News that the owners of Camden's Black Cap have applied to turn it into flats shouldn't surprise us. It's part of the of a change in taste that's been going on for years - especially for pubs that think the zeitgeist is something to be gotten rid of with antibiotics. However, it does mark "the end or an era" and gets us thinking about the massive changes on the scene since we arrived in London just 15 years go...
Continue reading for a short history of our scene and some thoughts on where the hell we might be heading.
In the olden days (say, 1997) many if not most neighbourhoods had a little gay pub/ club and that was where folks went. It was often tragic with bad drag but the barman knew your name, there were wakes for those that died (often back then) and every Saturday night was like an EastEnders Christmas Special around chucking out time - vile.
F*cked on drugs, f*cked by Foxtons
These places were already suffering when we rocked up and never more so than in West London. They'd been hit by changing tastes and the tsuanmi that was the 90s club scene - loads of folk with passion and an idea (not necessarily business sesne) were running nights in venues across town catering to those that had discovered drugs. For the newly initiated, dancing with your top off with the local gargoyles staring at you in your local where the music was shit wasn’t an option.
The rot had set in and many abandoned their locals for the fast developing club scene - there was an eclectic mix weekly clubs all over London in a whole manner of different venues that were usually straight. Heck, let's not forget how much society changed too - we didn't need to meet in pubs with blacked out windows any longer. Exceptions sprouted up in the cheaper East End tho - where the Joiners Arms was putting bin bags on its windwos to keep the sun out at weekends?!
Your night out: priceless. Your venue: valued, sold, exchanged.
Then came the boom that hit west London and many other places hard. As well as putting money in our pockets to support all of these fresh new clubs it also doomed the scene it was fuelling. Property prices and the rise of the rich Yummy Mummy pound has laid waste to the "not missed till it's gone" local gay bar culture - especially in expensive neighbourhoods. Notting Hill's Champion is now a trendy straight bar, it's successor The Leinster is a posh mum's gym, Earl's Courts Coleherne's a gastro pub and so on. Pubs weren't the only things to see radical change. All of those nice new clubs soon found themselves competing with property speculators.
Irony strikes back
The eclectic club scene that took so much business away from the old pub scene that didn't innovate then faced its own challenges. It's probably fair to say that the property boom compounded with the rise of the gay villages (Vauxhall, Shoreditch...) dramatically changed our once cutting-edge clubbing culture. They've all largely gone. Getting a venue for your new barely break-even club night, and persuading folks to go there, is much much harder... Worse, ownership of venues and nights is now so concentrated in a few hands that anybody setting out to do something has to have deep pockets and nerves of steel - it's now a vicious big business where the incumbents have expensive venues to fill every night of the week.
East greets west
Many point to Shoreditch as the way forward and it has been - clubs in pubs and smaller venues?! We can't help but think we've gone back to loving our locals - smaller venues being where it's at. But it's a different creature from having pubs and clubs all over the place to ones based solely where prices allow it. For now.
As we've often said, nostaligia's not what it used be... but it is. What we know for sure is that everybody has "a time" and whatever's on the go is where it's at. For some it'll have been The Black Cap, for another Trade and another Beyond. Whatever comes next will mean everything to somebody and that's wonderful.
Final thought: if smaller venues are where it's at, have we come full circle and embraced our locals again? Is Fire for a big night out not every night out now? Could we have a renaissance even in neighbourhoods whose venues have long since shut up shop? The rate of pub closures is slowing and could we soon see it reverse?
OVER TO YOU!
That's our hazy recollection - we know you lot have a lot more knowledge than us so feel free to seize the talking stick. Miss your old local? Still got one that's going strong? Reckon things are much much better thank you very much?