London’s LGBT+ scene has weathered a testing decade. A 2017 report commissioned by University College London found that 58 percent of gay spaces have closed since 2006. And last month, Camden’s queer cabaret venue Her Upstairs – a performers’ haven – closed after less than two years.
But The Chateau, a pop-up LGBT+ venue in Camberwell run on a tiny budget, could signpost a new way for queer nightlife to thrive. ‘The idea of opening an LGBT+ space felt impossible,’ says founder Laurie Belgrave, a musician and events organiser. ‘So I decided to try a pop-up. They’re so in vogue, and it’s a great way of testing what works. There are fewer risks attached because there are fewer overheads, so you can actually be more daring.’
Belgrave persuaded the owner of the boutique Church Street Hotel to let him house The Chateau in its basement, a former ‘religious-themed cocktail bar’ which had sat empty for two years. ‘I was aware of a really strong LGBT+ community in this area, but where was their hangout? It made no sense that they’d head east to Dalston Superstore or The Glory every time.’
The Chateau was initially supposed to last for six weeks from mid-July, but it’s proved so popular that Belgrave has extended its tenure through September. He’s proud to attract a ‘super-diverse crowd’ by making it as ‘welcoming and inclusive as possible’; future events include Bollywood-inspired queer night Hungama.
Belgrave says the venue’s unique decor with its stained-glass windows creates a very special vibe. ‘On Saturday night, we had two guys making out in front of Jesus. If there is a god, I think he made this space to be a gay bar!’