Archive for the ‘Gay’ Category

In, Out, In, Out…

Thursday, August 8th, 2013


…shake it all about.

I’m getting a bit confused at Greenwich’s ‘gay’ watering holes. Admittedly I’ve been out of the loop recently but it does seem to be a bit on the odd side.

Of course, years ago, it always used to be the Gloucester Arms where Greenwich’s LGBT community used to drink, before it was taken over by INC and revamped several dozen times (it’s currently the Greenwich Tavern, though briefly, of course, this time last year, the Gold & Saddle).

Not as many times as the poor old Cricketers, though, which was where INC tried to move their former regulars when they turfed them out of the Gloucester. It was ‘transformed’ into the ghastly Powder Monkey and rightly shunned by a traditionally pretty quiet community – being gay doesn’t make you totally devoid of taste. (The poor old place went on to attempt to be a tiki bar, catering for Greenwich’s thousands of South Sea Island ex-pats, a rave joint, a chill-out lounge and a very smelly fish & chip shop before finally becoming home to Goddard’s pie shop.)

So for years the Rose & Crown, on the corner of Nevada Street and Crooms Hill, became home to LGBT folk wanting to drink together. It was never ‘exclusively’ gay – always a healthy thing  in my humble, but it was fun, friendly and welcoming.

Until it wasn’t. New landlord, new regimen. For a while the R&C wasn’t as ‘gay-friendly’ as before, so many LGBT people hoofed it up Royal Hill to the Prince of Greenwich, which used to be the Prince Albert.

Keeping up? Wish I was…

The the R&C changed its mind. It’s now got another new manager and is actively wooing LGBT drinkers back, though without what Steve, who’s been trying to explain all this to me calls ‘the bells and whistles,’ to make it more ‘inclusive.’  TBH I never found the old R&C un-inclusive, personally.

So now the community’s split.

And – in many ways why not? I mean not all of Greenwich’s straight drinkers pile into one single pub. Perhaps it’s good to have choice – ultimately it may make both places even better by keeping them on their toes with promotions and events. But what promotions?

How about a drag race – that’ll keep people on their toes (or heels…)

The traditional Greenwich Drag Race has been going, according to the Metro Centre website, for eight years. I’m a bit puzzled by that as I am sure I covered the first one and I’ve only been going for seven years, but maybe I just went to it, in those prehistoric times before I started scrawling about my experiences.

The race always used to start at the Rose & Crown, but more recently it’s been at the Prince of Greenwich. And there’s no change there – this year’s will start at the Prince on 14th September and usual rules apply:

Participants must wear drag and Drag Queens are required to wear a heel of at least 2 inches. Drag Kings must sport facial hair. Prizes will be awarded for the winning Drag King and Drag Queen of the race as well as the best drag ensembles and most money raised.

This year it has a Latin Fiesta theme.

But Que Pasa? Uneasy lies the wig that wears the crown.

For this Saturday, the 10th August, the Rose & Crown are holding a rival Street Party – with, among cabaret acts, music, food and drink, their own drag race. Calling itself ‘the original drag race’, this one is officially named for Michael Joyce, the founder of Greenwich’s alternative marathon, who died in a car accident four years ago.

Less ‘blood on the carpet’, more ‘beer on the sequins.’

What’s a drag queen or king to do? There’s only one thing, really…


Why not – they’re both for charities worth supporting (Metro Centre and Help for Heroes), both look like great fun and both important parts of Greenwich life. There’s no point knocking heads together here, this is the kind of storm in a D-cup that will sort itself out in time, and in the meanwhile, there’s twice the fun to be had for the rest of us.

See you Saturday…and on the 14th Sept.

Anthony Francis Oscar Sampayo

Friday, October 21st, 2011

Okay – I was supposed to be doing something else but there is nothing like procrastination to turn a productive afternoon into something less useful – albeit infinitely more fascinating.

It started out with a gravestone in East Greenwich Pleasaunce. I initially photographed it to remind myself to look up the word ‘plenipotentiary’.

But then when I did look it up I started to wonder what on earth a French Minister ‘diplomat with full powers’ was doing in an East Greenwich graveyard.

That one, I still don’t know. Not least because he appears to have anglicised his name. After much searching, I discovered another French diplomat – minister to Portugal, no less, with exactly the same dates – only with the name Antoine François Oscar Sampaio – but I can’t find out much about him, either. His granddaughter, though – a totally different story and I found out what I know about him from her biographies, which appear to be ten a penny. But more on her in a moment.

