The problem of gay bars is not the punters

The problem of gay bars is not the punters

CREATED ON // Tuesday, 29 July 2014 Author // William Lazootin

Unless gay bars evolve, their demise will be their own making, writes William Lazootin.

Recently there was a thought-provoking article written by Penny Clifford voicing her concerns on the demise of our gay venues – that if we, as a community, do not support gay bars they will close. It asks us to question how important these venues are to us.  

Indeed, are these venues still relevant to the gay community and are they even what we want or need anymore?

The gay community as whole has matured and developed more sophisticated tastes. Our need for venues, in line with our tastes, suggests many have moved on to other non gay-specific venues.

I have seen the community diversify over the past 11 years in Sydney. I know myself my tastes have changed as have my expectations in venues, dating and men.

Moreover, with our voice, it has become much easier to make your way around Sydney and to be treated equally by the general population. Being gay and being open about it is not such an issue anymore and this has allowed us to frequent other venues and to mix freely.

Mardi Gras for me is the indicator that the community has diversified into wanting different things and smaller events that are more relevant to them. It has grown in size over the years, failing to pull numbers. One could argue it has lost its attraction perhaps by trying to cater for all tastes and not having a clear focus on their demographic.

The community has clearly started to find their own niche within the larger community and the venues have not kept up with the community and its tastes and progression.

Some say that dating apps that have contributed to the demise of local gay bar. Most of our gay venues don’t allow for much in the way of social interaction other than a grope and a drunken feel. You could say Grindr , Tinder, Scruff et al have made the difference as it allows people to connect without booze and to be able to chat and get to know somebody first.

I feel the gay venues have sat on their laurels and have not evolved or changed, instead relying on the fact that people will be loyal and have nowhere else to go. But in actual fact, we have a whole city of really cool bars and places where we can meet and chat and connect.

The traditional gay venue today caters for you if you want to get smashed and have booze spilt all over your blue suede loafers and feet stepped on then pushed aside. And oh, those filthy toilets – let’s not even go there. Then there is the music that is pumping so loud you have no idea what the guy next to you is saying. How are you supposed to know he is even remotely interested when you cannot hear a bloody thing? Oh and do I dare mention that most gay venues are so outdated visually and simply trashy?

I simply choose not to go with friends to venues like this anymore as the point is to catch up and chat over a drink, there is no way that would happen on Oxford Street. The gay bars are all way too noisy and so limits real conversation and connection between people.

When Fag Tag is on, I am always surprised at the different demographics of the gay males that frequent this event. This was always a winner with the crowds as it took us – the gay punters – into much nicer venues than we have ever been offered in the gay scene and offered us something different and fresh.

It has been a tough few years and Oxford Street has taken a beating. But, like any business in 2014, it is time to reinvent yourself or close.


William Lazootin

William Lazootin

William Lazootin is a fashion designer based in Sydney and was a finalist on Project Runway Australia: Season 2.

Comments (14)

  • Rose

    04 August 2014 at 12:14 |
    I understand the cost involved with renovating venues but you look at say The Bank's reno in Newtown! It was still was done over 8 years ago and still looks reasonably fresh and a pleasant place to hang out!


  • GD

    01 August 2014 at 23:14 |
    I agree with these comments, but I think the problem is that there are still many many places that are predominantly straight. That is, they cater for a straight crowd, and basically gay people don't really go there. Straight people have far more options about where to go. They have far more chose about whether they wish to hang out in a straight environment or a mixed environment. This must mean that there are straight people who are not as fluid with their sexuality than what the entire gay population is supposed to be. I think it must also be ok for gay people to have a few new spaces that are identifiable as "gay" at the initial get go and see what happens?


  • another William

    01 August 2014 at 16:43 |
    I couldn't agree more about the comments about loud music - Why do Gay Bar owners - The Oxford as mentioned above being a case in point - insist on turning up the music so loud you have to yell to hear yourself think let alone speak with your friends - we are not all bright young 20 something yea olds who want to party - been there done that 30 years ago - and -
    Importantly - Gay Bars are somewhere where I can go and kiss and cuddle my partner and feel totally at ease - something that is not yet possible at most straight bars be they inner city or not


  • Sally Goldner

    01 August 2014 at 10:44 |
    To play devil's advocate a bit, let's question the question..."gay" bars.

    I respect the need for specific spaces

    The other side of the coin is that the tribal attitude of G L B T I being very separate is shifting. People just want to hang out with people; sex, gender identity and sexual orientation is far more fluid today.

    Similarly, while there are obviously regional variations, the need for gay bars being the only safe place to go may be diminishing in some places e.g. inner Melbourne and inner Sydney. Could there be an option for bars that are primarily "rainbow" in a very positive way and simultaneously welcoming to all - again bringing in more people and more income?

    And if there are more people together, logically, that suggests more income.


