Home Estate Planning London’s gay history is woven into the bricks of its LGBTQ bars – and they’re crumbling

London’s gay history is woven into the bricks of its LGBTQ bars – and they’re crumbling

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The loss of London’s gay bars is a loss to the LGBTQ community’s own history, which is woven into the bricks and mortar, writes Adam Bloodworth

London’s full of nice old things, isn’t it? It’s kind of our whole deal. Think of the restaurants: Sweetings in the Square Mile, Rules in Covent Garden and Brasserie Zedel, venues which all got their hundredth birthday card from the Queen yonks ago and feel as if they get evermore popular purely because of their history. In a city where half of new openings close within the first two years, it’s the oldies that intrigue us most.

But, sadly, those old places just aren’t gay bars, and the concerningly high rate of closures of LGBTQ venues over the last decade makes it unlikely that will change.

In the past few months the capital has lost two bastions of the gay nightlife scene, with Soho’s iconic G-A-Y Late shutting its doors for good in December and East London queer pub The Glory closing just last week. This adds to a worrying trend, with 62 per cent of London’s LGBTQ venues disappearing between 2006 and 2017.

We may be a progressive, welcoming city – but just like any other place, it is vital our LGBTQ community has places to go. Gay bars are safe spaces where queer people can meet likeminded friends and socialise in a place where they feel seen. Many of us thrive in LGBTQ spaces: not just for the safety element, but for the fun. To watch some of the best drag shows, live music, DJs and entertainment this city has to offer.

G-A-Y Late owner Jeremy Joseph said he’d “done everything” to keep the bar going but it had become “simply not possible to run G-A-Y Late in its current location”, with safety concerns due to low police presence also cited. The Glory shared the “upsetting” news that the pub could no longer continue operating at its Kingsland Road venue because of redevelopment.

But there is another issue at play when it comes to protecting queer spaces this LGBT History Month. The Glory, a wonderful East End boozer that hosted the most hedonistic, brilliant parties, had its own special kind of alchemy that was woven into the bricks and mortar (along with its glittery curtains). You walked into that pub and you knew, you felt, you were in The Glory. It wasn’t a temporary space, but (or so we thought and hoped) a permanent venue. It’s the same as walking into any local, really: the building itself matters.

We could sit and remember the people we were with and the jokes we shared. The night our favourite drag artist played against that glitter curtain, or down that naughtily-named staircase (Glory fans will know what I’m talking about). We don’t have that anymore.

The message is this: lose the bricks and mortar and you risk losing the heritage and the memories with it. When other, richer restaurants, bars and clubs across London get to keep their history, why should gay clubs lose theirs? The Joiners Arms, another prolific LGBTQ venue, is fighting to return to London after losing its premises in 2015.

We must support our LGBTQ talent by drinking in their bars and paying to see their shows so that owners can financially support their venues through tough times, and more LGBTQ landlords can buy their pubs and protect them from development. We must recognise them as legitimate cultural venues that deserve to be taken seriously and cherished.

Now with listed status and protected for its historical value, The Stonewall Inn in New York has shown how LGBTQ venues can and should be protected. Over half a century of memories are still cherished there in that same building, and London needs more of that.

The Glory has already returned in a new format, which is great news. New venue The Divine is open now not far from the original venue in Haggerston and I’m sure I will create new memories there. I’m sure people already have. It’d just be divine if I could go back to the bar – that exact bar – in 30 years and relive those memories over a pint.

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