Certainly Antoine was already living in London and calling himself Anthony Sampayo when he married an American heiress, Virginia Timberlake (whose own grandmother had been implicated in the notorious ‘petticoat affair’ that nearly brought down president Andrew Jackson) in 1849. I can’t find out where they were living – but hey, why not Greenwich? Everyone  of any note comes here at some point…

Virginia was, apparently, brilliant, if a bit ‘lacking in veracity and getting ‘coarser’ as she got older, whatever that means. An acquaintance remarked “I suppose she may need money, or craves notoriety,” and indeed both are possible – by that time she would have been a widow, and everyone knows what Greenwich Birds are like…

Or maybe she just wanted some of her granddaughter’s celebrity. For yes, folks, I’ve managed to find an (extremely slim) link between Greenwich and Olga Meyer.

Who she? Oh, Come on

She the daughter of Marie Blanche, Anthony and Virginia’s girl, born, I note, the same year as her parents got married – just guessing now, but maybe a reason why the happy couple weren’t in Portugal any more…

But the gossip-mongers were much more interested in Marie-Blanche’s later life than her birth. She was officially the Prince of Wales’s goddaughter but everyone knew he was really her lover, and it was rumoured that Donna Maria Beatrice Olga Alberta Caracciolo (Olga’s real name) was actually Edward VII’s daughter.

She certainly lived up to her heritage if she was. Born in 1871, she went on to be an artist’s model, socialite, muse, writer, fencing champion, gossip-columnist, coke-sniffer and fashionista – oh, and a celebrated lesbian when ‘that sort of thing’ wasn’t supposed to be going on.

She married a couple of times, most notably to photographer Adolph de Meyer. It was a useful marriage for all concerned – he was gay and she was much more interested in women – her most famous affair being with Princess Edmund de Polignac, the heiress to the Singer sewing machine fortune, who’d made a similarly convenient union with a French amateur composer.

Her life sounds like something out of a novel (Olga Meyer’s, though the Princess’s life was pretty steamy too) and got wackier as she got older – changing her name to Mahrah on the advice of her astrologer and acquiring a tongue considerably coarser than her mother’s – though, like so many lights that burn that bright, it all ended in tears in a detox clinic in Austria in 1930.

I can’t see that the Baroness Olga de Meyer, photographed here by her husband, ever lived in Greenwich. But perhaps she visited her old* Granddad’s grave sometime.

Odd isn’t it, where a gravestone will lead you. More to come soon…


*actually he wasn’t old at all – just 44 when he died. I have no idea how.

Drag Race

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

Ruth asks:

“Where is the best place to go and watch the Drag Race from this evening?”

The Phantom replies

Yup folks – it’s that time again – the fourth (I believe) annual Drag Race. Fun and games, thrills and spills, all kicking off from the Rose & Crown. I can’t find the exact time and to be honest I never bother looking for it as I turn up around 7.00pm and hang around for the fun and games (which never set off on time anyway.) I can’t find a website for it this year, so I suggest you do the same.

I usually stand on the corner opposite the old Glocuester Arms (now the Greenwich Park Bar and Grill) because there’s a satisfying bulge (fnaaar fnaar) in the road and you can get a good view of the start.

Update – here are some absoutely fabulous photos from Warren – wonder if he’ll be including one of them in his wonderful annual calendar..?

Dancing Sailors

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

I found the most extraordinary volume in a second hand bookshop yesterday. I thought it was fairly odd at the time, but it was only getting it home that I realised just how peculiarly encased in 1930s aspic it is.

Twice Round the London Clock, published in 1933, was written by one Stephen Graham, about whom I can find virtually nothing, but from his writing appears to have been a newspaper columnist, writing for The Sunday Chronicle. In the book, Graham goes to various bohemian parties in Belgravia, slums-it round the East End, and eats at old City establishments, making witty comment as he goes. The illustrations are by the Chronicle’s resident artist, Rick Elmes. The pair of them – oh, how they get into scrapes, largely surrounding Graham’s portly figure, and the gaping yokels they come across.

There’s nothing about Greenwich in there, chiz, but I was highly intrigued by the chapter entitled Dancing Sailors where Graham and Elmes visit a North Woolwich dance hall. I obviously haven’t a clue what Graham was really like; I imagine a tubby posh bloke with a cut-glass BBC accent condescending to talk to the hoi-poloy in an excruciatingly patronising tone…

“The interior of California in North Woolwich is something like part of a ship…perhaps that is why an otherwise ordinary public house has become one of the gay spots in Dockland,” he informs us. “The sailor ashore looks for something like a boat, and they are almost all sailors who dance there.”

Interestingly, despite it being 1933, Graham really does mean ‘gay’ in the modern sense. But more about that in a minute.

