After over 50 years as one of London’s most iconic LGBT venues, the Black Cap closed its doors on Sunday 12th April…
There has been much in the media lately about the relentless march of gentrification that is slowly scrubbing any mark of individuality and community from inner-London. The LGBT community has suffered as have many others, but the effect on ours seems so much more brutal. When it comes to us it’s more apparent simply because after years of painful recession that saw the number of queer venues slashed by half, we’re now having to fight to keep alive what little we have left.
The nature of gay venues means they are often ramshackle spaces, occupying run down or less than glam locations. The roof may be leaking, sweat may be running down the walls, and the DJ decks are held together by gaffer tape, but we’ve always celebrated in said spaces, proudly on the fringes of society. Few epitomized this more than The Black Cap. Isolated in Camden, away from the gay villages of Soho, Vauxhall and East London, the ‘Cap was steadfast in its stubbornness to stay away from the crowd.
Yet, for a good decade it was left to rot and flounder, both in terms of its physical state and the creative energy that was invested into it. After the passing of Regina Fong, perhaps the legendary bar relied on its legendary status too much to pull in a new crowd that needed more than just history as a reason to jump on the Northern line to Camden and give the girl another chance. It enjoyed some great success with events like the Drama Queens, but it failed to innovate like this fast enough. And let’s face facts: if the venue had been supported by the gay scene during that time, it would likely still be here today.
But, on the other hand, I don’t think any of us ever envisaged that we’d one day lose so many famous venues like the Joiners Arms and the ‘Cap in such a short time. Maybe we grew too comfortable in our belief that the scene was just a destination to get pissed in? Maybe we forgot that the heart of any gay scene is a supportive community?
Yet, on the flipside of that, it’s not easy to fly the flag of your local gay bar when its parent company, Faucet Inn, is determined to cut the venue in half, and transform its upper floors into luxury flats for affluent folk. On her blog, Holestar has been more level-headed than others of the plans. She acknowledges that the venue was severely in need of renovation. From the dilapidated toilets to the flimsy backstage tech, it needed an overhaul, and this would have been paid for by those derided luxury flats. Holestar condemns the ‘well meaning but ill informed academics and armchair activists’ who fought so hard to ward off the redevelopment. And she may be right. Perhaps, had those luxury flats arrived, we’d still have a Black Cap, albeit at the expense of the first-floor Shufflewick Bar and Regina Fong Terrace. She also criticizes Faucet Inn for its lack of engagement with the community. Would redevelopment have saved the ‘Cap? We’ll never know. Questions remain. Why did the recent hearing at Camden Council go ahead if the building was sold last year? And who are the new owners of the property?
The transformation of the Black Cap from almost forgotten gay scene memory to popular destination over the past 18 months under the stewardship of Meth and the Familyyy Fierce, alongside managerial support from George Antony and Jamie Henderson, showed the venue had a future. Packed-out cabaret and performance events and growing club nights were testament to what renewed ideas and energy can give to a venue. But maintaining a successful business in the face of London’s unsympathetic, economy-driven changing landscape is an altogether different task.
Has the Black Cap gone forever? What will the ‘new’ owners choose to do with it? We’ll find out in time. What we should remind ourselves of is that this is not the first time the LGBT community has faced the threat of change. As Myra DuBois so rightly said: “We are a community stronger than bricks and mortar. Do not forget that.”
We are a stubborn lot, and we know how to adapt and survive more than any other community in the face of all sorts of threats. Always remember: Where there’s a wig, there’s a way…
THE COMMUNITY REACTS
what the scene said on social media * [sic]
This week we have had to say goodbye to one of the most important queer spaces that London has ever known. The cultural heritage and space for community provided there were undeniable and invaluable. The loss we are all feeling is monumental. It breaks my heart to have to say goodbye and it is made even worse by the fact that so many were denied the chance to say their own goodbye. The decision to close without informing the public was both ill-advised and cowardly, showing a blatant disregard for the place that this venue held in the hearts of so many.
The Black Cap has been my home for the past 18 months. As an artist, an entertainer, a promoter, a punter, a queer. I owe so much to her and the staff there who have made this past year and half possible. I am devastated, I am angry but I owe it to the old girl to keep on keeping on, made all the more fierce for having had the privilege to have known her and been a part of 50+ years of queer history.
I’m going to try not to be as cliche as possible but as RuPauls’ ‘Let The Music Play’ just came on shuffle and it made me reflect on all the memories I’ve had at The Black Cap, this is a sad time but we gotta keep positive, the future is ours and we gotta make it what it is. Perhaps one day The ‘Cap could return, but for now? Raise your glass, reflect on the memories, live for the friends made underneath its fabulous roof and let the music play, Regina this ones for you.
The Black Cap closed! For over a decade I performed at the Black Cap on a regular basis at least 100+ times in this legendary cabaret venue. I have many happy memories of late night shows there with Kandi Kane-Baxter and Laquisha Jonz, who hosted a game show night on Mondays for a couple of years. Who remembers BLING BLANG BLUNG? (and Council Bitch Barbie?)
A large percentage of the fabulous, the creative, the bold and daring, and fan girls alike are burdened with this surprising and upsetting news. Another venue on the capital’s radar with such rich history, home to many, and haunted by its previous successors has been shut down for the sake of “fattening wallets”. I am proud to say that us three of House Of Grand Parade and even our darling pet Penelope has graced this stage, supported and worked with some magical people from near and far, met many a’ wonderful people, and shared some times, but most importantly been a part of that rich history.
I had a little day dream about one day in the far furture there being a “Black Cap Museum” similar to that of a Victorian indoor reconstructed street with dodgy waxworks of Ragina Fong, Danny La Rue, and then Meth, George behind the bar and Vickie throwing out some drunk twink in a Willam Belli T-shirt. Nuhnight
Goodbyyye Black Cap. You were a first stage, a meeting place and a home to so many… Let this upsetting upheaval bolster our actions & energyyy in securing the spaces that remain…
My heart is broken for Camden. 50+ years of LGBT history lost to fatten wallets. So long Black Cap. I’m honored to have been part of u.
I have no words today. I’m utterly heartbroken like many people. It was an honour and extreme privilege to host last night’s show. I only hope I did The Black Cap proud. RIP.
Love you, The Black Cap. Proud to be a part of your story, even if the role was that of a musician valiantly playing on as the ship sank. We are a community stronger than bricks and mortar. Do not forget that.
DJ Chris Reardon
I was the resident DJ there from 1989–2007 and again in 2013. It was the most magical place to work in. I worked with the best performers you could ever imagine. Yes, we all had our egos, but we all worked well together to put on our shows and music. But I am just one person. There are many others who made this venue. Mrs Shufflewick, Regina Fong among the “big” names there over the years. Each and every one of us had our “best time”. Something holds you there – maybe the spirits of all that have been there in the past. It has to be said, if the venue had been supported by more people, I doubt it would have closed. But time moves on, and you can’t stop change. All very sad, but wonderful, wonderful memories.