“It was packed to the rafters down at the Oiled Donkey the other night. As I sat at the bar sipping a pink gin, a muscle-bound young chap en route to the lavatories asked if he might push in my stool a little. Much hilarity - and bumming - ensued.”
Oh, my dear boy! How utterly charming to see you here on my little page! One can only assume that you've dropped by to learn about that wonderful English tradition, the Gay Pub. Now, let me assure you that this is a subject with which I am exceedingly familiar, having been a patron of such establishments for many years, and I have an extensive knowledge of those hostelries throughout our fair land where chaps such as you and I can unwind and be ourselves far away from the prying and judgemental eyes of Society. You are as I am, one presumes? One of those that were, at school, referred to as Some Other Boys? A Friend of Dorothy? Oh, of course you are - were you anything but, you could surely not be so delightfully comely as you are. Well, let it be said that I shall find it an absolute pleasure to instruct you in the Ways of the Gay Pub - in fact, mon cherie, think of me as your dear old Uncle Noël from hereon in.
The History of English Gay Pubs
Gay pubs have been around for a good deal longer than most people imagine; in fact, there's a veritable wealth of intriguing evidence to suggest they've existed for as long as gays and pubs have, which is since at least 1876, moreover historians have turned up tantalising clues to suggest they may have been around even before that. Back in those days they were more usually known as "the love that dares not speak its name pubs", of course, which is a bit of a misnomer as the majority of gay pub clientele are more interested in no-ties homosexual fucking and run a mile at the briefest suggestion of love. Like my, ahem, friend Ned Rorem - I'll scratch his eyes out if I ever see him again, the little bitch.
One possible early literary reference to a gay pub comes to us from the Bard himself - he earned the title after he was barred from all the pubs in Stratford-on-Avon for wearing chaps with nothing underneath, did you know that, sweetness? - and is to be found in The Merchant of Venice; the eponymous Merchant being the sort of man who engaged in a spot of rough trade from time to time, if you follow my meaning. In the play we hear the sad tale of Antonio and Bassanio, two men who were forced to hide the love they shared due to Bassanio's indecision over his own sexuality:
ANTONIO: Commend me to your honourable wife:
Tell her the process of Antonio's end,
Say how I lov'd you, speak me fair in death;
And, when the tale is told, bid her be judge
Whether Bassanio had not once a love.
BASSANIO: But life itself, my wife, and all the world
Are not with me esteemed above thy life;
I would lose all, ay, sacrifice them all
Now, how about giving me a quick handjob before you die, you old queen?
Recently, my dear, scholars at Oxford having been attempting to prove Shakespearian authorship of an absolutely remarkable document believed to be a lost section of the play and titled Antonio Getteth His Wicked Waye Wytth Bassanio After Getting Hymme Ratte-Ars'd Downe Ye Saracen's Fystte, which, they believe, is a reference to a gay pub in 16th Century Venice.
The first overtly gay pub in England was the Sailor's Arms, which opened for business in 1887 on the docks down at Millwall - an establishment condemned to infamy by the roughness of its patrons and yet frequented by those with an interest in the exotic crew of ships from mysterious and far-away lands, such as the exquisitely spicy seamen of the Far East. Sailors from Africa too were often well-endowed with all manner of delights, and on a busy day the pub was alive with the sound of salty foreign craft docking in welcoming English harbours. This made it really quite the place to be for adventurous young men about town such as ourselves. Of course, the Sailor's Arms is long gone now, replaced by apartments that sell for £500,000 per square foot to hedge fund managers and investment bankers. Still, those are distinctly stressful occupations and an enterprising youth can make a good living down that way, offering executive relief. You'd be wise to consider such a trade yourself, young fellow-me-lad, with your pretty face and delicious pertness.
- The building still stands, but is now divided between a McDonalds and a gift shop selling those crappy masks that every damn shop in Venice sells.
How Does One Know That One Is In A Gay Pub?
