One of London’s most notorious amateur strip nights is in danger of being told to pull up its pants or stop pulling pints altogether. Torsten Højer bares all to reveal the torrid truth.
When it comes to true trashy entertainment value, fuck Karaoke! The real jaw-dropping, rib-tickling fun is in pissed-up punters who’ve sunk three-too-many Cocksucking Cowboys getting their kit off on stage in front of equally intoxicated crowds of gay men.
One British venue that realizes this so brilliantly is East London’s White Swan pub, which has been attracting hoards of city-dwellers with its midweek amateur strip night for 26 long, hard, throbbing years. Situated in the heart of the city’s East End, The White Swan looks like a proper olde London pub—not dissimilar to The Queen Vic in the BBC show Eastenders—and harks back to a different era when gay venues displayed blacked out windows and an unwelcoming charm.
Inside, it’s rather different than the BBC primetime family show, whirring up otherwise dreary Wednesday nights with the promise of amateur cock on show. Sometimes it's gym-toned buff boys that strut their stuff. Other times, it’s local homeless lads that dare to bare in the hope of landing the £100 ($160) prize money for the ‘winner’ of that evening’s strip (which occasionally isn’t as unattractive as it may sound).
The night is a London institution; many clean-cut ‘respectable’ businessmen in their 30s and 40s will admit to taking the striptease challenge at The White Swan ‘back in the day.' But now, in supposedly enlightened and liberal 21st century Britain, the amateur strip night—and the venue itself—is in danger of disappearing forever.
“People in Tower Hamlets [the London area where The White Swan is situated] are being given their first chance to influence whether strip clubs and similar venues should be allowed to operate,” says the website for the local authority. “The council wants to gather community opinions on a draft policy which says that there is no location within Tower Hamlets suitable for sex establishments, and that they should be restricted to ‘nil.' The consultation is open to residents, local businesses and organizations.”
Local opinion is reportedly overwhelmingly weighted against having sex establishments in the community, because of "issues of community cohesion and empowerment, concerns about level of crime and fear of crime, and the suitability of localities for such venues." The policy would allow the council to shut down venues which offered pole-dancing, lap-dancing and stripping in order to protect against exploitation of women.
Nothing, it seems, mobilizes gay men like the fear of removing fun and frolicking from their midweek schedule, and as a result, 600 regulars of The White Swan have signed a petition stating they were “surprised and shocked” the venue was being “targeted for review."
The petition’s author, Daryl Stafford, said no women were involved in the gay comedy strip contest, and revealed to the BBC that “it certainly feels like it’s extremely homophobic. It feels as though it’s because it’s a gay venue and there are a lot of people on the council who do not approve of having a gay venue in the middle of their borough.”
The White Swan’s argument is that “consenting adults looking for a laugh, a joke and comedy is not exploitation.”
Barry Kirk, a co-owner of the pub, told the BBC, “We’ve survived a lot over the years. But Wednesday is our only busy weeknight. If they kill off our Wednesday nights, we’ll be threatened with closure.”
The authorities insist at the time of writing that no decision has been taken. But with gay men spending more and more time using their smartphones to view porn, send each other naughty photos and hook up, perhaps the most worrying thing about a real-life venue that brings gay men together in a lighthearted appreciation of nudity closing is that even fewer of us will actually meet in the, ahem, flesh.
For details about The White Swan pub, visit bjswhiteswan.com.