Down memory lane in Erko

CREATED ON // Saturday, 09 August 2014 Written by // Phil Scott

Phil Scott ventures down memory lane reminiscing over the days at his old haunt – the Imperial.

I'm writing this on the eve of the BGF Bake Off, where I spend some pleasant, fat-inducing hours this afternoon. This year it was held in the showroom of the Imperial Hotel in Erskineville, with extra entertainment led by Aunty Mavis in the downstairs bar. The cakes were marvellous, some even looked edible, and it was a fun occasion for a good cause; something our community loves.

"Our community" you ask? Yes, I think there is such a thing. Sure, the crowd at Bake Off was dominated by older men, straight couples (obviously into pastry), and only the occasional stray twink. I saw one young gay guy with three or four hefty girl-friends, or ‘fag hags’ as we used to call them as a genuine term of endearment. A young queen only had one fag hag in the old days (and one more for backup), but now that young gays aren't as girly as they once were, perhaps there are more fag hags to go around. Could be. All I know is, we were a diverse group who felt like part of something bigger.


[Image] Bake off. Photo: Mark Dickson

As an inner west resident, I used to spend a lot of time at this venue. Like many people, I have fond memories of the shows Mitzi Macintosh put on in that sacred room, especially the musical parodies (Rocky Horror, The Sound of Music, The Wizard of Oz etc) that she starred in with Cleo Coupé, Sandy Toggs and Freeda Corsett. Before that she did shows with Chelsea Bun, the late great Caroline Clark and others. Plus, of course, she and Naomi Palmer started Bingay there. A video of Mitzi ran throughout Bake Off today, recorded in London, giving the function an eerie atmosphere of déjà vu.

At Mitzi's shows, the joint used to be packed with young homosexuals. It was a time before Grindr, if you can possibly imagine that, when mobiles were only good for texting "Im here where r u".

I picked up there––who didn't? That's what you did then, although there wasn't the wide choice that's now available with a mere swipe of your index finger. Once I took a guy home who was a smack addict (I later discovered), and was raised in a lesbian separatist commune where he was the only male tolerated. He spoke with a South African accent out of pure affectation: he wasn't South African and had never even been there. He stayed a few days (= I couldn't get rid of him) and invited friends over. One of them had spent time in jail where he had developed a liking for the 12-tone music of Arnold Schönberg––God knows how––so while my friend got high in the kitchen we all listened to a record of Schönberg's harsh, strident opera Moses and Aron (in the original German).

By comparison, I suppose the crowd today seemed a little, shall we say, safe. Checking out the well-preserved 40-somethings in long-term relationships, with their neat stubble and crushed satin scarves, I wondered: is this the same bunch of out-of-control 20-somethings of my memories?

Apart from the clever cakes and the good cause, is that why they came? Returning to an iconic site of their youth? Maybe I'm imagining things, but it felt cozy enough to be true. And it felt like we are surviving.

[Image] Cindy Pastel at BGF Bake Off at the Imperial Hotel. Photo: Mark Dickson


Phil Scott

Phil Scott

Phil Scott has written four gay novels, but is best known as an actor, pianist, composer and writer for the Sydney Theatre Company's annual Wharf Revue, and as a cabaret performer. Phil was a script writer on Priscilla Queen of the Desert, The Musical. On the side he reviews classical recordings for the ABC magazine Limelight. He is legally bald.

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