Disco down… legendary Willow confirms closure after 42 years

The famous first floor facade of the Willow Restaurant and Disco. Photographs: Richard McDougall
20 Jul 2015 @ 5.57 pm
| Food & drink

Goodbye prawn crackers. Goodbye sticky dancefloor. Goodbye cheesy music.

Put it on your calendar: 4.20am, Sunday, July 26. At that appropriately bizarre hour, the Willow Restaurant and Disco – a feature of York’s social scene for 42 years – will shut its doors forever.

The official announcement is now live on the Coney Street venue’s website – confirming what YorkMix revealed more than two weeks ago.

Tommy Fong – one of the most recognisable faces on York’s night scene for all those years – runs the Willow with his wife Sue. He wrote:

We would like to thank everyone who has made The Willow what it is: from our hard working staff to our hard partying customers.

Thank you for your spirit, support and love of Jaegerbombs.

We hope to see you at one of our final nights and there may be more giveaways on top of our infamous prawn crackers as the music stops for the last time.

Thank you. We wish you the very best that life and disco has to offer. Don’t Stop Believing.

He explained to the York Press that, with his 70th birthday approaching, he had decided to retire:

I originally said when I was 55 that I would retire at 60, and when I was 60 I said I would retire at 65.

I would probably have gone on a few more years but think the time is now right.

York bereft

What will York's revellers do now?
What will York’s revellers do now?

The Willow was originally an upmarket Bettys-like tearooms which opened in 1936. Tommy kept the name when he took it over in 1973.

One of our readers Karen Gordon recalled those early days:

I am that old I remember it as beautiful tearooms with ladies in starched white pinnies where grandma took me for afternoon tea – a far cry from what it ended up.
The Willow Café is seen here in 1980. Photograph: Explore York Libraries And Archives
The Willow Café is seen here in 1980. Photograph: Explore York Libraries And Archives

Most readers only knew the venue under its present ownership. And when we first revealed the end was nigh, it provoked a strong response from many YorkMix readers…

I had many a fabulous night night in here like a proper old school disco. The sh*thole-ness of it is all part of its charm!!

At 30yrs old I probably won’t be going again but only have brilliant memories of it. Will be really sad to see it go. Anyone who doesn’t like it is just stuck up and doesn’t know how to let their hair down

– Marie Hall

Misspent a lot of my youth there.

– Mags Kelly

Oh my word… this cannot happen. It’s an institution!!

– Emma Rose Johnson

Had my hen night there many years ago!

– Jenny Smith

We had many a works do there in the 70s & 80s & many a laugh even though it was getting past its sell by date by late 80s. Memories.

– Brenda Richardson

The Willow owners had leased the premises from owners Aviva. It is not clear whether a business has been lined up to take over the lease.

But then, how can you follow the Willow?