A number of gay bar closures across London has led to fears that the community is being sidelined. In the last five years more than a dozen of London’s most iconic LGBT venues have closed their doors. Many to be redeveloped for luxury housing or more general custom.
Candy Bar, Escape, The Nelson’s Head, Manbar, Green Carnation, Madame Jojo’s and, recently, the Joiner’s Arms have all fallen foul. A few weeks ago, Camden’s legendary Black Cap was suddenly closed down.
Hundreds protested outside the pub, known as the ‘Palladium of Drag’, including a bevy of drag queens, a gay choir and a routemaster bus draped in rainbow flags. An online petition has garnered over 6,000 signatures.
Dan Glass was a regular who also fought to save, the Joiner Arms. “It was one of the very rare places where I could feel, totally and utterly liberated,” he told The Daily Beast.
“To be able to expose my vulnerabilities, my desires and passions within four walls as a queer man, was absolutely necessary, essential in fact, to breathe,” he said.
The trend for gentrifying LGBT pubs and clubs began with the rebranding of Earls Court’s notorious leather bar, the Coleherne in the 90s and Chelsea’s Markham Arms’ metamorphosing into a bank.
Pubs located in, what were considered, the margins and adopted by the gay community, may be victims of their own success, bringing, as they do, much needed life and a prosperous culture to places previously considered unfashionable; raising local property values, kudos and desirability. Now the list of condemned venues is growing rapidly with at least seven closing down this year alone.
“There’s a growing awareness that this is a problem that goes beyond consumer choices of how and where we prefer to socialise,” says Ben Walters, the head of the RVT Future campaign, created to save the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. “More people are waking up to the fact that, even if we now have far more legal equality when it comes our sexuality, as a community we’re not immune to the effects of the huge and growing socioeconomic inequality that affects our whole society; indeed in some ways we’re more vulnerable than most.”
Some, however, see the closures as a positive sign of the strength of the LGBT community arguing that, as the culture becomes a more accepted part of wider society there is less need for dedicated spaces or “ghettoization.”
“I think it’s dangerous to think of gay pubs and bars only as commercial operations and consumer choices,” says Walters. “They’re also pretty much all we have when it comes to safe spaces, dedicated performance venues and repositories of our community history, culture and collective knowledge. Those are things that have enormous value in themselves and their loss shouldn’t be shrugged off as inconsequential or merely a sign of changing times.”