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'London's LGBT+ scene is shrinking', says Nick Levine

By Nick Levine

In recent years London’s hive of LGBT+ venues has been slowly crumbling. Camden’s drag and cabaret mainstay The Black Cap is gone. The Joiners Arms, The George & Dragon and The Nelson’s Head in Shoreditch are no more. West London stalwarts such as Bromptons and The Queen’s Head have also closed their doors for good. Though a few new queer drinking spots including The Glory in Haggerston have sprung up, and it’s just been announced that a two-year campaign to save Soho’s The Yard has been successful, the general trend is overwhelming: London’s LGBT+ scene is shrinking, especially outside Soho.

During his pre-election campaign, London Mayor Sadiq Khan warned that the capital’s creatives could choose to leave these parts and pitch their tents in clubbing hubs like Amsterdam, Berlin or Prague if our nightlife doesn’t up its game. ‘A third of London’s small music venues have closed since 2007, damaging our city’s cultural offering and having a negative effect on jobs and the economy,’ he told voters.

But the struggle is especially real for lovely LGBT+ venues such as south London’s historic Royal Vauxhall Tavern, which is seeking a sui generis order to ensure it remains a dedicated LGBT+ performance space, rather than becoming catnip for a bland national pub chain.

It’s easy to shrug our shoulders and blame dating apps for rendering LGBT+ venues unnecessary, but that’s a bit of a cop-out. Sure, we all hit the tiles once in a while in pursuit of a perfunctory bunk-up and a hungover Uber ride home the morning after, but people don’t go out just to pull. We go out to meet old friends and make new ones; we go out to plug into the buzz of the city; we go out to dance around a space that isn’t our kitchen. And sometimes, especially when we’re younger and less sure of ourselves, we go out to feel as though we belong.

London’s LGBT+ community is increasingly fragmented, but if our dedicated drinking spots disappear we’ll end up in a depressing situation where different strands of the community, including our heterosexual allies, only come together once a year at Pride.

It also shouldn’t be forgotten that anti-gay hate crime still happens on the streets of central London – LGBT+ venues offer a space away from the uncertainty of people’s reaction to a smooch. And while most central London pubs are pretty liberal these days, it was only five years ago that a Soho drinking hole hit the headlines for ejecting a gay couple who had the nerve to share a kiss on its premises. First fumbles are a cringe-inducing rite of passage for everyone, but I’m glad I was able to have mine at Ku Bar in Soho, where I was probably judged for being clumsy and a bit drunk, but not because I was getting off with another guy.

Obviously it’s cheaper and easier to stay in and watch ‘The Great British Bake Off ’ with a bottle of discount prosecco, but there’s a special pleasure in spending a few hours drinking in the company of people who have at least one thing in common with you. If we want to save London’s LGBT+ venues, we need to start using them more – before they’re gone for good. 

Want more ranting and raving? Read James Manning's column on why the night bus will never die

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