As Ku Bar, London’s award-winning gay pub celebrates 21 years young last December, sadly this is not a reality for many venues across Soho and indeed London. The changing face of Soho and the inevitable changes within the gay community have been blamed for the disappearance of the iconic ‘Rainbow Flag’ from many venues around London. Between 2008 and 2016 it is estimated that upwards of one hundred gay spaces across the capital have ceased operations.
This information is indeed harrowing and leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of any member of the LGBT community, where are ‘we’ disappearing to? The most important question to ask at this juncture is, why? What are the reasons for the demise in ‘our’ gay spaces and venues? The answer, however, is not an entirely straightforward one. Are the reasons linked to such economic issues as The Recession, rising property costs or urban regeneration?
One train of thought is that gay culture within London and the United Kingdom has changed. As gay rights are progressing within society, so are the thought processes of gay individuals within society. As society is becoming better integrated, this means that gay people feel more open to visiting ‘straight’ bars, thus lessening the need for gay-friendly or exclusively gay venues. The development of technology is said to also play a part in the possible change in the mindset of individuals within the gay community, especially the gay male community. The development of such mobile apps as Grindr or Scruff are being blamed as a reason for more and more people not venturing out to gay bars and places. Traditionally people would socialise or hang out in said gay venues, to meet or ‘hook-up’ with other gay people they find attractive. However, with the use of the aforementioned Apps allows its users to meet people in the comfort of their own homes, encouraging a certain level of laziness and disconnection from gay society we can assume.
The second train of thought, and certainly the one that has encouraged the widest public outcry is the notion of the ‘Gentrification’ of Soho. Aggressive property developers and Politicians are being blamed as the real reason for the disappearance of gay culture and spaces within Soho, with people saying that Brewer Street is the only truly ‘gay’ street left in Soho. When Westminster Council revoked the world-famous Madam JoJo’s license in 2014 it caused a huge public outcry. Following a violent altercation between the club’s bouncers and a member of the public, and, after a lengthy process, its license was finally revoked for good. After some investigation and after digging through planning applications it was found that a planning application was going through for a mixed-use development which included the address of Madam JoJo’s as you can imagine strengthened the case that the property developers and politicians were behind the reason as to why the club’s licence was really revoked.
Whatever the real reasons behind the decline in gay nightlife in Soho, we still have a few very strong and enjoyable Venues left that seem to still reach capacity most weekends, weathering the storm. The constantly developing new gay club nights which are arising on a regular basis and the support of these are enough of a sign to say that London’s ‘gay’ nightlife is not going anywhere anytime soon.