Comment: Another Soho gay bar has closed – are you to blame?
It was inevitable and yet it’s still heartbreaking to hear that Molly Moggs, London’s oldest LGBT venue, is to close its doors.
No doubt it will now become home to a dreary soul-less popcorn café run by bearded plaid-clad Shoreditch types replacing what was a unique and charming venue which held a very special place in our hearts. I not only had the privilege to work there but also to enjoy many a night out supping gin at Mollys with friends – friends made almost exclusively in the many bars and clubs that Soho has now lost. Molly’s had something irreplaceable and despite its tiny size, it always packed a huge punch.
It’ll be hugely missed as a very special venue and it’s yet another jewel in Soho’s crown that’s being gouged out and flogged to the highest bidder. And that’s shameful. It began with the tearing down of the Astoria, a venue whose importance was overlooked by the then Mayor of London and was simply erased from the map of LGBT London to make way for Crossrail. And who was to complain? Why bother with the protests of a few gays? They had plenty of other places to go.
A few years ago when Madam Jojos closed, we saw a march along Old Compton St to save the venue. I suppose there were about 300 people present and I was genuinely pleased to see the community fighting back. But what they were actually fighting against was their own failure. Yes, gentrification played a role in its demise but arguably that had been on the cards since the last brick of the Astoria was thrown unceremoniously into a skip. The real lesson from the loss of that venue should have been that unique and special LGBT spaces needed the support of the community even more. And yet that lesson wasn’t learned.
One by one, wonderful venues have toppled like a rhinestone encrusted pack of cards and as each one went, we saw more protests. The Stag. The Green Carnation. Escape. Jojos. These have now been consigned to history and not because of cruel and ruthless developers but because of the LGBT community’s new intake of young queens and party goers who decided that what they really wanted was cheap booze, a meat market set in bland decor with Spotify for a DJ and Grindr for a companion.
In my years at Jojos working with great names of the Soho scene such as the Very Miss Dusty O and Tasty Tim, we poured our guts into providing a unique space with great music, a welcoming crowd and fabulous entertainment. We did themed nights, pantomimes – hell, we even put on a live production of The Golden Girls. But despite our efforts, we always struggled against one thing: disinterest from younger patrons.
During my seven years at that venue, I didn’t see one face present in that crowd of 300 marching angrily down Old Compton St who actually came to any of those nights and put a few quid behind the bar. When the venues stopped making a profit, the next step was always going to be to see them taken over by developers and so, if gay London IS dying – it’s because the primary symptom has been disinterest from customers. These places were not charities. They were businesses. They needed customers. They needed you. When smaller venues (which will always need more support than bigger chains) close, the outpouring of anger and frustration is understandable but please do not write it off as “gentrification”. It isn’t.
It’s the hypocrisy of a generation of LGBT patrons who moan and whine about not having a choice in where they party but who did nothing to actually support the hard working artists, bar staff, DJs, performers and bar owners who provided that variety. Goodwill doesn’t pay the rent. If we have lost Mollys, Jojos, the Carnation and the Stag (among many others), it’s because of a lack of real and tangible support from customers. Some always remained loyal. There are younger queens who really did appreciate the variety on offer and who worked hard to keep it all going. But the majority only ever seemed to mince past the doors on the hunt for the cheapest vodka on the street. And Soho is now a far duller place as a result.
So let’s not have slings and arrows thrown at the developers alone shall we? Let’s actually look at the root cause. If you want unique venues, you have to support them. And when you don’t, they’re consigned to history at the expense of us all who built our families from the friends we made in those venues which were so much more to us than places to get wasted and f***ed. It’s happened in London but it needn’t happen elsewhere. If your town has a friendly, welcoming LGBT venue then don’t just pass it by because the drinks might be a little more expensive or because it doesn’t have the latest star of RuPaul’s Drag Race on its stage. SUPPORT IT. Become a part of it. Build it up. Make it your home. You’ll only come to regret that you didn’t once it’s gone.
Kaye Crawford is a performer and biographer. Her most recent book is Roll Out the Beryl: The Authorised Biography of Beryl Reid. You can follow her on Twitter @TheKayeCrawford.
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