A friend of mine recently told me how a gay bar he’d once worked at was turned into a straight bar by the brewery for financial reasons. It wasn’t necessarily a problem with falling sales, but rather an inability to meet the growth of straight venues also owned by the brewery. Gay venues, it seems, might be the heart of gay life for many people, but only at the generosity of the breweries. After all, if they would make more money turning their club straight, what’s in it for them to keep gay places gay?
So this got me thinking. In particular about bars and clubs that are gay 100% of the time, compared to those that are only gay part of the time. It struck me that a number of straight clubs I had once visited when they had gay nights, no longer ran any gay nights at all. Others still had moved their gay nights to less successful nights, or nights when they would otherwise be closed anyway. It seems that sometimes we get the short end of the stick—straight nights appeal to a much wider crowd than gay nights, so we get the nights when the straights don’t want to come out.
This gives me a lot of admiration for venues that put gay nights on at weekends and busy periods. It gives me even more admiration for venues that are gay all the time. After all, the people running these venues are often doing so out of love for the gay scene rather than a ruthless desire for cash.
Which leads me onto another point. Some cities are smaller than others, and don’t have a large enough captive audience to fill a plethora of gay bars. I’m always shocked that in my hometown of Leeds, there is a huge local population and yet only a small number of gay people regularly visit the scene. In effect the scene cannot grow to the size of Manchester’s, even though Wikipedia claims Leeds has a bigger population, because there aren’t enough queers to go round. All the bars and clubs are fighting for the same small crowd. Maybe this is a factor of straight and mixed clubbing in Leeds being so welcoming, or maybe it’s that gay bars are always a little old fashioned and only appeal to a small demographic. But maybe it is just a numbers game and only a small percentage of gay people in any city will regularly visit the scene.
So should we be doing more to support our gay venues? And when it comes to a choice between a straight venue that offers a gay night on a less-than-prime night and a gay venue that’s open all the time, should we stick with the gay venue? Obviously doing so would help ensure gay venues stay gay; but not doing so would mean more choice and more gay nights. It’s a difficult question to answer. Perhaps the only way to solve it is to force all the queers to go out clubbing at least one night a week. But in the meantime, maybe we should be more appreciative of the people who bust their balls to bring us gay nights and gay venues, and when it comes to a choice between spending all night in a straight bar on a straight night or popping into a gay club or a gay night for just one or two drinks, we chose the latter over the former. That one hour in your local gay bar might make the difference between having that gay venue for another year and seeing it close and become straight the next.