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The Cloakroom, The Club and The Toilet

The Cloakroom, The Club and The Toilet visits… The Power of Four

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When you want to run away on a Sunday night as fast you can before Monday catches up with you, head to a drag show. The camp world of of glittery gold backdrops is the perfect school night escape.

And last weekend’s Bank Holiday meant London’s usual Sunday night drag shows were bigger, busier and boozier than usual.

I headed to the Two Brewers in Clapham for the Power of Four. That’s a marathon four drag acts over six hours, starting with the omnipresent Mary Mac.

Promo poster from The Two Brewers

My second favourite Scottish Queen (after Queen of Daytime, Lorraine Kelly), you can see Mary most weekends at the Admiral Duncan, the Brewers and other venues around town.

She’s prolific because she’s damn good and gets the gays through the doors. The Brewers front bar was packed by 6pm before the cloakroom even opened.

In some ways it’s a by-the-songbook drag act: a dress made from the sticky shiny paper you used in primary school collages, musicals mixed with nineties pop hits (Streisand followed by Steps) and snarky comments, always with love, about other queens and the audience.

And yet put altogether, it’s more than that. My words can’t tell you how awestruck and happy the familiarity of Mary’s show makes me.

The utter campness, love and laughter radiates form the stage to the crowd. I’ve felt that collective joy even on nights when I’ve been sober, by myself and awkwardly stood next to a bad hook up from the month before.

Mary Mac performing The Two Brewers. Photo by Joel Ryder for Boyz Magazine.

That love is easy for me to feel as a gay man in a venue that is 99% gay men. When I stand out among the grey or checked shirt dress code of Clapham Gays, and Mary tells me ‘it looks like Neil Buchanan puked on your shirt’, I’m in on the joke because I’m in the crowd.

But when acts make racist comments or sound like breakfast TV hosts in their attempt to turn non-binary identities into a joke (as the queen who followed Mary Mac did, in an otherwise entertaining show), they’re attacking people who are already excluded.

Half of BAME LGBT people and a third of trans people have faced discrimination within the LGBT community.

The Two Brewers is one of London’s very few fully step-free venues with an accessible toilet (but not gender neutral toilets) and it hosts an implausible amount of fundraising nights for LGBTQ community groups.

That good work doesn’t stop me feeling let down when someone on their stage is ridiculing a part of our community already under daily attack, for the sake of their punchline.

On Sunday night, scouse queen The Vivienne and Brewers mainstay Sandra continued the show tunes, pop bops and gentle ribbing as crowd became boozier and busier.

It’s hard for me to accurately review their acts, given how many doubles I’d had by then. They too have the wit, audience rapport and outstanding outfits.

Vivienne’s wig seemingly sheared from a sheep especially left me gasping, and her rendition of Defying Gravity brought back my young queer memories of trying to work out where I belong. Now I know it’s wathcing drag shows.

The Brewers’ front bar and stage turns into a dance floor between acts giving time for more Steps, Kylie and both versions of Better the Devil You Know. On busier nights the bigger backroom club is also open.

Unlike the front bar, you don’t need to use your elbows to get to a drink. Huge thanks must go to Liz, my yoga instructor, for giving me the core strength needed to stay standing amidst the bustling crowd pushing past you.

But the compromise with more space is worse music. The backroom club is usually playing a remix of a song that isn’t as good as what’s playing in the front bar, even when that better song is Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley.

A packed front bar at the Brewers during Mary Mac’s show. Where’s Joey?
Photo by Joel Ryder for Boyz Magazine.

By this time Mary Mac had already left, performed another show in Greenwich, changed out of her outfit and as promised returned to join us and judge us on the dancefloor.

And so it was at 2.30am, propping myself up against a pillar that that Mary spotted me and gave me that friendly smirk. Nine hours since I arrived I knew then there was no going back, only going home on the night bus.

Mary’s genuine love for performing and for her fans is obvious, bending over backwards to give the greatest show. It’s her signature encore that makes her a stand out act on the drag circuit.

Looking around the crowd, you can spot the wide mouthed first-timers taking the feat of performance endurance happening in front them. And you see the fans knowing exactly when to raise their phones to get that snap for Instragram.

You know they’re loving every second of it. They’ll be back to hear Mary perform the same kind of jokes and same kind of songs next week. And I want to be back there too.

Mary Mac at the Brewers. Photo by Joel Ryder for Boyz Magazine.

The Essentials

The Cloakroom is £2 cash. They give you a wristband so no need to worry about losing your ticket.

The club Is free before 8pm and £5 afterwards on a normal Sunday, or £8 on a Bank Holiday Sunday.

The venue is one of London’s only fully accessible LGBTQ venues with step free entry and an accessible toilet downstairs.

Drinks are averagely priced around £5 for a pint. Doubles are served as standard, so you quickly spend £7.50 on one drink. The early evening Happy Hour on most days has £4.50 doubles.

It’s a venue dominated by gay man in their 20s, 30s and 40s. There’s no dress code, but the crowd tend to dress for going out out in a way I don’t.

The toilets are male toilets (with urinals and cubicles) and female toilets. On busier and weekend nights there are attendants offering you perfume or aftershave. There is an accessible toilet downstairs.

The songs you’ll always hear are Scared of the Dark by Steps, This is Me from The Greatest Showman and inspirational song of the millennium, Reach by S Club 7.

Joey’s kiss count: Two. I was genuinely surprised this was my first visit to the Brewers without someone I’d already kissed being there. There was however an Instagram crush I’d asked out before.

The Power of Four is on every Sunday at Two Brewers, Clapham High Street. You can find out where Mary Mac is performing on her website.

