Gay Bars Around The World Facing Collapse Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

With venues in major cities closed indefinitely, the future of LGBTQ nightlife hangs in the balance.

LONDON/NEW YORK/BERLIN, May 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - From pulsating gay super clubs to basement drag cabarets and dimly-lit lesbian bars, the new coronavirus has shuttered LGBT+ nightlife venues worldwide, with some already forced to close permanently while others are scrambling to avoid the same fate.

As strict shutdowns have dried up cash to pay vital bills and wages, the future of a vibrant nightlife scene - already hit by rising rents and competition from dating apps before the pandemic - now hangs in the balance, industry figures said.

That will leave gay, bisexual and transgender people with fewer safe spaces to express themselves freely, meet like-minded friends and find respite from the discrimination they often experience in their day-to-day lives, bar and club owners said.

鈥淟GBTQ venues are our own churches. It鈥檚 where we form and nurture our community and the individuals within that,鈥 said John Sizzle, a 鈥淒rag DJ鈥 who co-owns The Glory, an LGBT+ bar in east London known for its avant-garde cabaret acts.

Countries across the world are feeling the human and economic pain wrought by the coronavirus, which has infected 4.2 million people and killed almost 300,000, and is likely to trigger a global recession.

Once-crowded bars and clubs fear they will collapse, despite government grants, if they have to remain closed for a prolonged period and have to adopt social distancing when they re-open.

LGBT+ venues that have already closed for good include theDC Eagle, Washington D.C.鈥檚 oldest continuously operating gay bar, which opened in 1971, and the gay-focused hotel and bar Legends in the British seaside town of Brighton.

As social acceptance of LGBT+ people has grown over the last decade, the number of gay bars in the United States fell by almost 40% to about 800, according to Greggor Mattson, a sociologist at Oberlin College in Ohio.

Britain has experienced a similar decline and the remaining venues are under great financial pressure as they often operate with thin profit margins due to their 鈥渘iche鈥 market, said Sizzle, who sports a long blonde wig and mustache when in drag.

鈥淥ur long-term future is not clear at all, it鈥檚 a week by week discussion,鈥 said Sizzle, who has put The Glory鈥檚 11 staff on furlough.


Many LGBT+ venues said they could not afford to re-open at a lower capacity if social distancing rules were mandated.

This week marks the 17th birthday of Therapy, a sprawling two-story gay bar in Hell鈥檚 Kitchen, the hub of New York鈥檚 LGBT+ culture, home to many performers who found fame on the TV show 鈥淩uPaul鈥檚 Drag Race,鈥 like Monet X Change and Bianca Del Rio.

But there will not be a party. Therapy closed and let go of all of its employees in mid-March.

It may never re-open, according to owner Tom Johnson.

鈥淚t鈥檚 like a baby dying,鈥 said Johnson. 鈥淵ou just never imagine that your world would just be turned upside down, seemingly overnight.鈥

The U.S. government鈥檚 $660 billion small business rescue program allows lenders to issue forgivable, government-guaranteed loans to firms shuttered by the virus.

But Johnson said the real problem would be if Therapy was told to re-open at half capacity to prevent COVID-19 spreading.

鈥淭rying to run at 50%, you鈥檙e never going to make the kind of money you need to make electric, rent and payroll,鈥 he said.

The news emerging from Europe is not promising. Spain plans to allow late night bars and clubs to re-open at a third of their capacity at the end of June.

鈥淲e can afford to reopen with 50% of our full capacity ,although only a few of us can. But with a third we鈥檒l die,鈥 said Joaquin Pena, owner of Madrid gay bar Marta Carino, adding that all of the city鈥檚 LGBT+ event promoters felt it was impossible.


In the German capital, Berlin, a global hotspot for LGBT+ nightlife, bars have been closed since March 23 and the government has not said anything about when they might reopen.

Paul Graebner, co-owner of Silver Future, a hipster bar popular with lesbians, and Curly, an LGBT+ cafe, has applied for a government grant of 5,000 euros ($5,399), while about 100 people have made private donations to support Silver Future.

鈥淲ith that, we could stay afloat until the end of July. After that we would run out of money,鈥 he said.

Like Johnson, social distancing was his biggest worry.

鈥淎 bar lives off being crowded, on people being close, on people being able to flirt with each other,鈥 he said.

鈥淚f they have to keep a 1.5 meter distance, we will have to ask ourselves if it鈥檚 worth it.鈥

The mayor of London - which has seen its LGBT+ nightspots plummet to 56 this year from 124 in 2006 - has announced a 2.3 millon pound fund for cultural venues at risk due to the impact of the coronavirus, 10% of which is earmarked for LGBT+ spaces.

The money will target those 鈥渕ost in need,鈥 said Amy Lame, the mayor鈥檚 night-time industries adviser, although the criteria for and timing of grants has yet to be confirmed.

Meanwhile, rents are proving a flashpoint expense.

鈥淭he landlords are dictating what can happen, it really is luck of the draw,鈥 said Jeremy Joseph, whose G-A-Y Group owns three venues in London and one in Manchester, with one landlord agreeing to forego rent and two others to rent reductions.

The Video Pub in Jerusalem is lucky to have a landlord who has waived rent, said owner Avi Goldberger, who emphasized its importance as the only LGBT+ bar in the divided Israeli city for the nine years it has been open.

鈥淏efore there was The Video, the hangout places for LGBTQ people were parks, public restrooms, you know, not the friendliest places,鈥 he said.

鈥(For) a lot of people who are in the closet ... like orthodox Jews or traditional Palestinians, a place like TheVideo is very important for them to be able to live the kind of life they want to.鈥

While Goldberger is using savings he had squirreled away because of the uncertainty of living in the disputed city, The Video鈥檚 future isn鈥檛 secure.

鈥淚 can鈥檛 say we鈥檙e safe,鈥 he said.

($1 = 0.9261 euros) (Reporting by Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage in London, Matthew Lavietes @mattlavietes in New York, Enrique Anarte@enriqueanarte in Berlin; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of ThomsonReuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit

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