Behind the Scenes at the Palace of Dreams: An Interview with MRS JESTERS

We grabbed an exclusive interview with the Queen of the Palace of Dreams.

Ahh Jesters… The Palace of Dreams we all love to frequent has over the years earned itself a legendary status amongst current students, alumni and anyone who has ever ventured into our fair town. The student dive has a chunder-stained history book holding the story of its challenges and glory over the past few decades, but behind the booze and the Baywatch there lies patience, money and a whole lot of hard work. Owner Lynda Green, aka Mrs Jesters, re-tells her tales to us in an exclusive Tab interview.

So, Lynda, tell us a bit about the history of Clowns and Jesters…

Well originally, Jesters was basically a middle-aged drinkers club, and it was really, really rough. Myself and my husband Peter first opened Clowns in 1987 after it had been closed for 18 months because there was no trade and then we bought Jesters as well 2 years later. Initially, we opened both to the public, but after a little while we made the decision to start targeting the students. At the time not a bar in Southampton wanted them! We were really warned off by the locals, but decided to go for it anyway, and we haven’t looked back since! 

Where did the names ‘Clowns’ and ‘Jesters’ come from?

It became Clowns because when we first bought the place, there was a back-to-back ‘C’ on one of the walls which we actually really liked- so we knew it had to be called something beginning with C…and of course ‘Jesters’ linked nicely with Clowns, so that’s why Jesters became Jesters really!

Was it an immediate success?

The transition was quite slow, but the students hit us after 3 weeks and then it was absolutely manic – we closed at 11pm and were here clearing up until 2am every night! However, the week after we started the ‘show your student ID’ rule, we did have to deal with around 30 angry locals outside cursing and trying to batter the door down – Christ knows what would have happened if they’d got in… and that’s still the original door, by the way!

Were those students different to the students you see today?

Oh yes. In those days there were only 8,000 students at Southampton Uni and most were public schoolboys so there were lots of really rich kids coming in here, we were regularly receiving Coutts cheques! We were often referred to as a yuppie bar. They were really destructive though – they broke everything!  The students we have today are a lot more ‘normal’…

Can you give us an example of this ‘destructiveness’?

There were so many things! We used to have a phone-box where the juke box is now, and every week we used to find the handset had been completely cut off with a pair of scissors – eventually we found the culprit was actually someone who worked behind the bar for us! One day someone went into the gents and completely dismantled the hand dryer WHILST the electricity was still running through it! They would steal literally everything they could take, then nip across the road to the bushes (no ideas here please…!) and hide it til they went home, so every night I’d go all the way along the bushes trying to retrieve our property! We couldn’t have anything at all that was breakable- I remember the shock when Jesters got its first mirror! Imitating: ‘Oh my gosh come and have a look everyone – Jesters has got a mirror!’

So how would you describe Jesters?

We have no rules, apart from fighting… we don’t like fighting. You can come totally naked if you want, and people have in the past! Some pubs have a big thing about people bringing food in but you can bring what you want in here y’know, we don’t care! Bring your fish and chips or your Chinese or whatever – what’s the problem?

And how do you think the students describe Jesters?

*She laughs* As a shithole? Jesters always was and always will be a dump. It’s a well-maintained shithole though… and a fun shithole. There’s always a great atmosphere – I can take my friends down there who are all my age and the students always make us feel so welcome! Everyone who goes has a good time; one guy a few years ago was talking to this bloke on the top of Aires Rock in Australia and when said he was from Southampton Uni, the other bloke straight away said ‘Ohhh do you know Jesters?’ And this was at the top of Ayres Rock… quite impressive really!

Wow, that is impressive! What is it like maintaining the facilities?

Even now, you would not believe the cost of repairs, over the 3 month period when you’re all away we always do all our major repairs and completely re-paint everything. The year before last we spent £80,000 on repairs, last year about £10,000 and this summer so far it’s set to be about £5,000. Things break again as soon as they’re fixed – It’s just constant!

The toilets definitely have a certain ‘reputation’…

Yeah, I know. And everyone loves our ‘two-bicle’ in the girls! I must admit though sometimes when you’ve spent 3 weeks painting the toilets for example and you come in and the walls are covered in graffiti, it does piss you off a bit… it wouldn’t happen at Oceana, but I don’t know maybe that’s part of the charm.

A familar site to any Jesterian

May we ask how you manage to keep the drink prices so low?

We’re the only free-house left in the Valley now so basically we can do what we want – we’re not tied to a brewery at all. And on Mondays, as long as we charge for entry the drinks can stay cheap!

Speaking of drinks, who is the Juicy Lucy named after?

It was invented by a guy just mucking around one night when Clowns was quiet, and the girl working with him at the time happened to be called Lucy, so that’s where the name came from! The Cube will say they invented it and give you the same story… but theirs is untruthful.

And how was the Jesticle born?

Well, we decided we wanted a specific cocktail for Jesters. We ran a competition amongst the students and the winner won a crate of beer and the Jesticle was what they came up with!

What is the weirdest item someone’s left in Jesters after a night out?

For some reason, it’s a really common thing that people tend to bring bits of plants in, still with their roots and I take them home and plant them! I’ve got all sorts of things growing in my garden that were found in Jesters! We always try hard to get stuff back to people though – if no-one claims their clothes after a certain amount of time I wash them and send them down to the charity shops in town. And any money in purses that people never come back for is put in the Lifeboats box over there *she indicates*… I put 50 quid in there the other day! As far as I’m concerned, it’s not our money so it’s not on if we keep it. I know people are full of bullshit but that’s actually completely true!

What would we have to do if we wanted a job in Clowns/Jesters?

Just come in and say hi really! I always believe what you see is what you get, so we just like to meet people, and if we like someone we’ll hire them. No experience is necessary, and  we don’t take any notice of CVs, coz let’s face it they can sometimes be a load of crap!

So what do you think the future holds for the Palace of Dreams?

Well, because we’ve built up this reputation and the place is always new to someone, I think it’ll just carry on how it is really! There’s really no reason for anything to change… til they pull the place down anyway!

Any final comments?

I just want to emphasise how much we really do like the students. They’re easy, nice kids and we love having them here. We’d take them over the locals any day!