I haven’t been to The Richmond Arms in a while.
Like most of us, we don’t really go to our local gay bars much anymore. Whether it’s due to time, money or interest, or that we prefer to head into the city, it’s a fact that LGBTI venues – especially in isolated areas – are struggling.
I started working there, fresh-faced after university at 21, and ended up going to bed with a regular after about a week. While everyone reckoned it would end within a month, we lasted nearly four years. And in that time, I was swallowed into that RA world.
It was a building that stood on the grounds of friendship. The regulars, which there were dozens and dozens, were a huge, sprawling family that took care of each other, sniped at each other and made sure each other got home ok. Every shift I would hear of hilarious nights gone by, relationships formed and broken, and anecdotes that always began, ‘Oh god, do you remember when that guy got so drunk he did this?’
Even though I was there for a few years, I was a blip on the storied history of that place. What I wouldn’t give for anyone to sit for an hour (or a hundred hours) with Freddy, the eccentric and loveable manager emeritus of that place to hear all about it. You’d cackle for days.
The Richmond Arms is closing, a goodbye after more than 30 years of memories. I can’t help but think of the hundreds of people who have walked in there, just as I did, and found themselves enveloped in that community. That tangle of shared history. A world all in its own doors.
It has closed thanks to the management company going into administration and the landlords not wishing to extend the lease. On the Facebook page now, there are plans from regulars to attempt to buy it out.
Many someones, probably a lot of them without knowing any gay people, likely walked through those oak, smudged brass doors, and found something. It happened in 1986, it probably happened in 2016.
We have heard about several gay bars that have closed in London now, the evaporation of the city’s diversity and artistry whited out in favor of luxury flats. The Black Cap. The George & Dragon. Candy Bar. Gone. And not even just in London. Look at the rural and isolated Altland’s Ranch in York County, Pennsylvania – closed after running since 1967. All worlds, all hubs of communities, families that have been forcibly dispersed. It’s so different when you were a part of it.
Post-breakup, I didn’t ever go back to The Richmond Arms. Mostly out of embarrassment. But it was his place, really, not mine. I know there are several people still there, and I know it will get the goodbye it deserves.
But still, I raise a glass to that place. And I raise a glass to all the bars closed, and to the ones still under threat. Here’s hoping not many more hear that last call.
Joe Morgan tweets at @nottherealjoe