The final step of England’s roadmap out of lockdown is in sight – 19th July! With Soho being the hub of London’s LGBTQ+ scene once offering a diversity of nightlife entertainment, Tim Baros questions the disappearance of some of Soho’s most infamous and discreet gay and lesbian venues… “where have all of Soho’s LGBT bars & clubs gone?“
The scene was in trouble even before COVID reared its ugly head in March 2020, but now more ever it looks like there’s no turning back at what can only be described as a catastrophic event. Not only for Soho overall but especially for the LGBT scene where many a night was spent hopping from Comptons (or Duke of Wellington) for a pint to Admiral Duncan for a look at the drag shows then a mandatory drink at the Village Bar to ogle the go-go dancers and ending the night at The Shadow Lounge or Freedom to dance the night away. It was the golden hexagon of nights.
Also, remember those days when you could take your top off and dance with other hot and sweaty men at the once revered golden den of decadence – Barcode on Archer Street? What about the many Sunday afternoons at the revered Molly Moggs, soaking up the glow and singing along with Dame Julie Paid while downing many a pint? Molly Moggs had the friendliest crowd and was one of the best things about Soho (long gone). And shall we not forget the mecca of meccas – The Astoria – where Madonna, Kylie, Robyn, almost everyone graced its stage – demolished in 2009 to make way for Crossrail – which, hard to believe, is still under construction!
‘My memory of Soho was of a club called Substation which was right under the Astoria. They hosted different nights, one of them – Shinky Shonky – was one of my favorites,‘ says Alan, a former teacher. ‘And also the Tea Dance there every Sunday – the place had a reputation for being raunchy at times.‘
The Shadow Lounge was not a victim of COVID, it closed years ago and is now sadly a club called Midnight Lounge and bills itself as ‘a little bit naughty’ – but it’s unfortunately not naughty for the LGBT crowd – it’s a straight strip club. What was naughty was the gay cinema in Walker’s Court – now long gone – along with the gay-friendly bookstores that once lined the notorious alleyway.
‘A place called The Wag, though not exclusively gay, was one of my long gone favourite places in Soho,’ says Roy, a hairstylist. ‘I was a regular there along with celebrities, divas, queers, and club kid fashionistas. We all flocked to party on its hedonistic dance floor. Everyone from Naomi Campbell to David Bowie passed through their doors.’ Roy added that The Wag revolutionised nightlife across the entire country. ‘It’s eclectic blend of latin, jazz, vintage funk, northern soul, hip hop and house was a far cry from champagne and chat music of the VIP-friendly world of West End clubbing just up the road.‘
Candy Bar on Carlisle Street was THE place for the ladies but closed several years ago, with SheBar on Old Compton Street replacing it. SheBar is next to Bar Soho, with a very discreet entrance that leads down to a very small and narrow space. It, along with Admiral Duncan, both just recently, and thankfully, reopened, but both are very narrow and small spaces – not great for social distancing, and their survival hinges on whether punters are ready to drink and socialise in small and narrow spaces.
‘My favorite was the sandwich shop called Old Compton Cafe, and it was really fun to go there at like 3 a.m. after clubbing for a coffee and sandwich before you went home’ says Suzie, a club promoter. ‘It was a real focal point and people also met there before going out.’
Whatever happens to Soho’s gay scene is out of our control. But for many of us, we have loads of memories of the scene that once was, and let’s hope that perhaps in the future Soho will go back to what it once was – colorful, vibrant, and loud and proud.
Written by Tim Baros
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This article was originally published in the Spring issue of My Soho Times magazine.
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