The California’s clientele is from around the world – Graham spends time describing the colourful array of costumes, skins and languages of the various Jolly Jack Tars whose ships have brought them to the port of London. He describes their conversation – their finding out about each other’s worlds, their customs, what they want in life – and there are definitely those who are there for the local girls.

“The barmaids are buxom, well-cared for and independent. Sailors treat them respectfully. But the dancing girls, in their smart stockings and shabby everything else would really be kept out of the public houses except that they bring more custom. “

They’re dancing to a “the shabbiest piano, with its top partly removed to let out more noise, and then to a one-man jazz band of the kind that used to be the wonder of children in the streets.”

Eventually, Graham works out that “the men did not get off with the girls at all;” but “danced together in the funniest burlesque style.”

Graham is not at all sure about This Kind Of Thing. He blames that very fast music Jazz, which has “infected ships by way of radio and, as, except on passenger ships, there are no women the “nancy boys” dance together.”

He gradually gets used to it all though, noting that “when there is shore leave one may see hundreds of couples of sailors dancing together,” especially at The California. Apparently, according to Graham, “the Navy dances much better than the mercantile marine.” He’s even worked out why – ” the Navy has more time for it and the discipline helps.”

Graham sits with a couple – a sailor and his new on-shore friend. When the friend discovers that the sailor is a butcher, he’s all for going back with a car and loading up with provisions from the ship. The sailor doesn’t seem particularly happy about this and Graham changes the subject – “he evidently hoped we’d forget – which we did for his sake.”
Graham and Elmes later pick up a couple of girls, just in case the reader was getting any ideas about him.

“The dancing ladies are by no means averse from sitting down to a plate of ham if they can find a man who is willing to pay for that form of entertainment.”

Watching women eat ham, eh. Whoooarrr. Of course, they have websites for that kind of thing these days…

So there you go – a curious little snippet, locked in the pages of a truly bizarre book hidden beneath a pile of dusty tomes in the musty basement of a bookshop on Charing Cross Road. I’m not really sure what it’s saying – merely,perhaps, that there is a whole underbelly of History still to be discovered. In that one chapter, Graham touches on class, poverty, gender, sexuality and race-relations – fascinating to us seventy five years later. There is still much to be learned. Much to be discovered and discussed.

I thought you should see the pictures. The top one is of the California itself – check out the burly couple in the middle. But the one below gives me the creeps in its very smugness – a couple of East End girls overwhelmed by Lord Snooty and his motor carriage…

Fastest Thing on Heels

Friday, June 20th, 2008

This would normally go in the Parish News Section, but it made me smile and – hey – it’s my blog…

August 16th sees the third annual Drag Race. If anyone’s ever been to one, you’ll know it’s a night of enjoyable chaos, where the fastest girlie in a skirt doesn’t get all the prizes. Everyone starts at the Rose & Crown, where costumes are admired, entertainment is purveyed and ‘health beverages’ consumed before the racers get to bend over the blocks…

“We are working with the local LGBT Police liaison officers and neighborhood team to get the roads closed for the race. Also we are trying to work with Greenwich council to get Neveda Street closed for a ‘sort of’ street party,” Jackie Foley, one of the organisers, tells me. Proceeds go to the Metro Centre.

And because it’s going to be bigger than ever this year, they’re looking for runners. Gay, straight, girls, boys, not-sures – the more the merrier. Who knows – perhaps The Phantom will don a gold lame cloak and tricorn and sparkly knee boots…

If this sounds like a hoot, find out more here.

"Carl I Have Your Robert Wyatt Albums…"

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

All, it appears, that is left of the Powder Monkey. A hastily-scribbled note with a hotmail address, sellotaped to the outside…

So. Is the Powder Monkey dead – or just very well closed during the day?

Favourite Front Gardens (4)

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

St Alfege’s Guesthouse, 16, St Alfege’s Passage SE10

I’ve been a bit of a grumpy old phantom of late so I thought I’d cheer myself up with a favourite front garden. This one’s at St Alfege’s Guesthouse, which still has to be the funkiest place to stay in Greenwich. One day I’ll actually make it inside (so difficult to be a tourist in your own town…) but if the pics on the website and this garden are anything to go by, it must be cool indeed.

What I love about this place is that they ‘officially’ have no garden at all to speak of. The rest of the places in that particular bit of passage open out onto the street, but Number 16 has no intention whatsoever of being without greenery. A little area has been created using the natural street furniture – railings and the lamp post, a collection of giant pots and a tempting-looking bench.

