Sydney's Oxford street is a shadow of its former self. Image: Beau

Gay Venues Closing Across Australia

By Beau
Beau is the founder of Apollo Social. He recently relocated to Melbourne with his husband and has begun a love affair with the city.
High rents and falling patronage force many gay bars to close

From the Midnight Shift in Sydney, to the Greyhound in Melbourne, beloved gay venues across Australia have closed their doors over the past few years. Commercial Real Estate has interviewed owners of gay venues in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane who lay out the factors contributing to this - soaring commercial property prices, high rents, state government licensing laws, online apps for meeting like-minded people and broader acceptance of LGBT+ people in society.

“With a lot more mainstream acceptance, younger people haven’t been forged by the same forces that created the original sense of community and need for exclusivity of the older generation. A lot of people moved online to make connections and young gay kids go to mainstream clubs with their straight friends. These kind of venues just aren’t needed in the same way.” said Noel Lee of The Bookshop Darlinghurst, Australia’s longest-running LGBT+ bookshop.

Others in the industry are more upbeat about the future of gay venues. Tom McFeely, owner of the The Peel Hotel in Collingwood, believes there is still a need for gay venues.

“I don’t agree with the argument that the gay bars aren’t needed so much more now because the community has been accepted by everyone else,” he said.

“Yes, they do feel more comfortable in straight bars, but the game-changer is when they want to be more intimate with each other in the same way a boy and girl might be.

“They may be welcomed into those bars, cafes and restaurants, but that doesn’t mean the customers and staff treat them in the same way as other couples. So we still need safe places for guys. But sadly, there’s only a few venues left, and a few others that might have just one gay night a week.”

Gay villages developed as ghettos in run-down, cheap parts of the city. However, as they have gentrified into desirable inner-city neighbourhoods, rents and property prices have increased accordingly. This has made it increasingly difficult to support niche gay venues.

To adapt, some venues have tried to increase their patronage by re-branding as "gay-friendly". This is a risky strategy according to Brett Lasham of Melbourne’s men-only The Laird.

“It’s often a Catch-22,” he said. “Some of the regular crowd then say it’s not like the old place any more, and the new straight crowd may not necessarily turn into long-term patrons. For your regular customers, it’s more about the atmosphere, and being among like-minded people, and you can run cheekier entertainment without the risk of offending anyone.”

As more venues close, whole chapters of queer culture go with them. Let's hope that the hemorrhaging stops soon and we don't lose any more of our hallowed queer spaces.

Read the full article "High rents and falling patronage force many gay bars to close" on Commercial Real Estate.