Now what? - Lauren Booth tries to get into Ronnie Scott's

I thought I'd come up in the world until I had to queue for Ronnie Scott's

Some clubs employ bouncers who look and act like Mike Tyson after a particularly stressful day. How these hormonally overcharged misfits are supposed to keep the peace has been a mystery to me since the 1980s, when I briefly helped to run a pub for traditional drinkers. In them days, a lively "Time, ladies and gents. Drink up, please" was all it took to maintain order.

I still remember the classic pub characters we used to serve. The old bloke who always complained his glass was dirty in order to get a free half-pint. The lovable but immensely irritating Irish bloke, full of great anecdotes and general blarney right up until closing time, when you went from being "me best pal" to his worst enemy. And the football crew who, by merit of possessing less than a dozen grey hairs between them (and the fact they drank more than the other punters put together), were allowed through the door "even in their Gooner shirts".

Sadly, our pleasantly alcoholic atmosphere was shattered the day the brewery decided to employ "security". As soon as the five Man Mountains appeared on the doorstep of the pub with their black suits, bow ties and rhino necks, trouble started. Upon seeing them, the local gang decided that our sleepy boozer was now the best place for a few beers and (they were right) a guaranteed punch-up at the end of the evening, should sir so desire.

Recently, I was amazed to hear friends complain about the heavy-handed tactics of security men outside Ronnie Scott's. Ronnie Scott's is the caviar of cool for the jazz-loving classes - has been for decades. It's more Mill on the Floss than Millwall, more smooth and soothe than thrash metal.

Yet an elderly relative of a pianist I know had been so outraged by his treatment outside the club that he had "caused a scene": jazz-speak for having got very cross indeedy.

Friday was my first time at Ronnie's. My husband and I dutifully overdressed for the occasion: he in a smart shirt, trousers and polished shoes, me looking like I was heading for the Baftas, in a flowing opaque shirt revealing a Zeta-Jones cleavage.

Outside, we groaned to see what the real jazzniks were wearing. They stood chatting fashionably to one another in creased jeans and moccasins. A po-faced man with a clipboard was ticking names off his list with as much pleasure as the head of a reform school at registration. I gave him the name our table had been booked under and scuttled back to my friends.

For no apparent reason we had to wait for around 20 minutes. It was as frustrating as waiting on a platform for an inexplicably delayed train. Was there a problem with leaves on the keyboard or was the wrong sort of vibe holding us up? No one said. Talking to the doorman drew a scowl of such hostility I was reminded of an orc from Lord of the Rings.

Eventually, the group ahead of us was grudgingly allowed inside and it suddenly dawned on me that no one in the queue was trying to blag. We weren't just lingering around on the off chance we'd be allowed to hear great jazz for free or to binge on complimentary champagne; we had booked our table! We were all going to pay twenty-five quid just to sit down, and then a lot more for our food and drinks. Yet here we stood, no one knew why, for almost half an hour, being looked at as though our money wasn't worth the paper it was printed on.

Finally, sitting in the hazy, red darkness, soothed by Mr Jack Daniel and the Christian Brewer quartet, I realised that it wasn't my pride that had been troubled by the long, senseless wait. It was my expectation that treatment at Ronnie Scott's would differ from that at Cinderella's, Ilford, or on a Virgin platform in rush hour.

This article first appeared in What has America ever done for us?

2003-03-03