"At one point in this room, we had three James Bonds having dinner. Sean Connery, George Lazenby and Roger Moore. Just by accident."
The anecdotes are coming thick and fast, as we dine in Tramp nightclub, beneath a ceiling that glows a phosphorescent blue and is emblazoned with golden symbols of the zodiac. They used to do 12 burgers here, one for each star sign, but that's since been switched out for the regular Tramp Burger, and a spiced beetroot and quinoa burger — a sign of how the clientele's tastes have adapted over the decades.
A basement of bacchanalia for the film and rock 'n' roll elite
Our avuncular waiters Claudio and Nicolas whir around the tables with the sprightliness of two men fresh to the job. Crisp linen tablecloths are checked and rechecked, a table of models is served ice water. Banter comes as standard. Between them, these two have worked at this Mayfair club for 70 plus years — but time hasn't dampened their enthusiasm one jot. They relish informing us that we are are sat in the seats where Michael Caine, Roger Moore, Joan Collins and Johnny Gold would often be. Then Nicolas performs a trick in which he lights up our glass of sparkling water by holding a mini torch underneath it. It's all a bit surreal.
Gold may be the least recognisable name of the pack, but without him, Tramp wouldn't exist. The larger-than-life impresario opened the club 13 days before the end of the 1960s, charging £10.50 for annual membership. Those who joined back in 1969 can still get in for a tenner. New members today splash out £1,000 for the privilege. Old timers still come into Tramp sometimes, bragging how little they pay.
Among those to walk — possibly sway — in through the doors that opening night on 18 December 1969 were Michael Caine, Peter Sellers, Natalie Wood and Richard Harris. Overnight, Tramp became a subterranean hide-out — a basement of bacchanalia — for the film and rock 'n' roll elite. Its unassuming Jermyn Street entrance would become a late night podium for cringeworthy episodes, like when Jack Nicholson forcibly French kissed a homeless man outside the club, in 1993.
A litany of off-the-wall misdemeanours
Tramp's litany of off-the-wall misdemeanours is more giddy than a lost weekend with Keith Moon. Indeed in his autobiography, Tramp's Gold, the former owner recalls chucking out The Who drummer for swinging from a light fitting. He was only allowed back in after crying down the phone to Gold, asking "Where else will I go?" On another night, Moon arrived at the club strapped to the bonnet of a white Rolls Royce. He was naked.
Bad behaviour was once a near-nightly occurrence, but the staff have not been afraid to put the good and the great in their place. Claudio — dishing out starters of beef tataki and seared scallops with pomegranate — remembers a cocky Prince Nasseem ordering drinks at the bar, soon after winning the 1997 IBF title. "He said 'do you know who I am?' The barman said 'Yes, do you know who Mike Tyson is?'". Nicolas, meanwhile, is reminded of the time a worse for wear George Best tried to start a scrap with Michael Caine ("What a show!"). No wonder Jackie Collins, author of raunchy novels, once admitted, "Tramp has given me more research than I can handle." The club was used in a film adaption of her book The Stud. The trailer suggests it hasn't dated well.
50 years of celebrity debauchery
Tramp, on the other hand, is celebrating its 50th year — now under the stewardship of David Fleming. The reticent frontman has more than a hint of Gordon Brown to him. Well suited, and already looking the part early on a Friday afternoon, he is softly spoken and possibly the polar opposite to Gold — an outrageous flirt with Tony Bennett-esque tan. Such was Gold's reputation, that after he sold the club in 1998, he was kept on in an ambassadorial role for the next five or so years.
"We were happy for people to believe that Johnny still owned Tramp," says Fleming. Gold has long since left, now sunning himself on the golf courses of the Bahamas. Since his business partner Brian Crawford passed away in 2014, it has been Fleming's calling to fill his garrulous predecessors' shoes.
"I was quite a shy person," says Fleming, "people said 'he'll never shout at someone, he's too nice'." So has Fleming ever had to expel anyone? "Oh yeah." he says. You can imagine Fleming is a man who can raise his voice when it's called for.