In England, those gentlemen who are not as we and whom seek out opportunity to consume beer in convivial surroundings commonly make the mistake of assuming any pub referred to as a gay pub is a public house known for the jollity and friendliness of its clientele. Entering such an establishment has proved to be an effective opener of both eyes and other orifices in many instances which, oftimes, has been the source of some complaint, such as was the case with one chap - a High Court judge if my memory serves me correctly - who took issue with the fact that he had been roughly buggered by as many as twelve individuals on each and every of his many visits to the Neon Poodle in Islington, a pub he had frequented almost daily for some forty-five years. For this reason, gay pubs have evolved a number of unmistakable ways in which they are able to distinguish themselves from non-gay pubs; a fact that serves gentlemen such as ourselves every bit as admirably as it does those of a more orthodox mindset, for in doing so they allow us to easily locate a hostelry that will serve our discerning tastes. Now, I'm rather a familiar face here at the Raving Queen and there's no doubt whatsoever that it's a gay pub, but it'll serve our needs well in exhibiting all those signs for which one should look out should one wish to find a similar establishment elsewhere.
First, take note of the music being played. If you have walked into a non-gay pub, you will invariably hear either Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits or Thin Lizzy's The Boys Are Back In Town. Gay pubs are very different - for a start, the music will be many, many times louder than in a non-gay pub and will be either Abba or some sort of pounding Euro-House. Of course, being a gentleman, Euro-House is perhaps not really to my taste, but it serves most admirably as a high-BPM metronome if one wishes to keep rhythm while banging away on the tightly-stretched parchment of a teenager's quivering buttocks. But piffle, enough of that for now, let us look at other signs affording one surety that one is in a gay pub.
Look too at the decor, my fine boy - no broken windows as one might expect to find in a non-gay pub here. The dress code is, after all, a little - hmm - shall we say exotically sparse in here, so cold draughts gusting through the bar would be most unwelcome. Note too, if you will, the soft furnishings; the curtains are of fine and luxuriant crimson velvet, the seating is soft and plush - yet do not assume that bottoms are afforded gentle treatment here, for they may expect a rougher treatment than they might in other pubs, and the deep padding is there so as to offer comfort to those who otherwise might be unable to sit. Some of them are even equipped with the very latest soothing refrigeration devices, so that the aficionados of Tuesday's S&M Night can be likewise relieved.
- Over the last decade, many pubs have installed jukeboxes offering internet access and a choice of literally billions of different compositions. However, you will still only hear Dire Straits or Thin Lizzy.
The tall, muscular, bearded chap wearing denim and steel-toed boots standing over by the bar has caught your eye, eh? I'd exercise a degree or two of caution there if I were you, my lovely - that's Radclyffe. She runs the door on a Saturday night and if a man was to make a pass at her he's more likely to find the old plums caught in a grip of steel than anything else. You'll find the men on the dancefloor. Yes dear, that's them - the ones in the unfeasibly tight spandex shorts. Oh, Lord help us - there's that frightful Irish ruffian Oscar Wilde, what has he come dressed as? Leather jeans are so 1883, don't you agree? Thank heavens you came to your Uncle Noël, my darling boy, had you have asked Oscar to be your guide to England's gay pubs he'd have got you tipsy, spiked your beaujolais with a roofie or two and committed all manner of beastly, wicked acts upon your rather lovely personage, the cad. Such uncouth vulgarity! Come, come - let us take our drinkies over to the couch in that darkened corner, from whence we can observe the patrons at our leisure.
That thespian-looking fellow over there with the Babycham? Why, that's young Johnny Gielgud - been making quite a name for himself or so I hear. I taught him all he knows, of course. He was in my Star Chamber while it did the rounds up in Manchester, you know, and performed the role most satisfactorily. No idea who that lissome colt he's chatting to might be. An actor too, do you think? He's just what I had in mind to fill the hole Johnny left once he moved on to other things.
