Future of some of London’s most iconic queer venues remains unclear amid pandemic closures

Josh Milton October 28, 2020
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Customers at the Admiral Duncan applaud the 2019 Trans Pride parade.

Customers at the Admiral Duncan applaud the 2019 Trans Pride parade. (Getty)

The Admiral Duncan and two other London LGBT+ venues will remain closed until COVID restrictions are relaxed, it was confirmed Wednesday (October 28), but will not close permanently.

The Admiral Duncan, a bedrock of queer nightlife that was the site of a horrific bombing in 1999, has been shuttered since the start of lockdown, along with the Kings Arms, a popular bear bar, and Retro Bar off the Strand.

PinkNews understands that staff are “negotiating redundancy” with owners Stonegate Pubs as the government’s furlough scheme is replaced by a less comprehensive Job Support Scheme: “They maintain that they were told the venues are closing.”

However, London night czar Amy Lamé has dispelled rumours the trio will close for good.

Lamé confirmed she had spoken with Stonegate Pubs and has been told that the Admiral Duncan, Kings Arms and Retro Bar are not permanently closed.

“They have reassured me that they remain committed to providing LGBTQ+ venues,” Lamé said.

Stonegate, which operates 700 pubs in Britain, reiterated to PinkNews that the closures will remain in place for now but did not  confirm when the three would re-open.

Moreover, the spokesperson said that the government’s patchwork of tiered restrictions, alongside the sharply criticised 10pm curfew, are forcing the company to rejig its business model.

“The myriad of restrictions placed on pubs and bars has meant it is not possible to reopen these businesses at the current time and they will remain closed until restrictions are eased,” they said.

“Like many businesses across the capital the introduction of the 10pm curfew and subsequent further local tiered restrictions have had a significant impact on thousands of businesses, as well as further reducing footfall in town and city centres and undermining consumer confidence.

“The combination of these factors and the subsequent impact on sales and volumes means that we are having to rebase our business accordingly, whilst the restrictions remain.”

Photo of people gathering outside the Admiral Duncan pub in Old Compton Street in the Soho, which was attacked with a nail bomb on April 30, 1999, to remember the victims of the Orlando massacre, on June 13, 2016.
People gather outside the Admiral Duncan pub in Old Compton Street in the Soho, which was attacked with a nail bomb on April 30, 1999, to remember the victims of the Orlando massacre, on June 13, 2016. (Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty)

Lamé echoed this, criticising the government’s ongoing 10pm curfew.

“It is clear that the impact of the 10pm curfew and the government’s insufficient support package is putting our night-time venues and jobs at serious risk – particularly much-loved LGBTQ+ venues who heavily rely on trade after 10pm,” she said.

“The curfew needs to be immediately scrapped and the government must urgently provide more financial support for businesses if we are to avoid losing these precious venues.”

LGBT+ venues battle high rents, little-to-no income and an ‘unfair’ curfew.

LGBT+ publicans and club-owners have warned throughout the pandemic that amid wilting profit-margins, increasingly threadbare budgets and government fiscal support that often leapfrogs over them, the future of queer spaces is shaky at best.

Lamé has described the 10pm curfew as “unfair“, referring to data from the Public Health England that just 2.7 per cent of COVID-19 cases have been linked to hospitality venues by the country’s Test and Trace service.

On Monday (October 26), credit rating agency FitchRatings decreased Stonegate Pub’s long-term issuer rating, a scale used by investment professionals to assess the likelihood of debt repayment, from “stable” to “negative”.

“The outlook revision reflects the heightened trading uncertainty due to the evolving roll out of regional lockdowns under the UK government’s tiered approach,” the agency said on a blog post.

“As the pressure mounts for London to enter complete lockdown again, the potential loss of revenue during November and December will be a phenomenal hit for these venues,” Steve Wardlaw, co-founder and chair of insurance provider Emerald Life, told PinkNews.

“I can’t see how they’ll survive without governmental support.”

‘More than ever we need LGBTQ+ safe spaces, spaces to be ourselves and remember our history.’

London’s queer venues suffered a decade of decline from 2006 to 2017 before stabilising, City Hall said last year, but the pandemic has thrown the futures of many into jeopardy.

As much as queer bars in London are facing the same challenges as countless other bars and pubs shuttered in recent months, for the LGBT+ community, the uncertainty is more than a business dilemma.

Hundreds of LGBT+ Londoners shared their support for the Admiral Duncan, the Kings Arms and Retro Bar as rumours circulated regarding their futures. To lose these spaces, they said, would be to lose part of queer history itself.

PinkNews reached out to managers at The Admiral Duncan, Retro Bar and Kings Head, as well as Amy Lamé, for further comment.

Related topics: London, Soho

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