And he does channel a bit of the old magic; every night Gold would stride down the stairs into the club and say out loud "It's show time!" Fleming admits he now thinks this to himself before every night gets under way.
He's reticent to divulge recent stories of hedonism though, and takes some cajoling. "I knew you'd ask me something like this," Fleming sighs. Is it true, we ask, that the infamous Russian spy Anna Chapman came here to flirt with the royal princes? "No," Fleming says firmly, "that wasn't here. But this is where Prince Andrew met Koo Stark, and Diana spent time with Dodi."
Dodi Fayed spent a lot of time in Tramp as a young man. Gold recollects one night staving him away from an attractive young woman in the club. The puzzled Dodi asked, "Johnny, what's the matter with you?" Gold's reply: "If you must know, your father's fucking her."
As with most haunts frequented by the rich and powerful, not all the stories are palatable; Gold himself admits that former Stones bassist Bill Wyman would bring girls as young as 13 to Tramp, while beleaguered retail magnate Philip Green was no stranger to the club, attending Gold's 80th bash.
Stories of female misbehaviour are more innocent. "Bangers and mash was a huge thing here," says Fleming, "Shirley MacLaine used to ask for bangers and mash, and then form them into the shape of a man's genitals. She'd leave a trail of mayonnaise [shooting from the tip of the sausage]."
Prone to flooding
Today's menu, now overseen by Terry Stephen, is a good deal more sophisticated. Still, the chefs keep stocked up on sausage and spuds, in case an old flame returns for a serving of nostalgia. Other things have changed, if only a little. The glitzy smoking lounge — all art deco mirrors and black and white photos of Blondie, Cher, the Stones, Madonna, Sinatra — now has a ceiling that slides right back. Young members, flaunting the Tramp rules by wearing hoodies, light up cigarettes, and puff smoke up into the Mayfair night.
The dance floor — frequented on a Friday by well-dressed good-looking twenty-somethings — is resplendent with the 17th century oak cherub boiseries that Gold found it with. It looks like something off the Titanic. Fitting, because Tramp is prone to flooding.
A manhole in the lobby, Fleming explains, has a long history of ebbing into the club. One night, punters came in, shocked to find Persuaders co-stars Roger Moore and Tony Curtis down on hands and knees, with their sleeves rolled up, trying to stem the fetid flow.
There are also rumours of a secret tunnel running beneath Tramp, which, in the building's misty past, led to a brothel. (This sounds similar to the legend of the 'secret tunnel' at nearby Berry Bros.) "It doesn't exist anymore," says Fleming, with a glint in his eye. We remain suspicious, and don't give in until much later in the night, when Claudio opens a door by one of the stages that opens into a broom cupboard. "That's your secret tunnel," he says.
Everyone's a VIP
While Tramp's early clientele have passed away piecemeal, or otherwise backed away from their hedonistic days, Tramp continues to pull in a decent crowd of celebrities. David Beckham's been known to take his son Brooklyn here. Rihanna has been papped coming out of the club. But none of them are treated any different to the next. "Celebrities don't usually make you money," says Fleming, "because they like to drink water and tea, and they don't like clubs that are busy."
Instead, he is adamant that everyone here is treated as a VIP.
The night goes on, and as diners adjourn to the dance floor, Nicolas is running through the endless list of Tramp members he's had the pleasure of knowing.
"Who's the guy who did The Godfather?" De Niro? Pacino? Coppola? Brando? "Brando! He used to have breakfast with the staff. After a night here he'd say 'No no, I won't leave!' He used to sit there with the staff — many times," he says, pointing to a corner booth.
What did he have for breakfast? "Pasta!"
"Who's that singer? The Welsh guy." Tom Jones? "Tom Jones! We always use to say: 'Tom sing us a song.' And he never sang once..."
It's going to be another long night at Tramp. And you know what, we wouldn't want anything less.