Risqué cabaret club plan for former X-rated cinema

Owner Jackie Ciara promotes the Empire's cabaret club, formerly the Classic cinema, below. Picture: Lesley Martin

Owner Jackie Ciara promotes the Empire's cabaret club, formerly the Classic cinema, below. Picture: Lesley Martin

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The occupants of the old Classic cinema are looking to capitalise on its past as an adult entertainment venue by reinventing itself as a cabaret club with drag acts and saucy jokes.

The Classic opened on Nicolson Street in 1974 and quickly stood out against a backdrop of newsagents, green grocers and bus stops.

The venue has now become bingo hall the Empire Club, but in a nod to its past the owners are looking to squeeze in blue comedy nights and burlesque acts between sessions. Co-owner Jackie Caira, 50, wants to make use of its 400-capacity auditorium all year round after a string of Festival events had shown its potential.

She said: “Our day job may be bingo but we can still host a successful show. We have done several over the past few festivals.

“Because the venue was originally a theatre, it still has an auditorium and a balcony and the shows worked really well.

“This would give us an added revenue stream and is a natural fit with the bingo business because there is a lot of down time between sessions.

“Also, years ago, it used to be a cinema for showing blue movies and this is a nod to its roots.”

Jackie and her husband want to start with seasonal events to “test the water” but will put on more shows if these prove successful.

Live At the Empire’s first event on Friday will feature a “regular” stand-up comedian but this will be followed by a drag act on December 10 and a blue comedy night on December 19.

Jackie stressed they were not setting themselves up in ­competition with popular city comedy club The Stand and wanted to offer something “different”.

“The Stand are definitely the brand leaders but this is an alternative kind of entertainment and I think there is a market for it,” she said.

Tommy Sheppard, who runs The Stand, said there might be a gap in the market for a cabaret and variety act venue.

He said: “I love cabaret and burlesque. But it’s also worth remembering that Edinburgh is quite a small town and it might be hard to get an audience.

“But if they promote it as cabaret it might work, and the more strings we have in our entertainment bow, the better.”

Gavin Dickson, a judge in Chalky’s drag queen competition ‘Cilla’s Drag Race’, described the project as a “great idea”.

He said: “There is nothing really like that in Edinburgh, and this would certainly be another attraction.

“It would be a niche market and I think it would be great for Edinburgh.”

He added: “I think people go to cabaret because they assume it’s going to be funny or that there is going to be some kind of comedic element to it.”

The building opened as La Scala Electric Theatre in 1912 but was previously used as a theatre named the New Royal Alhambra and Royal Princess Theatre,

Last year plans to transform it into a JD Wetherspoon super-pub were thrown out by planning officials amid claims it would have a detrimental effect on nearby residents.