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There’ll be no scene if you don’t support gay venues

There’ll be no scene if you don’t support gay venues

CREATED ON // Saturday, 26 July 2014 Author // Penny Clifford

It’s up to gay punters to keep Sydney’s gay scene alive, writes Penny Clifford.

I’m sure it was only a couple of months ago that the next big thing that was going to save drag and gay nightclubs was Unity. It seemed the whole gay scene was yelling, ‘Bravo’. UNITY had no lockouts, good DJs and shows. But apart from opening night, the crowds dwindled. Why?


I also remember when Gay Bar got its fair share of applause too. This bar had amazing appearances by queens from RuPaul’s Drag Race and a great atmosphere with a unique branding. It seemed Gay Bar was the hip spot to be. Well, for a minute anyway – how quickly those queens went quiet.

Then the Midnight Shift closed its doors a few nights a week and put itself up for sale, but after a short time with no offers, the owners decided to reopen the gay doors and they got a ‘bravo’ when it was announced that it was no longer up for sale and would reopen full time as a gay club. But how long will the bravo last?


But even before that, people were yelling ‘bravo’ at the Imperial Hotel for making a comeback with shows in the Cabaret Bar. Indeed, we had award winning casts, great shows, the best DJs. But with the costs of wages, costumes and running a venue, drag was not enough to keep the cabaret doors open. For the Imperial, large production drag shows were a thing of the past. Yes, drag shows have survived but only in the pub bar, six nights a week.

The Stonewall Hotel and Arq seem to be hanging in there with their shows and I hope they continue. But with both these clubs dealing with lockout issues and drink stopping at 3am, how long can they pay costs to keep the doors open?


There are some smaller boutique clubs like Palms and others that offer the odd gay event, but most venues will have to diversify to stay open.

The average punter does not realise the money it takes to run a venue. Apart from the obvious like rent, mortgage and staffing costs, there is insurance, OLGR fees, Apra fees, PPCA fees, venue maintenance, costumes, taxes – the list goes on and on and on.

I have been blasted myself for finding ways to keep the Imperial doors open such as bringing in bands and dance parties that are not gay-only events. But we are surviving now and this is through no help from the gay punter, although I am happy to still see gay parties at the Imperial like Woof Club, Harbour City Bears, Bake Off and Dykes on Bikes Ball.


Is this change because we have fought so hard to be accepted in everyday life that we now go to any venue and not feel the need to be isolated in gay venues alone? If this is the case, then it’s great we finally have that much acceptance. Ironically, this acceptance is causing us to lose the clubs that have been our safe havens for decades.

Or is the reason less people are frequenting gay bars is due to dating apps like Grindr, Scruff and Tinder. Do people not need gay clubs anymore to meet others?

As for drag, is the drag scene in Sydney as we know it dying a slow death? Are people truly not interested anymore? You can see drag on TV in many shows and on YouTube too. And you can buy drag performers’ albums on iTunes. All of this begs the questions: has this made the good old lip sync show a tired format?

But the one thing that remains constant is that unless YOU support your local gay venue and their shows, things will change and you will lose the shows and venues that you love.
In these tough times with lockout laws and alcohol restrictions, nothing is a given and venues are finding it tougher to survive.

Go to the venues and support them. If you don’t, when they do close or not have the shows you love anymore, you forfeit the the right to complain.

Support, support, support.


Penny Clifford

Penny Clifford

Penny Clifford is the Marketing and Promotions Manager at The Imperial Hotel.

Comments (20)

  • Brendon

    02 September 2014 at 14:21 |
    It's the music Penny. The music. Even the old warhorse Jukebox in the Impy front bar has drastically reduced the playlist to the most generic horrid 'what the gays like' doof music. And the filmclips (half the daggy fun) are interrupted with horrid ads.

    I'll always love the Impy but that back room should be pumping with great DJ's who can actually read the crowd.

    The Red Rattler is doing great stuff.


    • Craig Mckellar

      04 September 2014 at 22:45 |
      Thanks Brendon for your comment in regards to "The Music" - as one of the DJ's that used to play regularly in The Cabaret Room, I was interested to hear your comment & was wondering how the Jukebox had been received by patrons on Fri/Sat night's at the Imperial.... it was always fun keeping the crowd dancing till close after the Drag Shows were finished.... Hopefully DJ's will return to The Cabaret Room soon - hopefully a lot about our scene will change soon, you don't need to be a wizard to know the scene is under so much pressure at the moment, we all need to support these venues in order for our rich history to move forward to the next generation of the gay community. This will only happen if we show support.....at the end of the day, these venues are also a business & someones way to pay their bills & put food on their table, if the support is not there, ........ "you can't blood from a stone"... C x


      • Craig Mckellar

        04 September 2014 at 22:47 |
        *get blood from a stone.... sorry - it's late! C x


    • Brendon

      02 September 2014 at 14:26 |
      PS Kitty Glitter and the Matt Vaughan (Loose Ends) can read a crowd.

      Where's the vinyl? The soul/disco? The mainstream AND indie 80's and 90's? The groove?


