Auf Wiedersehen Hoist London


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.



3 responses

  1. Darling thank-you for sharing this with me – brilliantly put together, and of course The Hoist as we both know was very significant in cementing the start of our terrific friendship. For me meeting you all those years back will always be my most treasured memory of the venue and the actual circumstances will forever be indelibly marked in a very happy way! xxx Michael


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