Since 2001, Soho’s infamous Crobar has been a byword for rock ’n’ roll debauchery and midnight mayhem. London’s foremost metal bar, like many other pubs across the UK, the proudly pokey side-street boozer was hit hard by COVID, closing its doors for good last summer. But all is not lost; a crowdfunding campaign – including a new documentary, Crobar: Music When The Lights Go Out – aims to bring it back to life when the dust has settled.
We spoke to owner Richard Thomas to hear some of his most outlandish tales from two decades of Jägerbombs, blaring Black Sabbath on the jukebox and the scariest staircase in central London.
Dave Grohl gets turfed
Dave Grohl’s been a Crobar fan since the start. On one of his earliest visits after Foo Fighters‘ show at the nearby LA2 venue, he ended up being thrown out by Richard after drunkenly setting off the fire alarm three times. “I had no idea who he was at the time,” remembers the owner. “He was just one of many drunken people running around the building.” Since then, Richard and Dave have become good mates, with Dave always stopping by the Crobar when he’s in town. He even got Richard to rebuild the Crobar backstage – jukebox and all – at Wembley Stadium for the Foos shows there in 2008. “I’ve been told many, many times it was the best aftershow party ever.”
.@TheCrobar owner Richard Thomas on the time Dave "pain in the arse" Grohl popped into the legendary Soho drinking den
Get more rockstar stories in 'Crobar: Music When The Lights Go Out', premiering on YouTube tonight at 8pm pic.twitter.com/s5EC06h0aw
— NME (@NME) January 27, 2021
Lemmy’s brief encounter
When it comes to metal bars, a visit from Lemmy is akin to the Pope coming round to bless your local church. Yet the Motörhead main man didn’t stick around when he popped into the Crobar for a Jack and Coke. “He walked in and looked and me and said: ‘For fuck’s sake Rich, you still haven’t got a fruit machine,” and went to the Montagu Pyke, the bloody Wetherspoons down the road!” laughs Richard.
Kid Rock’s stretch Hummer disaster
When Kid Rock turned up to the Crobar accompanied by Elton John’s husband David Furnish and a gaggle of ladies, his driver evidently was expecting a swankier nightspot – or at least a bigger one. Despite being situated down a narrow alleyway, the entourage pulled up in a huge stretch Hummer. “It took him about 20 minutes and a 300-point turn to get his limo into Manette Street,” remembers Richard. “The limo driver by then was hysterical. He decided he had to reverse back onto Charing Cross Road, but some bloke had parked his rickshaw right behind him. He reversed over that and the rickshaw got [stuck] underneath the back of the limo. Then, for the next 20 minutes, the limo driver and the guy who owned the rickshaw were alternately trying to pull this thing out from underneath the [Hummer] while hitting the crap out of each other.”
Bieber does it for the Brits
In 2016, Justin Bieber made headlines when he stopped by the Crobar after the Brit Awards. “We had no idea they were coming down,” says Richard. “The first I knew about it was when I saw all these lights flashing outside the window and wondered why the paparazzi were taking pictures of my doormen. Of course, it was a room full of rock fans so nobody really clicked who he was until pretty much when he left. He had a drink and looked a bit deflated, possibly because he expected people to recognise him and they didn’t!”
"It was only as he was pulling away that someone went… 'Was that Justin Bieber?'"@TheCrobar owner Richard Thomas remembers the Bieb's post-Brits visit in new doc 'Crobar: Music When The Lights Go Out' – on YouTube now pic.twitter.com/CK4obdQn5K
— NME (@NME) January 29, 2021
Lady Gaga’s end-of-tour bash
When it comes to pop royalty, Lady Gaga was slightly more committed to the Crobar experience than Bieber. After one of her early London shows, she and her crew took over the bar for a rowdy end-of-tour party. “She was always lovely, really friendly and down to earth and then she became huge,” explains Richard. “She’s been back about three times since then. The last time we saw her was when her show with Tony Bennett at the Royal Albert Hall got cancelled because he wasn’t well. In terms of publicity it was a stroke of genius, because rather than all the papers saying, ‘Lady Gaga show cancelled’ it was about how she was out and about in Soho having a lovely time.”
From drag to Danzig
The Crobar has long been a counter-cultural hotspot. A working bar since 1963, before it became a haven for metallers the world over, it was owned by Irish drag queen Danny LaRue. “It was called LaRue’s,” explains Richard, “and they used to do all sorts of drag and cabaret.” A hint of LaRue’s could even be found in the modern-day Crobar. “We’d get all sorts coming in,” says Richard. “On an average night you’d have a guy in a suit, a bloke covered in Iron Maiden patches and a transvestite all drinking a beer and having a laugh together. It was one of the things I loved about the place. It was a Soho bar and as such, anyone who drank in Soho was welcome.”
‘Crobar: Music When The Lights Go Out’ is streaming on YouTube now. Donate to the Crobar’s crowdfunder here.