Ah, the Willow Restaurant, the best worst disco in York. The city’s ginnels and snickets may be bristling with pubs and clubs, but the club on Coney Street was the only venue to attain cult status.
A familiar stomping-ground for students since 1973, the Willow’s many quirks will remain a vivid memory for years yet to come: the dubiously sticky floorboards, the pounding beat of cheesy pop anthems, the complimentary prawn crackers…
It’s little wonder that the club’s closure caused a stir. At first, the rumours spread quickly across social media, though not everyone believed them:
Wait I'm confused. Is Willow actually closing or is this another publicity stunt?
— Gatie Karnett (@katiegarnettx) July 19, 2015
Word even traveled as far as the Capital:
Walking through the London Aquarium and over hearing people discussing Tommy Fong and the closure of Willow is bizarre
— Andy Durant (@andydurant) July 10, 2015
The Guardian ran a story on the closure in which Willow was dubbed – a little generously? – “the Berghain of York”. Elsewhere, an online petition was launched on change.org that called for English Heritage to designate the disco as an official “living heritage” site.
But the online grieving really began when proprietor Tommy Fong comfirmed his retirement and the club’s closure for good. He told the York Press that “the time is now right” to fold, and then everybody really got upset.
The first stage was denial:
Cannot believe that Willow is closing tonight! So many York students will never understand the joy of £1 shots and free prawn crackers
— Jessica (@JessInYourEar) July 26, 2015
Still refusing to believe willow is closing. Why would they do that to us?
— Charlotte Liddell (@cgliddell) July 21, 2015
But gradually came acceptance.
— Adam Rolewicz (@axrolewicz) July 27, 2015
— Sam Shepherd (@Sam_Shepherd1) July 6, 2015
Willow closing down. One of the finest nightclubs I've ever had the pleasure of entering and collapsing out of. An institution is dead. RIP
— Joni Roome (@Joni_Roome) July 20, 2015
Having a little tear at Willow closing isn't really normal, I think I was less upset leaving home for good
— Jordan Lloyd (@JordanLloyd0) July 26, 2015
Willow closing feels more like an end to my studenthood than graduation.
— MB (@M1CHAELBRENNAN) July 26, 2015
Already Willow is the stuff of (unverified) legend:
— Harry Whittaker (@HarryTwittaker) July 26, 2015
Yet words will never be enough for some former patrons.
I'm still trying my best to come to terms with Willow closing
— Alex (@CIlnssn) July 30, 2015
Willow’s true essence has been captured by the pictures taken by photographer and York alumna Ceri Oakes (English Language and Linguistics; Langwith College; 2008) the night before Fong shut up shop forever.
Note the empty shot glasses, the haunting corridors, the Willow stamps left to fade forever…