Royal Vauxhall Tavern
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|Royal Vauxhall Tavern|
The Royal Vauxhall Tavern in 2008
|Listed Building – Grade II|
The RVT was built between 1860 and 1862 at Spring Gardens, Kennington Lane, on land which was originally part of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. Although sometimes reported to have started life as a music hall, the venue was in fact constructed as a public house and has always served that function. After the Second World War, returning servicemen and local gay men were reportedly attracted to the venue, which held shows by female impersonators (drag shows).
By 1975, the Royal Vauxhall Tavern had two bars around a kidney shaped bar which doubled as a stage for the drag artists to dance along in their stilettos from the tiny apron stage at one end. Prior to the cabaret starting the bar would be cleared of glasses and drinks and the staff would clean the bar ready for the drag to dance along it in their heels. The public bar attracted local workers and had a dart board whilst the lounge attracted the local gay community. Notable acts from this era include "Carla", famous for her Barbra Streisand impersonation and "The Great Lee Paris" on a Saturday night with Land of Hope and Glory, and There'll always be an England. Freddie Mercury was also a frequent visitor during the 1970s.
The RVT survived local redevelopment throughout the 1970s and 1980s and maintained its independence as a gay venue. Many of London's top drag artists performed there, including Hinge and Bracket, Regina Fong and Adrella. Diana Dors also appeared there. Lily Savage, the drag persona of Paul O'Grady, was a regular performer for eight years, with shows four times per week.
According to Cleo Rocos in her memoir The Power of Positive Drinking, Diana, Princess of Wales visited the RVT in the late 1980s, disguised as a man and accompanied by Rocos, Freddie Mercury and Kenny Everett. Rocos stated that revelers did not notice Diana because their attention was focused on Mercury, Everett and Rocos.
In 2005, the Royal Vauxhall Tavern was taken over by gay businessmen Paul Oxley and James Lindsay. With a new lighting and sound system the venue opened seven nights a week and maintained its popularity. In November 2014 the RVT was sold to property developers in a multimillion pound commercial deal. Lindsay was retained and appointed by the new business owners. The community campaign group RVT Future was formed soon afterwards to defend the venue's continued use as a site of LGBTQ community and culture.
Following an application by RVT Future, the RVT was made a Grade II listed building on 8 September 2015 – the UK's first building to be listed in recognition of its importance to LGBTQ community history. The campaign was supported by then Mayor of London Boris Johnson, and the actors and entertainers Ian McKellen and Paul O'Grady, among many others.
Duckie is an avant garde club night, hosted by Amy Lamé, that has run every Saturday night at the RVT since the mid 1990s. According to the venue, Duckie provides "queer heritage, performance art and honky-tonk". The event's disc jockeys, known as "The Readers Wifes" [sic], play Britpop, disco, hi-NRG, easy listening, glam rock, rock, contemporary pop, new romantics and punk.
Sundays at the RVT
Sunday Social is a Sunday afternoon event which most recently has been regularly hosted by American drag queen Charlie Hides, who started his residency at the RVT in April 2013. Since June 2015, additional Sunday social acts perform in rotation which include Hides, Myra Dubios and Mary Mac. Prior to that Jonathan Hellyer's Dame Edna Experience was the resident act for 14 years and returned in July 2016 to the monthly rota of performers. The event attracts a large number of devotees from all over London and further afield. In addition to Charlie Hides the event is supported by resident DJs Simon Le Vans, Liam Chaplin and Sean Sirrs plus regular special guests who play a mixture of dance anthems and commercial house.
The RVT won the Fringe Report best venue in 2010, the Time Out Love London Award, Best Pub Award 2014, Boyz Best Smaller Club 2014, Boyz Best Bar South London 2014 and London Best Cabaret Venue 2012.
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- McCormick, Joseph Patrick. "Freddie Mercury dressed Princess Diana in drag to sneak her into a gay bar". Pink News. Retrieved 5 February 2015.
- "Iconic gay pub Royal Vauxhall Tavern sold". Pink News. 8 October 2014.
- "Future of the Royal Vauxhall Tavern". RVT Future. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
- "London gay pub the Royal Vauxhall Tavern is given Grade II listing". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 September 2015.
- "Duckie". rvt.org.uk. Retrieved 12 February 2015.
- "The Readers Wifes Interview". Time Out. Retrieved 4 February 2015.
- "Fringe Report Award 2010". Fringe Report. 8 February 2010. Retrieved 10 June 2010.