I’ve never been a great frequenter of bars or nightclubs, gay or otherwise. I don’t know what it is about nightclubs but I can’t actually think of a visit to one I have enjoyed. Don’t get me wrong, I like to strut my funky stuff (oh yeah) with the best of them, but spending an evening with hundreds of other people without being able to talk to them because of the noise is not my idea of fun.
I don’t, and never have had, the body to take my shirt off in public, and that now seems almost obligatory in some gay dance establishments, so spending a few hours ogling others while keeping firmly fully clothed is something I’d rather not do. There are websites for that kind of entertainment. And then you get charged an entrance fee and for the pleasure you get treated like a piece of meat by the security, before you’re then fleeced by the pretty boy bar staff who charge you the price of a bottle of vodka for a shot. OK, I exaggerate to make a point.
So when I read that over the last ten years half of UK nightclubs – gay and straight – have shut their doors, I can’t say I’m that surprised. But it’s not just down to footfall declining, it’s the fact that business rates have crippled them. Exorbitant rents have in many cases doubled as greedy landlords try to extort every last penny out of businesses that are on their knees. More and more duties and costs are imposed on nightclubs and bars by local authorities who seek to absolve themselves of any kind of responsibility for anything in local areas.
Nightclubs have always been shaky business prospects financially, and it’s a small minority that survive in the long term and survive the fickle tastes of the twinky British public. One year and nightclub is the big ‘in’ thing. Crowds of people queue to get through its doors, and then the next year, for no discernible reason the very same establishment falls out of favour and it’s the new nightclub on the block that is attracting the custom. It’s always been that way, I suppose. You’re either ‘in’ with the ‘in’ crowd or you’re not.
In London the problem has been highlighted by the closure of several long established gay venues – not just nightclubs but several popular bars too. Brighton and Manchester have also faced similar issues, but it is in London where the issue is coming to a head. Earlier this year the New Statesman reported the closure of a dozen gay venues including The Coleherne, the Man Bar and most famous of all, Madam JoJos, which had been going for 50 years. Now some of these 12 will have closed because they were frankly rather shit and hadn’t kept up with the times, but others have been forced out due to the attitudes of rapacious landlords who want to sell the freehold to a building or redevelop it. The future of the iconic Royal Vauxhall Tavern is now under threat because the freehold ownership has changed. But this isn’t just happening in central London. The George & Dragon bar in Greenwich is also under threat because of a rent hike. It’s happening everywhere.
But there is another reason why gay bars and nightclubs are finding footfall reducing. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, gay bars were really the only safe places gay men could meet to find love, or, whisper it, sex. If you didn’t fancy a visit to your local public toilets or cruising ground, it was actually quite difficult to meet other guys to get up to what guys like to get up to. Gaydar, Grindr and the rest have totally changed that. No longer do you have to dress up, boogie to Kylie or waste extortionate amounts of money bribing someone to sleep with you by buying them a Pernod & Black, you just flip open your phone, and there it is. Sex (and sometimes even love) on offer.
Make no mistake, this trend will be difficult to reverse, but in the end it’s up to nightclubs and bars to come up with an ‘offer’ that attracts new custom.
This article first appeard in the October issue of Attitude Magazine