Now that we are equal to our straight counterparts on paper in Ireland, will the need for an exclusively gay scene evaporate completely, asks Brian O’Flynn?
As a 20 year-old gay Corkonian, I am still a relative newcomer to pub and club socialising. My concept of the LGBT scene in Cork has only ever extended from the front door of Chambers to the smoking area at the back of the building. I’ve never really questioned that before now; I was content with having at least one LGBT haven in my city, and I never devoted any thought to what the gay scene should be, or what it used to be.
It was only with the recent closing down of Loafers bar that I realised our gay scene has been undergoing a seismic change. Loafers was the oldest gay bar in Ireland, and was a pillar of the community in Cork for many of our older members. However, for those in my age group, its closure passed without comment and in many cases, without notice. For a whole generation the once famous destination was non-existent.
With that in mind, I asked my (five years older than me, and therefore slightly senior) boyfriend what the scene used to be like in Cork. As he started talking to me about Ruby’s, Instinct, The Other Place etc., which have all disappeared, I realised that until now I’ve been ignorant of an obvious trend.
The gay scene in Ireland is disappearing.
Venues Falling Like Dominoes
All we are left with in Cork is Chambers, along with one or two pop-up gay nights accommodated by some of the straight bars and clubs.
Along with Loafers and the other Cork venues, the Dignity bars in Galway and Waterford have disappeared, as has Galway’s Stage Door, among others.
Even big-name clubs in urban centres like Dublin and London are not immune. The recent closure of The Dragon has deprived Dublin of one of its largest gay venues. The Dragon’s Facebook page still has 14,000 likes, and over 20,000 people have tagged themselves at the bar over the years. The question remains – what went wrong? If a venue of this size, located in Dublin city centre, providing high-quality entertainment geared towards a queer clientele on a regular basis can’t survive, then what hope do smaller establishments in small Irish towns have?
Is Equality To Blame?
What is causing the marked drop in LGBT custom that once sustained these bars? The LGBT community is growing ever larger and more open in Ireland, and if the reports are to be believed, the pink euro has never been stronger.
But while one might expect the growing acceptance of the LGBT community to expand the gay scene, it seems to be having the opposite effect. Perhaps the need for exclusively gay clubs has waned because LGBTs no longer feel like we can only go out to LGBT venues. We feel more and more comfortable showing same-sex affection in straight pubs and clubs.
An article from PinkNews popped up on my newsfeed as I was writing this column. The Wynford Arms, a small gay venue in Reading, UK has just been forced to shut up shop. The owners cite low attendance caused by an increased sense of comfort in straight venues, combined with the explosion of gay dating apps, as the reasons for their premature departure.
If growing equality is indeed diminishing the demand for gay-only venues, what happens now that the marriage equality referendum has passed in Ireland? If we are equal to our straight counterparts on paper, will the need for exclusively gay venues evaporate completely?
Ultimately, the problem we’re facing is that gay clubs have always existed primarily to serve specific needs of our community. They facilitated us in ways that normal venues could not. When we were unaccepted by the rest of society, they gave us a place to go. They were community centres, in a way.
Our newfound equality is eliminating that need. Grindr has eliminated another. Dating apps provide a supremely efficient means of hooking up. You can browse for partners almost like flicking through a catalogue, picking and choosing as you like while avoiding the potential awkwardness of face-to-face confrontation. In an online generation that doesn’t necessarily appreciate the thrill of offline flirtation, gay clubs can consider themselves well and truly out-competed.
Now that the necessity for safe spaces and hook-up hotspots is wavering, gay venues are going to have to find some other specific needs to serve. Otherwise, they risk being wiped out by their much more dominant straight competitors.
To confuse the issue even further, The Outmost hosted a poll this past week, asking readers “Is there still a need for a gay scene?” The poll delivered a resounding 71% Yes so it seems the LGBT community still appreciates the importance of LGBT-specific destinations. So, the question remains, why are venues around the country failing to attract punters?
Some pubs and clubs in Dublin are evading the plague that’s striking other gay bars down. Bars like The George have the advantage of attracting world famous stars, and featuring their own high-octane performers to keep the punters coming. With the growing mainstream popularity of drag culture, maybe it’s time for smaller clubs to try to jump on this trend too? Using performance art such as drag and male burlesque seems like a fool-proof method of standing out in a pub and club scene that is quickly homogenising. But then again, it didn’t save The Dragon.
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