The Willow, The Willow Chinese Disco, Chi Di, Dim Sum Disco, call it what you will, but this Cantonese Restaurant in the heart of York city center has made its mark as one of York’s most loved – and hated, nightspots.
Nestled above Coney Street’s high-street shops, you’d be forgiven if you missed the non-obtrusive entrance. Like a secret club for those in the know, come 11 o’clock the doors open and the students start to flood in.
What attracts them in their masses? To me, an avid visitor of The Willow in my student years, its the house party vibe. A small venue, with an interior that hasn’t changed in years, with peeling decor, it’s like going to a slightly scabby house party.
The smell of cooking oil and prawn crackers hits you as you walk in through those magical double doors, and you cant help but charge straight onto the dance floor before you’ve even considered buying a Sammy B.
Lager and cider is served straight from the can, the energy drinks are radio active, and the resident DJ plays whatever cheesy pop song you care to request. He’s even been known to play, All I Want for Christmas in July, complete with snow machine.
The toilets are rancid and rarely lockable, the floor is sticky, and dancing, back when the restaurant still functioned, could be interrupted by a waitress scurrying through with a tray of steaming Cantonese cuisine.
You knew you’d had a good night if you woke up the next day having paid £3 to get in, but spent £10 on a willow t.shirt (which you were still wearing), had a willow stamp imprinted on your forehead, and cuts in the corner of your mouth from eating too many of the free prawn crackers.
So here is a glimpse into one of the final nights at The Willow before it closes its doors for good next weekend. As a photographer I couldn’t resist capturing this snapshot of history. If you’ve never heard of the Willow, or are reading this in ten years time, then enjoy, and expect to be completely confused….