Inside, there’s not an inch of space between the plants – save for another, hidden little bench. Tropical – date palms and banana plants – and classic evergreens, they may be mixed in ‘climate’ but they do keep to a palette – just green – and very cool it is too. It’s ever-so slightly jumbled and bohemian-looking with the odd weed tolerated rather than ripped out, which keeps it from looking prissy, and I enjoy it every time I walk past.

My heart gives a little leap whenever I’m staying somewhere in the world, am searching for my hotel and I see an entrance like this. It’s a sign that I have made the right choice.

In this particular case I can’t tell you whether you have made the ‘right choice’ if you have chosen to stay at St Alfege’s – I have never stayed there myself. But all the signs are that it will be fab – and you can guarantee that if you choose one of the faceless multinational business-hotel alternatives, you will have made the wrong choice.

There is, of course, an opportunity to get a sneaky peek into the Guesthouse on, I believe, Monday, when it will be part of a fly-on-the-wall documentary The Hotel Inspectors. In the meanwhile, enjoy another example of an interesting and quirky Greenwich Front Garden…

2nd Annual Metro Drag Race

Saturday, July 28th, 2007

I don’t often do ‘previews’ but this one sounds such fun I thought I’d let you know about it. I thoroughly approve of New Traditions.

Paul and Darren have kindly reminded me that at 7.00pm on 11th August, you can, outside the Rose & Crown, meet the contestants for the 2nd Annual Metro Drag Race. The race begins at 8.00pm.

Don’t worry – it’s hardly the Marathon – just down King William Walk, around the market, round the Powder Monkey where there is the small obstacle of knocking back a shot (think of it as a hurdle) and back to the R&C – but then would YOU want to race 26 miles in a fabulous frock, wig and high heels?

Last year’s winner, Xana Xanax (the only palindrome drag queen from the Antipodes) is favourite, naturally, but there’s plenty of opportunity to challenge “The Fastest Thing on Heels.” If you don’t think you’ll manage to be fastest, there is also a prize for Best legs and Most Expensive Drag (the one that earns most for Metro Centre, the charity supported.)

If you fancy joining in, call 020 8265-3311 – or just turn up to cheer the racers on…

Rose & Crown Refit

Monday, July 16th, 2007

Stockwell St SE10

We were all a bit concerned when the Rose & Crown suddenly shut down a few months ago. Bitter experience has often seen such an event followed by a designer refit and a takeover from a well-known local chain, and some column inches both here and elsewhere were taken up with rumour and speculation as to what would happen to this much loved, gay-friendly boozer.

It re-opened a couple of weeks ago, but it’s taken me a little while to actually get there to test it out. Firstly, it absolutely, definitely isn’t Greenwich Inc, and it looks like it. They’ve made an effort – trendy wallpaper with floral designs and industrial 70s-esque lights hanging from the ceiling over the bar. But much hasn’t changed and actually this refit still leaves the pub ever-so-slightly un-hip, of which I approve. I don’t feel entirely comfortable in places that are so fashionable they set my teeth on edge, and this refit, though making a big effort, has managed to kept a quaintness that works.

Bombadier is the only ‘proper’ beer I could see – the choice isn’t fabulous – and despite the ENORMOUS framed chalk board with an initially sumptuous-looking wine list, a closer peek reveals that it really consists only of the Jacobs Creek / E&J Gallo variety – nothing at all out of the ordinary, which is a shame.

As I approached the newly spruced-up, but still traditional-feeling exterior (which does look good) it looked really full, though I quickly realised that of course it was going to be busy outside – that was where all the smokers go these days. I stepped inside, earning myself quite a look from Olivier seated opposite who clearly thought I was some kind of turncoat for not going into his establishment, and easily found a seat indoors.

It’s a pleasant, friendly sort of pub, and though the drink isn’t the best I’ve ever had, it was a nice enough place to while away some time before going to the cinema. But I have one concern.

While I was there, it seemed that the clientele had fundamentally changed. When I first arrived, there were only what looked like local teenagers drinking there. Plenty of them, but very obviously straight. Rather later I spotted one gay couple coming in, and there are a couple of posters in the loos advertising gay events, but I was surprised.

Tell me, folks. Is this still a mainly gay pub? And what do you think of the refit?

Rose & Crown update

Sunday, May 13th, 2007

I’m told that the Rose & Crown will be re-opening on or around the 17th May. I have no idea whether it is the old owners who have just refurbished, new owners sympathetic to the old clientele – or new owners with aspirations to change its character. All I know is that I’m pretty sure it’s not Greenwich Inc. The best way to ensure it keeps its (much-appreciated) style, I guess, is to frequent it.

Cheers, Mr Anon, for the tip-off…