  • GD

    01 August 2014 at 22:56 |
    I agree with Mariah Fan that in comparison with other international cities that have a large and wealthy gay population, Sydney is really behind with respect to its gay bar culture. I agree that the scene needs to diversify - but I think it needs to diversify as from the inside - that is, it is great that Sydney's bar culture is transforming but there are no new, smaller establishments that cater specifically for a gay clientele. It's almost as though it is somehow politically incorrect for gay people to argue that there ought to be a gay "scene" separate to the straight scene. I wonder if straight people are talking about the same thing? Because, really, when we say a venue is "mixed" what this really means (or at least in Sydney) is that it is first and foremost straight. Gay people attend these establishments and hence make them "mixed". So what is so wrong about it being the other way around? I think there needs to be a shift in our ideas about what it means to be gay and that the only way to keep the scene from dying is to try and keep it gay.


  • jake

    01 August 2014 at 11:04 |
    Its simple really. The music that is played in the clubs including in Melbourne is the issue. Stop putting on young djs who learn from a computer in their bedroom and lit on djs who can actually read the crowd. Gay clubs used to cater to all ages with djs who could play music from a large range of genres and tines to satisfiy 10-80, this created a party atmosphere. Look at the beat in qld, it still brings the crowd because the music is a good range of poo, dance, camo, r&b, house, well pretty much anything you want. I am 46, a dj of 31 years now living in Melbourne and ache to go to a club and dance, but there is nothing here with music to get me on a dance floor. Stop blaming apps, drags and venues, go back to basics and look at what people really want to do at a club - dance! Oh and stop with the 1 hr dj sets, all it does is creates a night where you heat the same crappy songs repeated every hour.


  • Rebecca

    28 July 2014 at 20:45 |
    Bad drag shows, crappy, too-loud music, disproportionate cover charges, and overpriced drinks doesn't make for a fun night out, and yet the venues keep doing the same old thing and wondering why it fails.

    Y'all need to diversify, stop intentionally overcharging compared to your competition, stop assuming that drag shows people have seen a hundred times before and music you can't dance to unless you're on drugs that's so loud you cant think will bring in the punters, and start appealing to more than a stereotype.


  • Indi Kelly Edwards

    28 July 2014 at 19:00 |
    I kind of like whats happening at places like the Red Rattler where there is a new emerging alternative queer scene. I like to see more of that. Lots of live acts, reasonably priced drinks and "everyone" is welcome.

    I just think the landscape is changing and some club owners don't have their fingers on the pulse. Think outside the box. Today's alternative queer scene is tomorrows mainstream.


  • Guest

    28 July 2014 at 16:34 |
    Agreed, we don't all want shitty bars with dated performances. Where is the class? The gay bars in Sydney are too gay.


  • danny

    28 July 2014 at 13:51 |
    New blood is what is needed - and to do that we need the government to lift the liquor freeze (for new venues) on Oxford Street. We live in a post-dance party, small bar era. Imagine if Oxford Street had half a dozen small gay bars, catering to different niches and age groups?
    I remember when Stonewall first opened in the mid 90s and its main bar hasn't changed at all. That is frankly a disgrace when you consider how much money has flowed through that place.
    No - the same old format won't bring back the gay community.. It's a new era and we need new ideas.
    Respect to Penny for all her hard work @ Imperial - including some of the straight parties in the basement which offer better music than most gay parties.


  • danny

    28 July 2014 at 13:47 |
    I am so with you on this


  • Hamish

    27 July 2014 at 18:21 |
    I used to enjoy a Friday or Saturday night out at the Midnight Shift where it had a simple music video bar theme. Awesome! Today you are lucky to see the screens used, ordinary music and even live music in a scene that it does not suit with pricey drinks thrown in on top of a poor atmosphere. Why would you bother? I don't see a need to change instead returning to what they used to do which is where Palms has excelled in keeping it simple.


  • Jack London

    27 July 2014 at 17:09 |
    The bars suck. they've always sucked. and they're expensive
    Very few people actually like going to them and now they have an alternative.
    either make it a more pleasant experience or shut down. the community doesn't need venues owned by heterosexual drug lords.


  • Johnno

    27 July 2014 at 10:15 |
    You don't do anything new and you continue to increase your drink prices. Why would I bother coming to your venue?


  • Esme

    27 July 2014 at 01:20 |
    Grindr and Grindr like apps have destroyed the Gay community... it comes down to the rule of thirds, once you would go to a bar and find 3 types of people 1: People you want to sex with 2: People you want nothing to do with 3: People you don't want to have sex with but you would become friends with... that last third is where the true community was built from... Grindr removed that third category completely and as a consequence the Gay community is dying rapidly, it's nothing at all to do with venues or Oxford St...


