11th December 2016: Closing party of the Hoist in Vauxhall, after 21 years serving the gay male community of London. A place of community and brotherhood, of tenderness and safety, as well as of fetish play, naked parties and uninhibited sexual contact, is disappearing, apparently (according to the Attitude interview with Hoist entrepreneur Guy) not due to failing business, or rising rents, but because he wants to retire with his man and dogs to Norfolk, for a quieter life.
One hour into the party there was a queue along the street waiting for admittance. Inside an even longer snaking queue of naked men carrying bin liners or rucksacks containing their clothes, the room’s circular furniture creating a figure of eight spiral movement of quiet, observant men waiting to pay their entry. As I stood in the queue the house music track was incanting “It’s about love, unity and fun”, the scenario was very ritualistic as we lined up to enter the temple of naked delights.
Some of the parties held at the Hoist are moving to another, bigger, nearby venue, but south London is losing its leather bar. Vauxhall is losing another sex venue. (The Eagle on Kennington Lane no longer holds cruise nights with porn screens and dark room – instead its focus now is to be a community pub, rather than a specialist men’s play space).
The thing is, men need play spaces. Maybe even more so now that mobile phone apps are so prevalent. The dynamics of public interaction, chance meetings, group energy are powerful. They teach us about ourselves, they provide opportunities for physical expression that are not found anywhere else – and they can be places of love as well as lust, of community as well as commodity. Cruising apps do not help us build community and trust in the same way. Apps have a place, but the disheartening effects they can have on men’s mental health shows the crucial need for real time, real life experiences.
The men turned out in droves for the Hoist’s closing party. I was number 200 through the door, just an hour after opening. The music pumped from 2pm and by 4 any ice (of nervousness, fear) had melted – the sweaty, sultry, orgasmic affair was in full swing.
Vauxhall has a rich history as a centre of play and pleasure going back to the mid-17th century. The Royal Vauxhall Tavern , built in 1863, was originally a Victorian music hall and has been a home to drag shows since World War 2.. Its sister bar, the Market Tavern, was a den where anything and everything might happen. It was dark, sweaty, cruisey and the best place to dance in south London until its closure in 1995 . The Market died but the gay spirit of Vauxhall was reborn in the form of the Hoist and new, large, dance clubs Fire, Union, Area (this one now gone), a great community spirit and dance nights such as Horse Meat Disco at the Eagle, the acreage of Chariots sauna and the pumped up antics of Bar Code (also gone). There was a gay gym, also recently closed. So much for the south London gay ‘village’.
The Vauxhall Tavern holds the spirit flame of gay Vauxhall and is indeed thriving. Unfortunately the sauna has a reputation for being unfriendly, soulless and sometimes full of drugged zombies. The Hoist was never that. A bit of Vauxhall’s queer soul disappears – is this really not in any way related to the arrival of thousands of high class, high price, high rise flats and the American Embassy to the area? Vauxhall’s spirit belongs to the people, but it seems the rich would change that. The appalling, shallow atmosphere of new style bar Back Counter gives us a clue what could be coming to Vauxhall.
I hope that Fire, the RVT, the Eagle hold their ground and continue to offer dynamic, cutting edge queer nights. And that the spirit of the Hoist return in some new and amazingly sexy form. Our public play spaces are important, for although we about to celebrate 50 years in the UK since the partial decriminalisation of sex between men, there is a still long way to go until men’s attraction to men is properly accepted and understood. In our sexual play spaces we discover our personal and tribal rituals, through our rituals we discover ourselves. Through meeting in public spaces we find the magic of tribal connection, the reality of gay brotherhood, the generosity accessible in our souls. The Hoist has provided a vital community space, been a significant slice of gay history, and been the scene of so much play and pleasure. The spirit of Vauxhall is in mourning.
Auf Wiedersehen Hoist London.