The team at the Two Brewers celebrated 35 years of the Clapham cabaret mothership being a gay venue in October. Dave Cross spoke to guv’nor Jimmy Smith about his time at the bar and we hear what the venue means to some of its stars.
Hi Jimmy, what can you tell us about the history of the Two Brewers before 1981?
There’s been a pub here since 1852. In the late 1970s it was a heavy metal pub until it was opened as a gay venue by Phil Starr in 1981.
What was it like when it opened as a gay venue?
The Brewers has always been the pub it is now. Cabaret in one bar, dancing in the other. The bars have just swapped rooms over the years. It really hit the map as a gay venue when Phillip (Pam) and Kevin were managers, and it went from strength to strength from then on.
When did you first become involved and what was your role?
I joined in 1997 from the Black Cap to become the general manager. It was around the time of the major refit when the then owners, Mitchell and Butlers, invested heavily in the business. They converted the upper floor into the toilets and swapped the back room into the Club Bar and the front bar into the Cabaret Bar it is now.
Is it possible to pick any highlights from the past 35 years?
It’s very difficult to pick, but I asked Lola Lasagne, she’s the expert, and she said: “Like many venues in the 80s and 90s, the Brewers raised money for HIV/AIDs charities, and specifically for St Thomas’s, which was one of the first hospitals to treat people. Cabaret highlights include Maisie Trollette every Wednesday with Jimmy Trollette, Lily Savage was the resident on Thursday nights for years, and you also got Adrella, Regina Fong, Phil Starr, Dockyard Doris, Ceri Dupree, Dave Lynn and Malitza, Sandra and Lucia, Candy Du Barry, Lee Paris and Nikki Young to name but a few. And The DE Experience made her first London appearance at the Brewers on a Sunday lunchtime too.”
I would also add to that list Titti La Camp, Pam Ann and Charlie Hides who have all been very important to us, and Drag Idol has been a genuine highlight for me and all of us. It was started by Titti with the idea to bring new talent and it certainly has – it’s become a phenomenon. Plus the acts that are regulars for us now such as La Voix, Mrs Moore, Miss Jason, CK, Mary Mac, Rose Garden, Danny Beard, Sandra and, of course, Lola.
When we are always reading about venues shutting, what do you think it is about the Brewers that makes it so popular?
We don’t see ourselves as just a bar but as a community and I think that’s true of other successful bars too. We are always looking for ways to support the community through fundraisers, charities, sponsorship, free rehearsal space and anything we can do. Plus I really do think the secret of our success is the quality of the cabaret, all those acts Lola and I have mentioned, and many more, have made us what we are today.
Can you talk us through the birthday weekend events?
Thursday is Two’s Company with Miss Jason and Maisie Trollette, the two oldest queens in show business and both so very funny. On Friday we are so excited to have The DE Experience back with us followed by Ruggercub, hosted by the Kings Cross Steelers and the marvellous Mary Mac.
What about Saturday and Sunday?
Saturday is the main event, hosted by Lola, who has arranged a fabulous selection of over 20 acts for our delight starting at 3pm, along with DJs Demon and Chris Brogan. Sunday will be a special show from the London Gay Big Band plus a host of stars and it will be raising money for the Fire Brigade Benevolent Fund.
I’ve performed here for many years and it’s even better now they have electricity. Seriously, I love the Brewers, it’s something special, and Jimmy has always been so supportive.
In 1999 when I moved to the UK everyone told me that the Brewers only booked the best acts, so I was thrilled when I got my first gig there. Eventually I learned if you blow Jimmy Smith enough times he’ll book anyone. The Brewers was the first venue to give me a residency and over the years I’ve performed there more than any other venue – in the world! It feels like my second home. A home where I can get pissed, pass out in a corner and not pay rent.
The DE Experience
TIs it still open? The Brewers was my first ever London performance space when it was hosted by the incomparable Joe McJoe. We became buddies and going back there always felt like we’d never been apart. Friday sees us reunited and about time too!
It’s an honour to be part of such a historic venue. I always love being there – the audiences and the staff are brilliant.
I’ve been a part of the Two Brewers for 30 years, as a punter, barman and as an act. It’s pretty much shaped my life as a gay man and a drag queen. 35 years for any venue is impressive but to be a leading LGBT venue for this time shows the commitment that the venue and Jimmy Smith have to our community. Bravo Two Brewers and happy anniversary!