Oscar Lerman was one of the club’s co-founders, once said of the place: ‘It reminds me, in the nicest possible way, of an old whore — always there, always ready for your demands and always prepared to give you a good time.’
Tramp’s clientele of showbiz stars and aristocracy ensured a stream of positive headlines. Peter Sellers, Joan Collins and Liza Minnelli all held wedding receptions there. Prince launched an album in the basement.
Inevitably, it was sometimes in the news for more controversial reasons.
For example, ex U.S. football star OJ Simpson, only recently acquitted of the murder of his former wife, popped in for a drink with film director Michael Winner.
There was also the time actress Shirley MacLaine fell asleep at a table and Mel Brooks got down on all fours and ran around under the tables barking like a dog.
Tramp — it was always non-U to say Tramps — opened the year that Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon, John Lennon married Yoko Ono and the Troubles broke out in Northern Ireland.
And ever since, the subterranean venue has ruled London’s nightclub roost with its cocktail of glamour, glitz and girls. The key difference: no men without women, a rule designed to stop it becoming a pick-up joint.
Among those there on the opening night — December 18, 1969 — were Sellers, Michael Caine, Natalie Wood and Richard Harris. Overnight, Tramp became a hang-out for the film and rock ’*’ roll elite. The Beatles, the Stones, The Who, Marlon Brando and Charlton Heston to name but a few. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor would drop by.
One evening, three James Bonds took tables for dinner — Sean Connery, Roger Moore and George Lazenby — all by chance.
In the nineties, the Tramp crowd began to change. Socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson held her 27th birthday there — ever the exhibitionist, she wore a bikini, fur coat and snorkel.
More recently, the likes of pop star Rihanna and David Beckham have been typical guests while David Cameron and film director Guy Ritchie have been spotted chatting in one of the darkened booths.
Times have certainly changed.
‘Celebrities don’t usually make you money,’ says the club’s general manager David Fleming, ‘because they like to drink water and tea, and they don’t like clubs that are busy.’
A bottle of Krug champagne is £450 (R8 200) and magnums of Roederer Cristal, drink of taste for many of the club’s clients, are £2,000 (R37 000). Fifty grams of Iranian Beluga caviar are on the menu at £280 (R5 000), but Tramp’s burger and chips are only £18 (R330).
The aristocrats and movie stars may have moved on, but Tramp endures as a rendezvous for the well-off and the well-connected who can party from dusk to dawn.