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OPINION - London's nightlife, especially its queer spaces, is under threat from civilians and public servants

Mabel performs at London's Heaven
Mabel performs at London's Heaven

I’m not being funny but… London nightlife is in a weird place, ain't it? As someone who’s been in the industry for over 30 years, I still haven’t seen it all. I always say life goes in cycles — things come about, they grow and eventually die, leaving space for something new to be born. Nightlife in the capital is no different. We have the success stories of Printworks, E1 and others, but anyone in the industry will attest it’s been a challenge keeping London at the forefront of the global dance scene.

From the Blitz kids, to the West End, to the birth of acid house and rave culture and so on, the landscape of London’s clubbing scene has always evolved and never in a straight line. People underestimate the value of the night-time economy towards London thriving, but they are deeply intertwined. Not many people remember that in the Seventies London was on its knees, as was New York for that matter. As these cities became nightlife meccas, they also transformed into two of the most desirable cities in the world to live in. It is strange that we now live in a society where our venues are under constant threat — from civilians and public servants alike.

Councils will take every action to strip venues of their licences, while making it more difficult to issue new ones. Rent and other increasing costs will run small independent bars out of business. More than 50 per cent of LGBTQ+ venues have closed in the past 15 years for a number of reasons. It’s time we recognised the value of the night-time industry. Did you know that the German government recognises Berlin’s more than 200 clubs as a critical part of the city’s cultural sector, with some venues even garnering protected status? Isn’t there scope for some sort of protections here too? Fabric has been at the forefront of electronic music on a global scale for more than 20 years, yet it's being constantly scrutinised.

The closing of venues in Soho has caused a ripple effect on the queer community, with less and less of us frequenting the area

“Coincidentally” the Farringdon area is undergoing a redevelopment of epic proportions. Heaven Nightclub in Charing Cross — the global birthplace of major queer clubbing over four decades ago — should be given a blue plaque. This is a place of incomprehensible cultural and historical significance. Thousands of people came of age dancing in those arches. They felt safe when there weren’t many other places to feel safe in. They grew to love themselves and be proud of who they were with other like-minded individuals.

Heaven has lived through the Aids crisis, repeal of Section 28 and the legalisation of gay marriage. It’s one of the first venues I had a residency at and Cher, Madonna and Carl Cox have all performed there. It’s been passed onto various owners over the years and, while it was deemed an “Asset of Cultural Value” in 2020, deserves to be further recognised and its future protected. Its current owner recently announced that Heaven will be undergoing much-needed interior renovations, which is amazing to hear.

The closing of venues in Soho has caused a ripple effect on the queer community, with less and less of us frequenting the area. With that, I feel the area has become less safe for us. Perhaps with more safety measures in place and a campaign to promote new LGBTQ+ business in the West End, we could bring more people back out. It would be a shame for Soho to no longer be associated as the ultimate safe space for queer people.

All is not lost. Night czar Amy Lamé has been brilliant in supporting queer business. She told me that legendary cabaret venue the Black Cap in Camden is reopening after nine years, which is fantastic news. While the Glory in Hackney has had to shut due to redevelopment, its owners have remained dedicated to operating safe queer venues for all. John Sizzle, Jonny Woo and Colin Rothbart, who founded the Glory based on powerful principles of creating a space where every member of the community is truly welcome, are about to launch an exciting new venue, The Divine. Only a few minutes from where the Glory used to be, this new space will continue to champion live performance and alternative queer club events — I am so excited for this new chapter. Make sure you go down and support it.

In fact, to my community I say: support all queer business! We all like to say that “things aren’t like they used to be”, or complain about venues closing left, right and centre (read above), but unless we actually go out and support queer spaces, we ought to really keep our mouths shut. Go on, it’s 2024. Go to a queer cabaret, a drag show, a club. No one does it quite like us. See You Next Wednesday. Track of the week: I Love the Nightlife — Alicia Bridges.

Fat Tony is a DJ and best-selling author