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‘Dark, sexy, shambolic’: an oral history of The Glory

As we wave goodbye to an east London legend and say hello to The Divine, Nick Levine speaks to the queer community who put the venue on the map

A collage of people at a nightclub
Photograph: Courteney Frisby for Time Out
Photograph: Courteney Frisby for Time Out
Nick Levine
Written by
Nick Levine

When The Glory flung open its doors in December 2014, it gave the capital’s LGBTQ+ scene a real shot in the arm. Situated in Haggerston – a handy halfway between Hoxton and Dalston – it offered a fluid hybrid of pub, performance space, disco and den of transgression. From the start, it appealed equally to drag disruptors and fashion mavens. ‘We want to be the new home for the queer populace of east London,’ co-owner Jonny Woo told Time Out at the time. 

Since then, The Glory has achieved this and so much more. Dozens of drag and alternative cabaret performers have honed their stagecraft here, including future ‘RuPaul's Drag Race’ stars Bimini, Jonbers and Crystal. Two annual talent contests – Lipsync1000 and Man Up! – have become fertile breeding grounds for talent. ‘My first time doing drag was when I entered Man Up! in 2017,’ says Chiyo. ‘Now I co-host the whole contest, which shows what an amazing platform it is.’

The Glory cover for Time Out London
Photograph: Jess Hand for Time Out/ Neon coffin courtesy of

Though The Glory is throwing its final party on January 31 – ‘the building needs a refurb and it’s not viable with us in it,’ co-owner John Sizzle says – her glamorous sister is waiting in the wings. Three days later, the same team will open The Divine, a ‘bigger and better’ space just up the road in Dalston. ‘We’ll be building on everything The Glory has achieved, but with a fabulous new sound system and lighting,’ Woo says.

Before The Glory’s last hurrah, it’s only right to celebrate its legacy as a community hub, talent platform and fabulous place to hang out: everyone from Katharine Hamnett to Keira Knightley has popped in for a pint. If these walls could talk, they’d probably spill some unpublishable secrets – so let’s hear The Glory’s story from the people who made it pop.

A crash course in hospitality 

Woo and Sizzle were already glittering pillars of the east London drag community when they launched The Glory in 2014 with Colin Rothbart, a TV and film producer who was then Woo’s romantic partner, and Zoe Argiros, who was previously bar manager at Dalston Superstore. Argiros left the venture a few years later 

Jonny Woo: ‘There was no grand plan. Colin floated the idea of opening a gay bar and I wanted to steer the performance side. We looked at loads of different venues but kept coming back to this place. Zoe came on board to run the bar and John practically put me in a headlock to get involved. The Glory felt like an apt name for somewhere that houses drag royalty. It also offered cheeky potential for the basement to be nicknamed ‘‘The Glory Hole’’.’

John Sizzle: ‘We got the keys on November 5 and by December 10 we were open. I don’t know how we did it – the place had been a pub called the Paradise Inn, but it was a broken-down shithole with old pianos knocking around all over the place. We didn’t know anything about renovating a building. Zoe knew about bars, Jonny knew about performance and Colin knew how to handle finances. And I tried to make sense of the admin side so we could just get the doors open.’ 

Princess Julia (DJ and scene legend): ‘There was a queue around the corner on opening night – the community really rallied behind it. As soon as you walked in, The Glory felt different because you had the upstairs stage for drag shows, but also the basement space that could be used for discos or experimental, work-in-progress shows. Some were quite serious, others shambolic, but it always felt exciting.’

Someone doing a show with a doll's head
Photograph: Courteney Frisby for Time Out

Mzz Kimberley (singer and cabaret star): ‘Everywhere you looked there were beautiful queer people of all ages, together, living their truth openly and with peace. And the fact it was queer-owned made it extra special because it meant no straight grey-haired men calling the shots and exploiting our community.’

Ryan Lanji (curator and Hungama creator): ‘When The Glory opened, no one knew what to make of it, but it was exactly what the scene needed: a place that was a pub but also a cabaret space, that was slightly messy but also very welcoming. It gave so many queer people a bar job.’

