Summerland Series: The Cave

The pubs are shut. You’ve probably noticed. The extra time at home has given me more of a chance to study social media. So that’s just peachy. I know, I know – I should be using the time to read inspiring novels, repoint the brickwork and knit my own yogurt. Not doom scrolling through Facebook. 

But it was there that I saw pictures somebody had posted of a long-gone Manx drinking establishment. The photos practically whiffed of Blue Stratos aftershave and maximum hold hairspray. Almost everybody in them was wearing white shoes, but the dress code was strictly No Trainers. 

I’m too young to remember the original Summerland that met such a terrible end in 1973. But I am old enough to remember the second incarnation of the building. If you don’t remember either, they both stood on the empty plot of land at the northern end of Douglas Prom, next to the MER station. There’s not much left of the place. Just a stump of a diving board and the deep end of the Aquadrome pool, now home to about twenty billion pigeons

The Brutalist concrete exterior concealed a range of sports and leisure facilities, all very wholesome and family-oriented. But things got a little more decadent when you ventured underground.

In the basement of Summerland, lurked The Cave Disco. Yes, ‘Disco’ being used unironically to describe a venue – that’s how far in the past this is. The Cave wasn’t the coolest nightspot – let’s be honest, a venue owned by the Tourism Department of the oldest continuous parliament in the world was never really going to be cutting-edge. But for Manx people of a certain age bracket, just the name of the place is enough to bring back fond memories. 

Alarmingly steep steps guided the punters down from ground level into The Cave. I don’t recall seeing anybody take a tumble on these, but it must have happened. 

Inside, you needed a moment to adjust to the environment. Clouds from the bad-tempered dry ice machine rose up to meet the low-hanging swirl of cigarette smoke (a long time ago, remember) at approximately lung height. Underfoot, there were places where the stickiness of the carpet reached toffee levels. 

Once you’d squelched your way to the bar, all the classic drinks of the era awaited you. Labatts, Hofmeister, Taboo, possibly even a splash of Babycham for those special occasions. I remember the original twist on vodka and orange, where fresh orange juice was replaced by a shot of undiluted squash. The taste sensation sort of bounced off your fillings.

Being a basement, the ceiling of The Cave was low. This meant that the arrival of rave culture, with its hands-in-the-air dance style, was not good for the place. Get too into the music and you got your mitts snagged in the lighting rig. I still miss that watch. 

In later years, there was an attempt to slightly rebrand the place as Nemo’s Cave, for some reason. Fake brass fittings were stuck up around the place to make it look like an old-fashioned submarine, to tie in with the new name. But the disco boat had sailed. Manx clubbers moved on to newer dancefloors, closer to Douglas town centre.

Summerland was demolished in 2006, and this time there were no plans to rebuild it. The bulldozing caused nostalgic sighs from those who’d spent their childhoods roller-skating or majorette-ing within the massive concrete walls. But The Cave was only briefly mentioned in the tributes. It deserved more praise for having entertained so many for so long, but clubbers are fickle.

A few years later. Facebook would go global, creating a natural home for people to look back with rose-tinted glasses at such venues. Which is what jogged my train of thought. 

But here’s something else that crossed my mind – did The Cave actually survive the demolition?

Here I must point out that I know zip about the construction or demolition of buildings. I don’t imagine that having a multi-storey concrete structure razed on top of it is good for a nightclub. But, Summerland was pulled down to the ground – and The Cave was below ground level. So, if we dug down, through the surface of the site, would we find treasures, like a Gen X version of Tutankhamun’s tomb? T’Pau singles and bottles of Midori and unclaimed white jackets, all untouched and coated in the dust and cobwebs of the ages.

I bet the carpet is still sticky.

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