We do get the occasional straight chappy in here from time to time. I fondly recall the summer of 1923, when a mob of drunken football fans came in following a match and started trying to chat up some of the, erm, ladies. Now that I've told you that there's really no need for me to explain the uneveness of the patio in the pub garden. Oh, and that fellow over at the table across the dancefloor, the one in the transparent fuschia shirt with the velvet hot-pants; he's straight too. He's a travelling salesman from up North somewhere, likes to pop in when he's away from his good lady wife for a few days - I suppose it relieves the loneliness. He doesn't know his way about town too well, so one or two of the younger regulars usually walk him back to his hotel room - we're a friendly bunch like that in here.
Another Drinky-poo, My Dear Lad?
Oh, I see you've finished your tipple - you must have gulped that down. Quite a talent in my estimation, the ability to swallow quite like that. Time for another, one rather thinks. You can see the bar from here, just make your choice and it'll be my treat. As you can no doubt see, there's not much to choose from in the way of ales, bitters and stouts but they do offer a couple of super-strength lagers for the ladies. One thing you'll notice is that several of the more popular cocktails are available ready-mixed from the pumps, in order to save time - they have all the classics: Margarita, Bloody Mary, Aqua Velva and what have you. Some of the newer styles too - the names can be somewhat uncouth, but I must admit I'm not averse to a stiff Chocolate Soldier followed by a long Screaming Orgasm.
There's an impressive range of food too, should you desire more solid repast. Non-gay pubs tend to favour chips, pies, steak and the like but we're a little more discerning here, my dear. Do try to avoid asking the chef how large his sausage is, though, it'd only upset the poor chap; there's a reason we call him Pee-Wee, you know. I can confirm his Cumberland ring is a hearty dish that will satisfy any appetite, however, and his sauce is exceedingly piquant. What's that? You fancy something with a dash of brandy? Ah yes - a Savoy Affair. I was rather hoping you might. I keep a suite there, lovely boy, just to ensure readiness for this sort of thing.
Oh, How Simply Super - A Lock-In!
I rather fancy a couple of Black Russians, don't you? Pity there aren't any in here tonight - they tend to congregate at the Ex-Soviet Ethnic Minorities Social Club across town since it opened. Oh well, I'll just have to settle for an Americano and a Quick Fuck instead. But - damn and blast! - I'm rather afraid that time has quite run away with us, dear boy, midnight approaches and the pub will be closing at any moment. How awfully beastly of it. Hmm - do give me a moment though, I'll just have word with the barman...
...Well, my dear, it seems we're in luck. They're going to have a lock-in tonight - that means that the pub's doors will be locked and nobody will be allowed to come in, but those of us already here can stay on as private guests of the licensee. That has two advantages: firstly, we can have some more cocktails and secondly - as the pub will, post-midnight, be officially a private house rather than a public house, all manner of exciting entertainments will become available that would otherwise see the place shut down quicker than you can say "make mine a large one." Oh, such joy! Here we go - it's a minute past midnight and I notice they've just opened the dark room. I imagine that being a stranger in the world of gay pubs, you'll not have come across dark rooms before. They're not places for the faint-hearted but, well, if you'd care to experience one just jump right in and take whatever comes. You've had a few drinks now, so you should be suitably relaxed - still, perhaps you'd better have a little snifter of this amyl nitrite just to be on the safe side.
Oh - is that who I think it is over there? Why yes, it's our local Liberal Democrat member of Parliament. Do forgive me, dear boy, I'll just have to pop across the room and have a little chat with him about the gents lavatories in Regents Park - oh, it's just a shared interest we have, you know, a philanthropic concern for public facilities and all that - I shan't be long. Why don't you go and see if you can get that rather large chap standing by the bar to buy you another drink? He's been watching you all night and your old Uncle Noël has been playing the game for long enough to recognise a chickenhawk when he sets eyes on one. Go on, throw caution to the wind and tell him you're in the mood for a Bit of a Bully and an Anal Entrée in the dark room - I'm sure you'll enjoy it every bit as much as I would.