Louis Rembges (writer and performer): ‘I took a bar job at The Glory because I wanted to throw myself into the queer scene. They’ve always really supported everyone who works there: every show I’ve put on started at The Glory in some way.’

A place where everybody knows your name…

Two other local LGBTQ+ venues, The Joiners Arms and The George and Dragon, closed within a year of The Glory opening. At a tough time, it gave the community a new and versatile focal point 

Rhys’ Pieces (performer and Lipsync1000 winner): ‘I grew up across the road from The Glory and it’s been essential to my whole queer journey. It’s a community space, but it also speaks to me greatly because it’s a dark, sexy, dangerous, campy, dingy hole, and I’m quite partial to those!’ 

Jonbers (DJ, performer and Lipsync1000 finalist): ‘I’ve always said The Glory is like queer ‘‘Cheers’’. If you drop in on a rainy evening, you’ll find a friendly face to chat to.’

Mzz Kimberley: ‘I’ve had so many amazing nights at The Glory but Mzz Kimberley’s Boob-a-Thon [in 2015] was really special – it was a fundraiser where all the top cabaret names came together to raise money for my transition. I’ll always be in debt to The Glory for the love and generosity they showed me at that time.’

A drag queen singing
Photograph: Courteney Frisby for Time Out

George Heyworth (Bourgeois & Maurice performer): ‘I had my wedding there with Jonny as the celebrant. My husband and I let The Glory arrange the canapés, which meant we got a big prawn ring right outside the toilets. It felt like something out of a John Waters film.’

Liv Morris (Bourgeois & Maurice performer): ‘We had my daughter’s first birthday party at The Glory. Some of the punters looked bemused when they walked in and saw a bunch of kids and a man dressed as Santa, but it made sense to me because The Glory was home.’

Ms. G (DJ and producer): ‘I always really looked forward to DJing at The Glory, not just because I got to play nice campy disco music, but also because I got to catch up with my friends. I think it’s really hard to find another queer venue in London where so many different generations of LGBTQ+ people came together under one roof. It was a place where we shared our different experiences and showed we really care for each other.’

… and literally anything goes 

The Glory rapidly established a reputation for hosting events that no other venue would think of. And if you had a great idea for a show, The Glory would let you give it a go

John Sizzle: ‘One time we put on an ‘‘indoor festival’’ where we turfed the entire venue in grass. And we did barn dances where we’d fill The Glory with hay bales. Luckily we knew a lot of hungry guinea pigs who’d take the hay afterwards.’

Jonny Woo: ‘When we held a ‘‘Club Tropicana’’-themed George Michael night, we decided to put an inflatable hot tub in the basement. I remember the water turned brown very quickly because Lucy Fizz was sploshing around in full makeup.’

Louis Rembges: ‘My first bar shift was on the George Michael night – I spent the entire time picking up crusty towels, it was absolute chaos!’

We dressed the entire room in marigold flowers and tinsel, lit incense and had drag queens handing out samosas

Ryan Lanji: ‘It was a no-brainer to launch Hungama, my queer South Asian night, at The Glory. When I pitched it, Jonny said: ‘‘Amazing – let's call it Hungama: A Big Fat Gay Indian Wedding!’’ And I said: ‘‘Yes, but only if we can really make it feel like a wedding.’’ So we dressed the entire room in marigold flowers and tinsel, lit incense and had drag queens handing out samosas. It was incredible.’

Baby Lame (MC and performer): ‘I started my monthly variety night Shit Show in The Glory’s basement. We’ve had everything from performers dressed as clowns pulling balloons out of their bums to someone who put a fish in a condom – and then inside of her – while playing the accordion. Another performer sprayed the audience with dog food, which Sizzle had a word with me about!’

Crystal (performer and Lipsync1000 finalist): ‘The audience was always so receptive – they’d walk in knowing a show could go anywhere, so you didn’t have to pander. It wasn’t about being the slickest lip-syncer or the best dancer; it was always: ‘‘How stupid can you be? And can you make them laugh?’’’

