“You Don’t Have To Go Home, But You Can’t Stay Here”: A Eulogy For Yet Another Queer Space
RIP The Greyhound Hotel.
The last of Melbourne’s great southside gay bars is now dead. How shall we remember her?
Rumours had swirled over the last year that Melbourne’s historic gay bar, The Greyhound Hotel was to close in favour of property development. Stories were published revealing applications for residential planning permission and petitions were started to save the club’s historic facade. For those of us who worked inside, this noise and fury amounted to very little. The owners were not selling, there was no exodus, everything continued as it had before.
Then on January 6 we were told that, due to unforeseen circumstances unrelated to the news of development, the club would cease operations effective immediately. It was sudden and it was a genuine shock for everyone working there.
Eventually the entire story of why this venue closed will come to light, however this is not my story to tell. What I can tell you is how it felt for the queer family that lost their home.
As a fresh-faced baby drag queen I would hear tales about the south side’s glory days. In the ‘90s there were more gay bars on Commercial Road than in hell. All night you could club between them and the souvlakis were plentiful. But this was before my time. The early naughties caught up with these old girls and one by one they fell. Dating apps came and the sweaty dancefloor mating game was replaced by order-in late night hook ups. Suddenly you could wile your night way at a straight club without foregoing your love life. Dwindling revenue and the ever-present cost of DJs, drag performers and foam became all too much. However one of the old guard remained: The Greyhound Hotel.
The Greyhound Hotel was an anomaly — a perfect storm of expensive refurbishments and faith in the rainbow dollar. It boasted the largest exclusively queer stage in Australia and a massive LED screen that would have left Beyoncé gagging. It was not uncommon to see a stressed drag queen at the bar furiously cutting together a backing video for that night’s show.
The business of this makes less sense the further I get away from it. After only a week since its closure it’s begun to resemble the set of a charming sitcom rather than a fiscally responsible investment.
Anyone could tell me why the closures of queer venues are inevitable and it will make sense. But ‘good sense’ was never something we traded in. We don’t sculpt a pound of makeup onto our faces for good sense. We don’t scream until hoarse over a wig reveal because it makes sense. And I sure as hell didn’t ugly cry to a lip sync of ‘And I Am Telling You’ because it made any kind of sense.
What we had was a blind, limbs akimbo faith that this place could last and that we could become tired old queens suckling one last dart before the 1.30am show.
The young queers cried because the unthinkable had happened and the old queers cried because this is what has always happened.
The day I found out the club would cease trading I was slightly less fresh-faced and running late for a gig (in accordance with drag law). That night The Greyhound family reconvened in the now empty club. We mourned in the way that queers often do. We cried, mocked ourselves and each other, we reenacted the choreography from old shows and found them comforting.
The young queers cried because the unthinkable had happened and the old queers cried because this is what has always happened. The spaces the queer community inhabit are never guaranteed; they are the nooks and crannies of straight culture. Often they are simply independent businesses that rise and fall with the movements of the free market. Unfortunately they are also our only places for safe congregation, for testing out new expressions of self and learning the local history. You cannot simply Google the legacy of Ms. Pussy Willow; it is a story that must be imparted over a vodka Red Bull in the smoking area.
There is no villain to this narrative, no mega-rich corporation or megalomaniac bigot forcing us out onto the street. Instead we have the broader frustration of a queer culture that has never had the proper infrastructure to flourish in any one place. Our role in the national dialogue changes with each election cycle. We are supported and abandoned by the stroke of conservative pens.
In this uncertainty we move on and wait for the inevitable “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here”. We take root elsewhere and try to preserve the legacy of what has gone before.
For this to matter you don’t need to know The Greyhound Hotel or even like it. During her time she certainly polarised the community with her style. But last year there was a swathe of queer folks gainfully employed and today there isn’t. Last year Melbourne had the largest drag stage and now it doesn’t. And last year if some little queerling from the outer suburbs came to our door, it would have been open to show them exactly why they are not alone. Today that door is closed.
Feature image: Lazy Susan.