The Joiners Arms lives on (sort of)...
It was immensely sad when, in 2015, the Joiners Arms closed, becoming yet another sad victim to succumb to London's determination to kill off its myriad of LGBTQ venues. The location of the legendary Hackney queer pub was purchased by Regal Homes, who had dreams of turning the plot into nine luxury flats (yawn), as well as office spaces.
Yet a rainbow and glitter covered spanner has been chucked their way. Tower Hamlets council has agreed to the redevelopment, but only if it includes a dedicated LGBTQ venue. What's more, Regal Homes must offer an LGBTQ operator "first refusal" on a 12-year lease for the spot, which also includes "an initial rent free period".
The planning condition, which is to believed to be the first LGBTQ-focused one of its kind, was included as, in the last 11 years, the area has lost 73% of its LGBTQ venues. It's a trend that extends beyond just east London. As The Guardian note, 58% of the city's LGBTQ venues have closed down since 2006, with the number of venues dropping from 125 to just 53 in that time. Yet, thanks in part to a dedicated work by punters, campaigners and the Friends of the Joiners Arms, Tower Hamlets Council and City Hall have now intervened.
"I hold LGBT+ venues in very high regard and have made it clear that protecting them is an integral part of my plans to grow London's night-time economy and culture," said London Mayor, Sadiq Khan. "We want to make it as easy as possible for LGBT+ venues to exist, and as difficult as possible for them to close. That is why I called for an annual audit of LGBT+ venues and, together with my night tsar Amy Lamé, we will do all we can to halt the closures of these precious venues and encourage others to open."
"The Mayor is clear that LGBT+ venues are a fundamental part of London's vibrant nightlife and culture," she said. "That's why Sadiq has called for an annual audit of LGBT+ venues in the capital and has tasked me with meeting with pub companies, developers, landlords, venue owners and the public to see what can be done to protect these precious spaces and maintain London's position as a global beacon of diversity."
She also added that if there was a LGBTQ venue believed to be in trouble that people should "reach out to me before it's too late".
The Joiners Arms was not only beloved by locals, but the venue was often frequented by the likes of Alexander McQueen, Patrick Wolf, Rufus Wainwright, Mark Feehily from the boyband Westlife, Christopher Kane, Rupert Everett and the photographer Wolfgang Tillmans. It was also immortalised in Bloc Party's 2007 track, On.
Paul Flynn, who wrote an ode to the Joiners back in 2008 for i-D, described the venue as "a genuine meeting place for actual outsiders" that appeared to live outside of the confines of the council. "That it has taken the council to step in and retain it as a gay space just tells you how severe the loss of gay spaces across London has become," he said.
Of course, the venue will in no way retain any of the history and atmosphere of its heyday — something that the Friends of the Joiners Arms are currently campaigning for — but the fact that Sadiq Khan and Tower Hamlets council have stepped in to ensure that the decline queer nightlife doesn't escalate is certainly a step in the right direction.
Text Alim Kheraj
Photography Rebecca Thomas