Gay nightlife in the capital suffered another blow this month as well-known café First Out was forced to close, the latest venue to bow out in the area.
Soaring rents and on-going regeneration of the area surrounding Centre Point have put intense pressure on local businesses and establishments.
Announcing the closure of the bar, the management paid tribute to the legacy the venue would leave behind.
“It was one of the only gay venues to be open during the day…
“First Out is to close its doors after 25 years at the heart of the capital’s lesbian and gay community”, they revealed, adding that “for a quarter of a century, the café/bar has served as a touchstone for literally thousands of young people coming out in London.”
They attributed the closure to “the failure of protracted lease negotiations as the area around the café/bar undergoes intense redevelopment”.
Fans of the café have voiced their dismay at the announcement. “It’s a real shame about First Out,” says former regular Lizz Paley. “It was one of the only gay venues to be open during the day and was very popular with a lot of women here in London. Fingers crossed they manage to relocate to a different venue as it would be sad to lose it forever”.
An attempt to relocate to East London proved unsuccessful…
The closures have been due in part to the on-going construction of Crossrail, a rapid transport link intended East and West London, and the accompanying expansion of Tottenham Court Road Tube station.
Popular queer venue Ghetto, formerly located just behind the tube station, was one of the gay nightspots forced to close after being caught up in the Crossrail and tube station development. An attempt to relocate to East London proved unsuccessful, and the club was forced to abandon its new premises in 2009.
…expansion of Tottenham Court Road tube continues within its current parameters.
London Astoria, famous music venue, and former host to London’s iconic G-A-Y club nights, also failed to survive the regeneration of the area and closed in early 2009 for demolition. Both clubs were subsequently knocked down to allow for the enlargement of Tottenham Court Road tube station.
It is now unlikely that any further buildings in the area will need to be bought out and demolished as construction of Crossrail and expansion of Tottenham Court Road tube continues within its current parameters.
Nevertheless, as private landowners seek to cash in on the area’s on-going transformation, it is possible that other businesses and bars will find themselves in a similar situation.
“In total, £1bn is being spent to build a new Crossrail station…
Those behind the Crossrail development insist however that the work will bring significant benefits to the area.
“In total, £1bn is being spent to build a new Crossrail station, upgrade the capacity of the Tube station and create a new piazza outside Centre Point”, explained a spokesperson for Crossrail.
They point out that Westminster Council have also given the green light to the construction of a new live music and cultural venue to replace the Astoria, with a 350 seat capacity.
For many, though, these benefits have come at a serious cost. Two years ago, the Gay Business Association (GBA) claimed that the number of London gay bars had fallen from 250 in 2004 to 150 in 2009 – a figure that may fall yet further.
Image courtesy of First Out Cafe