A hotbed of inventive queer talent

Dozens of drag and cabaret performers have cut their teeth at The Glory, many through the Lipsync1000 and Man Up! talent contests, which each have a £1000 cash prize 

John Sizzle: ‘We always wanted queer performance at the heart of The Glory. When we started Lipsync1000 and Man Up!, I think it galvanised the idea that you didn’t have to be a trained performer to have fun on stage and explore your own creativity.’

Jonbers: ‘Before The Glory it felt like there were only a few golden tickets on the drag scene. You had to be quite established to get booked anywhere, but The Glory broke through that wall by giving new performers a space to experiment and actually get paid while doing it.’

Two clubbers on a dancefloor
Photograph: Courteney Frisby for Time Out

Yshee Black (performer and Lipsync1000 finalist): ‘Lipsync1000 was the springboard for my entire career. I’d only done drag a few times in Birmingham when I went down to London on a whim to enter in 2017. I ended up making the final and now I do drag full-time. I also started my own drag talent contest in Birmingham, Church of Yshee, which allowed me to elevate others the way The Glory elevated me.’

Bimini (performer and Lipsync1000 finalist): ‘I’d never performed in drag before when I entered the contest in 2017 and I was completely nervous, but I got through to the final after doing a political performance where I gave Donald Trump a lap dance. The Glory is what kick-started my career – I owe everything I’ve got to this place.’

Chiyo (performer and Man Up! co-host): ‘Man Up! has been absolutely pivotal to the drag king scene – it’s the biggest drag king competition in Europe. It isn’t about winning or even finishing in the top three; it’s about gaining experience and being seen by the producers and venue owners who judge the competition. That kind of exposure is so important for us kings because we aren’t eligible to compete on ‘‘RuPaul's Drag Race’’.’

A busy dancefloor
Photograph: Courteney Frisby for Time Out

Don One (performer and Man Up! co-host): ‘The Glory has birthed more drag kings than any other queer venue. We can be quite invisible on the drag scene generally so Man Up! has been absolutely invaluable over the years.’

Bolly-Illusion (performer and Lipsync1000 winner): ‘After I won in 2019, I put on my first ever solo show at The Glory: “Sindoorela”, my South Asian spin on Cinderella. It did so well that we added four extra dates. If the dressing room walls could talk, they’d be absolutely screaming with the amount of love and craziness this small beautiful pub has given us!’

Weathering the pandemic

Like all hospitality spaces, The Glory had to close when the UK went into lockdown in March 2020. But whenever social distancing rules allowed, the owners found a way to open the doors. ‘People told us we were a real stalwart,’ Woo says proudly

John Sizzle: ‘It was like an ongoing panic attack – ‘‘how are we going to keep paying for this place?’’ But I actually sort of relished making The Glory work according to the ever-changing government guidelines.’

Queer art can go into non-queer spaces, but it has to be birthed from home, and The Glory has been our nursery

Princess Julia: ‘I remember they put a microwave on the bar so people could have a ‘‘substantial meal’’. When I was DJing, it would ping off during every song! Then they tried doing Pot Noodles, but I don't think the bar staff liked walking around with a kettle.’

Femmi (hostess and performer): ‘I went to The Glory one of the first nights after lockdown and Lucia Blayke came out on stage in a bikini and a chicken’s head. I remember thinking it was the most funny, batshit thing I’d ever seen and feeling completely at home.’

Goodbye The Glory, hello The Divine

Woo says the last party will be ‘feral and filled with tears’, but The Glory’s community is already looking forward to making more mayhem just up the road 

Virgin X (recording artist and performer): ‘Queer art can go into non-queer spaces, but it has to be birthed from home, and The Glory has been our nursery. To have this space where you could be as serious or ridiculous as you want has been absolutely magical. And that’s what will continue at The Divine.’

Someone Djing wearing a harness
Photograph: Courteney Frisby for Time Out

John Sizzle: ‘It’s the right time to move, but it’s sad to be leaving a place with such warmth and legacy. I mean, The Glory feels like it’s been a molly house for 300 years. But we’ve got a ten year lease at the new venue, so we can create something in our vision without the fear of having it taken away.’

Jonny Woo: ‘We’re starting with decor that pays tribute to our camp and queer icons – honestly, The Divine will live up to its name.’

Huge thanks to our friends at Carousel Lights for our lovely neon coffin

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