The Cloakroom, The Club and The Toilet visits… Push The Button

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‘This Friday night, do it all again.’ Katy Perry, Last Friday Night

A night at Push The Button is a night dancing through gay pop culture and history.

There’s the venue itself. Royal Vauxhall Tavern in South London is Britain’s only listed LGBTQ venue which has seen police raids and Princess Diana on a drag night out with Freddie Mercury.

There’s the soundtrack dominated by pure pop songs that only seemed cool once before, at the Year Four Half Term School Disco.

And there’s my recent dating history: those I’ve dated, kissed or tried to kiss all on the same dancefloor as me

Me with PTB DJ Darren. I haven’t tried to kiss him yet. Photo from Push The Button.

Push The Button (not ‘Pull The Plug’ as my Mum called it before I gave her some Sugababes homework) has been playing the hits for eight years.

Every month focuses on a different artist with Janet Jackson and Carly Rae Jepsen featured so far this year, as well as a special live performance by Nadine Coyle.

Alongside lesser played album tracks and B-sides you didn’t think anyone else knew existed, there’s the best pop bangerz from the nineties, noughties and now.

Yes, The Saturdays counts in this category as well as schlager, scandi pop and Eurovision favourites.

I feel at home whenever I walk through the RVT doors to PTB, usually in a crop top. It’s my outfit of choice for feeling cute and cool. Whatever time of year it is, the RVT is hotter than the Chariots over the road.

The club reaches peak ridiculousness after midnight, with a drag show followed by a mass singalong complete with song sheets. Last month’s choice was I Want It That Way by Backstreet Boys.

The joy in singing and sharing music you adore like you would at a gig doesn’t just happen when everyone has the words in front of them.

Even when I don’t know the song that’s playing, seeing someone else on the dancefloor living their absolute best life makes me happy.

For what other nights can you go and dance to X My Heart with people who already know it was Azerbaijan’s criminally underperforming 2018 Eurovision entry? (The answer is obviously Eurofest and Douze Points, which we’ll review on this blog in time).

With a mix of regulars and newcomers there just for one themed night, PTB always has an attitude-free crowd where everyone is respectful (most of the time, I’ve met some smiley guys who turned out to be dicks there)

It’s a night full of familiar faces I know from Twitter and London’s LGBTQ scene who won’t leave me standing by myself all night long. My friendship with Carlo started last summer when he screamed FUEGO! at me.

Me with Carlo (front centre) and all the Eurovision friends I’ve made this year.
Photo from Push The Button.

The night’s downfall is its popularity, making it heavily crowded and hot. But the the slight inadequacies of cramming into an iconic venue makes it more magical for me. And I’m always happy for another reason to get my top off.

Even on the nights I’ve been sober at PTB, I haven’t thought about leaving before 2am. Nowhere else mixes mainstream chart hits everyone knows with the niche tracks just for fans quite like it.

That’s why I keep coming back every last Friday of the month to do it all again.

The PTB dancefloor at RVT. I’m praying to the pop gods for them to play Neon Blue by Steps.
Photo from Push The Button.

The Essentials

The cloakroom is £2 cash

The club entry costs £8+booking in advance, or £10 cash on the door. There’s step free entry but no accessible toilet.

It gets very busy from 11pm and stays crowded until the stage is open after the drag show.

Drinks are averagely priced around £5 for a pint, single or glass of wine.

It’s a mixed crowd of LGBTQ people and allies where gay men are the majority. There’s no dress code.

The toilets are three gender neutral cubicles by the bar. On the other side of the stage is urinals and one cubicle.

The songs you’ll always hear are Cut To The Feeling and Fuego.

Joey’s kiss count (the number of people I kissed): Two. One was quite bitey.

Push The Button takes place at Royal Vauxhall Tavern on the last Friday of the month. Their Britney themed night is on Friday 26th April.

You can listen to Push The Button to the Max Martin! And Pride 2018 playlist on Spotify.

The Cloakroom, The Club and The Toilet

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‘I didn’t just come here to dance, if you know what I mean, If you know what I mean.’ Carly Rae Jepsen.

Except some nights, I did just come here to dance. And those nights will mostly be Push The Button at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.

Actual footage of me coming here to dance. Photo from Push The Button.

This night is home for my queer heart. When I first moved to South London, I never went out on the scene (going to gay bars and LGBTQ nights) just down the road from my flat in Vauxhall or Clapham.

I’d walk pass places like RVT and The Eagle with noise pulsing through their blacked out windows, not knowing what it was like and not wanting to find out without friends to go inside with.

But one Friday now living in a lonely East London flat share, I got bored of staying in. I’d seen on Twitter there was a Carly Rae Jepsen night and I wanted to go dance. So I did.

And it was magic. Magic, with a large side of drunkenness, drag and a Celine Dion sing-along.

Carly Rae Jepsen night at Push The Button, June 2017. Photo by Michael Chapman.

Nights like Push The Button don’t exist for you to go home with someone (though that can happen if you want it to). They exist for the love of the music, dancing and unapologetic queer fun.

But maybe like me you don’t know that until you go there and despite a club night’s inclusive values being clearer than a freshly douched ass, you don’t realise guys will be kissing guys.

Or, immeasurably worse, you don’t know if there’s a gender-neutral dress code until you get turned away at the door.

Along the way I’ll also talk too much about my love life, making friends on the scene and the ups and downs of going out alone.

So I’m starting this new blog series, called The Cloakroom, The Club and The Toilet. It’ll be a review of the gay bars and LGBTQ nights I go to across London, telling you how much cash you need for the cloakroom and other details they don’t put on the promo poster.

Come out, come out and dance with me this Friday, or on the metaphorical dancefloor of this blog with my first review next week. I’m starting at home, at Push The Button. Pre-drinks in Peckham.