  • Beau

    27 July 2014 at 00:11 |
    In a way the article is correct that gays are not supporting these venues.
    I don't think you can then say we don't support the gay community.
    I think the people who run these clubs assume you create a gay club and people will come. Where is the business plan? I look to the very sucessfull Merivale group or Keystone group who have the best venues and events in town. They hire professionals to plan, design, build, cater and manage with an emphasis on design, hospitality and events. I think it is assumed that you have to be gay to run a gay venue, hire a popular dj and drag performers and people will come.
    I don't think people feel they need to support something if they don't enjoy the night. We are more hedonistic by enjoying dinner with friends, cocktails at small bars and also concerned with being healthy, working out and not taking drugs.
    How about adapt, change and meet the markets expectations.
    Having seen venues that are not designed for performances trying to do production shows. I have seen clubs half ass hospitality (food and beverages) and then give up.
    I always hear people say Gays don't spend money they do pre drinks and don't support venues.
    Except for the young poor gays (mostly twinks) - The majority of the people in and around Darlinghurst & Surry Hills spend a lot on food and drinks at restaurants and trendy bars.
    When I was studying business strategy at University I had this case study of a Mexican who opened a Mexican restaurant in a location where a lot of Mexicans lived. The owner had run his own company before but decided he would open this restaurant up. The opening was very busy and everyone thought the food was nice. The business failed in 5 months and closed. The owner said the Mexican community don't spend money, failed him and didn't support him,.
    His mistake was he just assumed because he is Mexican and gives Mexicans Mexican food that the restaurant would be a slam dunk..
    The truth was Mexicans did spend money. For example money at the new Japanese tepanyaki bar. That had no waiters.. you ordered off touch screens at your booth. They did family days and birthday parties, catering and every night someone won a prize from the gift store. . I see similarities the Sydney gay club scene.
    Having been lucky enough to experience amazing clubs in places like New York and West Hollywood. Sydney disappoints. What they offer that we don't is hospitality. You can dance, or drink and talk, or smoke or eat (and stay in some) they offer customer service, the most successful venues are not run by random promoters offering themed nights as a gimmick. They tender out to who ever has the best business plan who has a long term vision. These people are successful business people (NOT failed self promoting egotistical entrepreneurs) they bring style, experience and money to they table.
    What needs to be done.
    1)Surround yourself with professionals with a history of success in hospitality.
    2)Market research/strategise
    3)Business plan
    4)Investment based on business plan
    5)Deliver something that exceeds expectations
    Remember this is not a community but a business. If your not meeting the market needs and the business is failing..How about adapt, change and exceed the markets expectations. Look within, if you don't have the business acumen to run the business.. leave, don't blame the customer... (i.e. the gay community)


  • Mariah FAN

    26 July 2014 at 21:48 |
    The Sydney gay scene is not good at all... Having come here from the London Sydney gay bars are definitely behind the times. As someone who spent six months working in one of the bars on Oxford Street I can safely say EVERY customer I spoke to felt the same. The scene feels very dated, the venues aren't particularly appealing and the guys have a lot of attitude/are cliquey ... That doesn't bother me too much, but it I'd s comment I have heard often. Combined with that, there aren't any nice places to sit down and have a nice drink in a place with a nice atmosphere. In London I used to go out somewhere at least once a week, here I stopped going out after my first week here ... Its aweful... Shame really as Sydney is such as amazing place... I give it five years and most venues will be gone...


  • J.Jo

    26 July 2014 at 18:24 |
    It's not really fare to curse the gay community for not supporting venues.
    These venues have been behind the 8 ball for years, and now crying fowl because people are taking their hard earned cash elsewhere.
    If you look along Oxford St, why would you spend $8 for a beer at the Shift (a tired old venue) when you can go to any number of other venues that have ambience.

    People are more interested in drag than ever, but the problem with Sydney is the "Maxi Shield effect".
    People don't want to see the same talentless queens doing the same average shows!
    Bring in some new blood and the people will follow!


  • michael

    26 July 2014 at 18:18 |
    i think the problem is that venues haven't diversified. palms is a success because it offers handbag and retro. it has catered to its niche ( a very big one) and is always packed on a weekend. Perhaps all of the venues need to rethink the music, djs, shows and the overpricing. people want value for money. every gay venue on oxford st that opens looks so sterile and pretencious. u cant hear yourself speak and they all look like they were designed by the same guy. dark and pretencious altra modern. trying to win over fickle showy queens instead of the loyal pub goer.


  • Richard

    26 July 2014 at 15:27 |
    I don't know why the younger generation is not supporting the "scene". I'm 35, which frankly, in gay years is ancient. I've never been the clubbing type. Hard of hearing, chubby build guy, not traditionally oxford street clone style, I've always felt out of place at gay venues.

    Maybe that's the problem, the scene has simply turned too many people off with it's usual bitchy ways. The internet would certainly have helped along the way, now you don't have to deal with rejection from a random drunk face to face.

    People often lament, the scene is not the same since the closing of the Albury, however, the golden days of the gay scene, not just in Sydney, but around the world, are long gone.

    For me, I just prefer to stay home. Cook a lovely meal, sit down, watch some brilliant documentaries and feed my brain, rather than piss money up against a wall, all in the vain home of getting a shag and having a "good time".


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