SX News Editorial

Jul 30

I wrote this story recently for the Gay Magazine SX News about the sad state of Gay Oxford St.

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.