Farewell to The Backstreet


Submitted by Nigel Whitfield, Director, 30 May 2022



After just over thirty seven years, The Backstreet is closing its doors on 17th July. It goes out on a high, having won the Best Bar award at this year's X-Awards in Antwerp.

The world in which the club first opened has changed - our rights as gay men have improved massively, for example - and yet, in some ways it's not so different. The subcultures to which the club caters are the same as those for whom it opened in 1985, and just as back then, there are plenty who think us "filthy perverts" give the rest of the gay community a bad name.

In another weird quirk of history, just as when the doors opened, they close on a world where many are worrying about the spread of new diseases, newspapers are whipping up hatred against parts of our community, and we even have the potential for geopolitics to cause a nuclear incident. Plus ça change, as they say.

The Backstreet has survived pandemics, electricity failures, redevelopment plans, the smoking ban, the internet, and the fickle fashions of the gay scene. Ultimately the thing it couldn't withstand was the ending of the lease.

Many across London, the UK and the wider leather world will mourn the passing of the club; some might wonder why nothing could be done to save it. But what's done is done; this is not like the planning proposal that I was proud to lead the fight against five years ago. It is a business decision, that's not going to be changed.

We hope that someone with enterprise, foresight - and plenty of cash; John often said the best way to make a small fortune running a club is to start with a large one - will take up the challenge, and that London will once again have a leather bar. But for now, we can do little other than reflect.

We can lament the loss of Backstreet, but we should also be grateful, not least to John Edwards who has given 37 years of his life to keeping the Backstreet alive, and to making sure that it maintained its ethos. Where other venues decided to relax rules in the face of falling numbers, John always maintained that what was important about the club was not just who you let in, but who you kept out. And so the Backstreet was always a place where you had to be in gear; where you didn't have to worry about the gawping of other patrons. Where so many of us over the years could be our true selves.

Many of those reading will have their own memories. Perhaps the very first night they went - which for me was in the mid 1990s, riding pillion on the back of a friend's bike one Thursday night, and stepping into a world I'd only ever fantasized about.

Or perhaps the packed nights after Pride marches in London, where the club would be filled to capacity, and even in the outdoor smoking area there would barely be space to squeeze past.

Maybe you have fond memories, like me, of the very last night before the smoking ban came into force in England, where men in full leather paraded inside for the very last time with their cigars, and a thick, delicious scent hung over the place.

And then there have been the other nights, like IGNITE - which I ran at Backstreet for ten years - or Mastery, and more recently Rubbermen Of London and Meat Rack.

Some of you will remember glimpses of famous faces in the club; in other venues perhaps some of those would have been named and shamed, tipped off to the paparazzi. But that didn't happen with Backstreet, because it was not just a bar, a place to play, but also felt like a community.

Even on a quiet night - and god knows, in recent years there have been a fair few of them - the Backstreet is friendly; especially outside, people are willing to stand and talk about all sorts of things, rather than judge instantly on your figure, or the size of your muscles. Sometimes, people have moaned to me about there not being as much sex as they expect at BLUF Backstreet parties. But you know what? You can have sex in lots of places. There aren't as many where you can stand and chat, in all your gear, and no one bats an eyelid.

Whatever sort of encounters you've had there, Backstreet was special. For many of us, it's been an important place where we can fully be ourselves, in ways that often aren't possible elsewhere. And for that we should be thankful.

The doors may be closing soon, but John gave us an amazing place for 37 years. We may mourn, but we should also remember and celebrate; think of the friends and lovers we've encountered there. The tender moments - and the intense ones.

We can thank not just John Edwards, Mark and Shelby, but the many other people over the years who have worked at Backstreet, partied, and promoted events, campaigned to save it, and helped to make it one of the best leather bars in the world.

BLUF's last event at The Backstreet is on 9th July 2021. Please join us for the last dance.

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