London's Gay Bars Are Alive and Well
This month, queer super-pub The Glory celebrates its fourth birthday – and it's going from strength to strength.
Guests at Hungama at The Glory. Photo: Giordano Fetto, courtesy of The Glory
We're often told that Grindr and gentrification are killing the gay bar, and there's no escaping the fact that London's queer scene has constricted. According to a 2017 report by UCL Urban Laboratory, the capital lost 58 percent of its LGBTQ spaces in just over a decade. But at the same time, no one should ring a death knell for queers coming together to drink, dance and dissect the latest Drag Race episode. In the last year, south London has welcomed classy gay boozer The Cock Tavern and progressive LGBTQ pop-up The Chateau, while east London's queer super-pub The Glory is going from strength to strength as it celebrates its fourth birthday this month.
"We make money and our landlord gets paid, so we are where we are today – we have a business," says The Glory's co-owner, DJ and drag queen John Sizzle. "The reason we make money is because we work bloody hard and our emphasis has been not on profit, but on glamour and fun and entertainment and theatre and community. All these elements have created something that people have embraced and really run with. People have this idea of The Glory as a big community-led environment, and that's because it actually is."
Sizzle isn’t exaggerating about The Glory’s community spirit. Ryan Lanji, who launched his LGBTQ Bollywood night "Hungama" at the pub in 2017, says the tinsel-decked Haggerston venue is "very much like Cheers, a place where every queer knows your name". Rhys' Pieces, who won The Glory’s drag talent contest "Lipsync1000" last year, tells me he "loves the damn place" and has "made lifelong memories there" with "some of the favourite creatures I know".
The Glory supports east London's LGBTQ community so passionately because it sprung from it. Sizzle launched the venue in early 2015 with East End drag legend, Jonny Woo; Colin Rothbart, who had directed a 2002 documentary about the scene; and Zoe Argiros, former bar manager at nearby Dalston Superstore. Argiros has since left The Glory, but Sizzle says the four founders were a "perfect mix" driven by the same desire to create "something fabulous in our own personal way".
"The place was in ruins [when we found it], and we had six weeks to get it ready," Sizzle recalls. "We knew what we wanted the space to look like, but we didn't quite know how to do it. We were unearthing new obstacles all the time and we didn't have time to think about how to overcome them – we just had to do it. The moment you sign that dotted line, you’re paying bills, so you’ve got to get the doors open. I was literally in full drag with a staple gun in my hand upholstering chairs a few minutes before we opened."
Though Sizzle admits to some "terrifying times financially", the team always managed to pull through. Along the way, The Glory has built such a reputation for quality alternative performance that it's taking over the National Theatre’s River Stage on Pride weekend this July. "We don't exist without fresh talent," Sizzle says matter-of-factly. "I think we've been good at creating an openness so that people feel like they can come to us with an idea for a night, however random. Believe me, we do have to sift through the ideas and we can't always accommodate everything we'd like to do, but it’s all about the creativity that comes through the door."
Drag queen Margo Marshall, who’s channelled her own creativity into numerous unique nights at The Glory – including an awesome homage to Madonna’s Erotica album – says the venue has "really supported me as a young queer artist, giving me space to perform my own work, and always guiding and then trusting me to try new things. Sizzle even gave me makeup and rides home when I was broke!" Drag king Adam All, who co-hosts The Glory's drag king competition "Man Up!", is similarly effusive, saying: "I'm pretty sure The Glory prides itself on its immense diversity of performance. And you can bet your ass whatever’s on there will be great. The Glory has helped to elevate the profile of drag kings in the UK, and that’s a fact."
I feel comfortable saying from personal experience that The Glory is also thriving because it’s a warm, welcoming place to swing by for a drink – whatever your sexuality. "Anyone from 18 to 70 can feel at home here; we have a kind of cross-generational cosiness," says Sizzle. "But you never know who you’ll see at the bar. On New Year’s Eve we had the designer Erdem [Moralıoğlu] walk in with Keira Knightley and Chelsea Clinton. [Performance artist] Kevin Le Grand was screaming away on the microphone, Jonny [Woo] was doing his "Big Gay Songbook" show in the basement, and there were 300 people swaying along with Chelsea Clinton somewhere in the middle of it all. That’s the epitome of The Glory, I think."
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.