  • Daniel

    31 July 2014 at 21:16 |
    I always found "gay venues" dark, scary, daunting places until I had 5 or 6 beers in me. I was always there though because I didn't really know any other way of connecting with other guys. The last time I had drunken pick-up sex was when I discovered back in 1998. Since then the desire to "go out" gradually declined. Last time I went to a "gay venue", some years ago it was just loud electronic 4/4 music, smoke machines, beer and then some mad person glassed me. Nothing wrong with loud music but it's nice to be able to have a conversation too withoutb having to shout. I've never been back to a gay club. There's so many better venues which aren't aligned on the basis of sexuality to go to nowadays. And unless you're doomed to drinking beer at places like the Workers Pub in Ipswich, pretty much no one gives a f**k anyway. I've always had the suspicion that gay clubs were just really about selling as much alcohol as quickly to as many people as possible. The whole "we are family" surface vibe they like to emit has never much convinced me.


  • michael

    30 July 2014 at 23:10 |
    oh the music in the juke box area is the only decent thing there - its prob why the front bar is where everyone hangs out - I have found most people prefer a juke box over a loud dj in bar areas anyway. never understood why stonewal and oxford etc shut theirs off at peak times and get a loud dj.


  • Danny

    30 July 2014 at 11:24 |
    Maybe some of the Oxford St venues could employ some of the artists in the pop up shops to re-design/decorate their venues, at a fraction of the cost of a 'real' renovation?


  • Tim

    29 July 2014 at 22:18 |
    Isn't the trashy-ness, the fake chandeliers, faded wallpaper lacklustre dance floors, gold framed pictures of naked men, women and wheezing smoke machines what make gay bars some of the best places to go? That it might not be much, but you can still have a good time? To have a bit of fun. Meet friends. Talk. Have a cigarette, if you smoke. Or a bloody drink and a dance? I think the formula is dead for the high enders. Especially clubs like ARQ that charge upwards of 20 bucks cover... and you still get shitty music... that would be an example of a dead formula. Or not enough lead time to organise party's, to generate interest. I agree clubs should evolve and support their niche audiences and communities through different events and that the consumer has more options than ever, but I think there will always be the need for the honest, this is what you get, gay bar. Yes, we have evolved to a degree, maybe our tastes are more 'niche', more 'uber' then in the early 2000s. But there will always be a need for an honest, local, gay bar. Places like The Beat (approaching 30 years) Sportsman's Bar, Stone Wall, The Columbian. Honest establishments that have seen through many ups and downs of our generational and cultural change. So yes, some change is good and needed. But the honest gay bar will adapt and continue, like it always has. And I'll keep going there. So, I'll have a vodka and Coke please. And William, honestly, if you wanted an intimate conversation and for your loafers to not be stepped on, pushed aside, might I suggest a lounge bar? Otherwise, red wine and music in your living room with friends is always a better bet, as some of us have some serious drinking, smoking and dancing to do.


  • Penny Clifford

    29 July 2014 at 20:27 |
    I hear what your saying about the state of clubs and even the Imperial. But it's easy to say but the cost of renovating a venue is astronomical especially if patronage is down for most venues. The Imperial has diversified in different areas and whilst we still have pub drag we also have bands, theater and cabaret and dance parties. This seems to be working for us. Perhaps Gay only venues is a thing of the past.


  • Penny Clifford

    29 July 2014 at 20:14 |
    I hear what your saying about the state of clubs and even the Imperial. But it's easy to say but the cost of renovating a venue is astronomical especially if patronage is down for most venues. The Imperial has diversified in different areas and whilst we still have pub drag we also have bands, theater and cabaret and dance parties. This seems to be working for us. Perhaps Gay only venues is a thing of the past.


  • Paul

    29 July 2014 at 19:35 |
    William - can't agree more, and I'm assuming this is in response to Penny Clifford's article which had the punters to blame for the demise of the gay venues in Sydney.
    Note to Penny: if you have a good product, with a bit of hard work it will sell.
    Take the Imperial (which Penny is the Marketing and Promotions Manager) as an example: It smells, your shoes stick to the carpet and the jukebox has the same music that it had prior to it's infamous rebuild - and that's all before you get out the back or downstairs to hand over more cash.
    Is this what you want us to support week in week out?
    There's far more options these days to have to settle for the above.... or watching the Priscilla show for what seems like the millionth time.
    All businesses have to adapt so why don't the venue owners?


  • N Ross

    29 July 2014 at 19:05 |
    Evolve or die.
    Deliver to your customers what they want (and deserve), or they'll vote with their feet to somewhere that will. Seems pretty simple really?


  • Andrew

    29 July 2014 at 18:34 |
    every single long weekend those dying gay bars organize "parties" and charge 50 dollar covers for the same venue, same music, same shows and same crowd... So it truly feels like a long weekend fee. Meanwhile, straight clubs charge the same as any other weekend and are packed!


  • Charles Darwin

    29 July 2014 at 17:29 |
    The survival of a species is determined by its ability to evolve. The Gay Scene has evolved, the bars have stood still. Look at Bad Dog / Kooky / House of mince / I Remember House act
    All these parties exist outside of the tried & tested & tired Oxford Street formula and are thriving.


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