A drag-punk band has just played a tribute to Lou Reed’s ‘Transformer’ album. The crowd packing out the bar are alternative, of mixed age, and some are reclining on leather sofas. Welcome to The Glory.
‘We want to be the new home for the queer populace of east London,’ says Jonny Woo, co-owner of the unique new gay venue, located between Shoreditch and Dalston. Alternative drag act Woo and his business partners (including Dalston Superstore’s former bar manager Zoe Argiros) have taken over what used to be a formerly unassuming boozer called The Paradise Inn and transformed it into somewhere designed to give London’s gay scene a ‘fresh injection’.
‘London’s gay scene is incredibly vibrant but the performance element needs supporting again,’ Woo explains. ‘It’s threatened by changes at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern and the closure of Madame Jojo’s in Soho, and it was threatened before that when [Bethnal Green’s] Bistrotheque closed its cabaret room a couple of years ago.. There isn’t really a place for new talent to develop, and that’s what really excites me about The Glory. This place will tap into what made the east London scene so different to begin with: people with strong personalities putting themselves out there and showing that you can be and do something different.’
‘That makes it sound like a sex den, doesn’t it?’
The Glory’s main space is conceived as a pub-meets-performance venue, where punters will be able to sup pints or sip cocktails while enjoying a show, which could be anything from stand-up comedy to drag lip-synching to ‘short, sharp blasts of cabaret’. Downstairs is a disco den with room for dancing and infinite possibilities. ‘It’s a blank space, a basement club with lots of mirrors. That makes it sound like a sex den, doesn’t it?’ Woo jokes.
Gay nightlife has often shaped wider club culture, from disco-era New York to today’s super-buzzy Berlin scene, but Woo insists The Glory isn’t designed to restore the ‘edge’ that some Londoners think Shoreditch has lost. ‘That’s not what we’re trying to do – this area is still thriving,’ he says. ‘First and foremost we want to offer people a good product: somewhere you can drop in and have a quality drink in a nice environment. On top of that, we want to offer people an amazing show. Yes, there will be madness and fun on stage, but you’ll also be getting a high standard of performance. I think if any of us consciously tried to be ‘‘edgy’’ it would be a disaster!’
The Glory is now open seven nights a week (as a bonus, all shows taking place at the venue in December will be free entry), and Woo says he’s expecting a ‘slightly older crowd – the people who loved nights like Gay Bingo and cabaret at Bistrotheque’, but also promises ‘lots of parties for newer queens and dykes in their twenties, plus all their friends’. Will a couple of wide-eyed 18-year-olds who’ve hopped on the bus from Old Compton Street also enjoy The Glory? ‘Oh, they’ll totally get it. They’ll be enthralled, exalted and thoroughly entertained,’ Jonny predicts. ‘And if they weren’t already, very possibly transvestites by the time they leave!’