Barflies buzz and Vultures circle
Instead of being unceremoniously chucked out of pubs at 11pm, you’ll now be able to carry on drinking until a much later hour. And instead of being told that no alcohol is being served after 1.30am at a club and being chucked out at 2, you’ll be able to drink and dance until you drop. Well, within reason. It remains to be seen if this liberalisation of licensing and opening hours will fuel the mad binging that already happens every weekend in every British urban area. Without going into the whys and wherefores of the whole debate let me just say that I think that this is a positive development and that while things may worsen initially, the situation will stabilise after a while. A bit like how the liberalisation of pornography and the sex industry in South Africa in the early nineties led to an explosion of skin-mags and sex-shops which fizzled out a few years later.
The strict 11pm limit on pubs and 2am limit on clubs disappeared years ago but, until yesterday, you could assume that most pubs and clubs, particularly outside of London, operated on those times. My first experience of them was when I lived in Brighton 5 years ago. I arrived there used to Cape Town closing hours that were much less rigid. It was quite a shock to be faced with such limits in a country that seemed so liberal in most other ways. Having lived in the UK before and having visited here often in between, I was more-or-less prepared for the call of ‘last orders’ just before 11. But I was completely unprepared for the 2am curfew at Revenge, Brighton’s biggest gay club.
In those days, I was less comfortable about going to gay venues on my own so it took a bit of courage to arrive at Revenge at 9.45pm. It was a weeknight and I wasn’t planning on a particularly late night. I approached the place expecting it to be open as a flashing, revolving light kept spraying its name high above the entrance, seemingly inviting one in. The door was closed. That seemed odd and I walked passed wandering what to do, not sure if I should knock or wait or simply go home. After a few minutes, I decided to knock.
‘Are you open?’ I asked the guy who poked his head around the door.
‘It’s too early mate. We open at 10.30.’
10.30? I knew that 10.30 was early to be going to a club but I also knew that Bronx in Cape Town was open, albeit quiet, way before that. I contemplated going back to the hotel where I was staying but went back to the pub for a few drinks before returning once Revenge had opened.
A steady trickle of people was entering the place when I returned an hour later. The place wasn’t particularly busy but slowly got busier as the night progressed. Over the next few hours, I knocked back the pints, gave the cold shoulder to a few undesirables who tried to get my attention and wandered around in the vague hope of picking up my first Brighton god. I was probably too drunk to notice that the crowd started thinning out after 1.30am or had I noticed it, I probably put it down to the fact that others were being more sensible on a school night.
Suddenly, on the dot of 2am, the place was flooded with light and the music came to an abrupt halt.
What? What’s happening? It seemed as if something was wrong. Maybe a fire alarm had rung and I’d not heard it?
No, that wasn’t it - it was closing time and we all had to leave. It was then that I first noted the vultures that circle a gay club at the end of the night, those who hadn’t managed to score and were still hopeful that they’d be picked by one of the other vultures who’d ignored them until then. On getting outside, I noticed that a smallish crowd continued to mill outside, displaced vultures still on the scrounge.
I’d never come across anything like it before.
In Cape Town, there being a much gentler way of coming to the end of a night, the circling vulture phenomenon was much less obvious. As at any gay club, there were scores of men who’d go hoping to score but because the club closed much later and less abruptly, those that hadn’t scored tended to slip away into the night largely unnoticed. For those gay men who get a complex about being seen to want to score but being unable to do so, the British way of closing a club was not conducive to peace of mind.
After that, I made sure that I didn’t leave after 1.30am!