THE EVERYBODY BAR
Why Green Park Hotel doesn’t call itself gay
This article first appeared in The Local, a quarterly feature of Neighbourhood newspaper.
By Kate Prendergast
"A large window, thick velvet curtains either side, lets the silver sun in, giving sparkle to the fine coating of glitter residue from the Mardi Gras celebrations just been"
Stevie – a drag queen, actor and member of lip syncing comedy drag band The MAGDA Szubanskis – has been working behind the Green Park Hotel bar for 14 years. “I’ve got to know the locals pretty well,” he says, and gives a chuckle. “And they’ve got to watch me grow up, too.”
We’re sitting at one of the circular leather booths up the back of the Darlinghurst pub. It’s a Saturday afternoon. There’s a casual bohemian panache about the place – like an old classy coat, worn in for comfort. A large window, thick velvet curtains either side, lets the silver sun in, giving sparkle to the fine coating of glitter residue from the Mardi Gras celebrations. “There’s no getting rid of it,” Stevie says, fondly. “It’ll be there until the next one.”
Never was the place more joyously alive than on the day Australia voted ‘YES’ to same-sex marriage, says Megan Douglas, the hotel’s licensee. But would she call Green Park a ‘gay bar’? No. She wouldn’t. On this point she’s firm. That’s not how the place defines itself. And that’s not what has made Stevie stay all these years either, or what makes the patrons keep coming back – every week, or after 10 years, or 20.
“It’s an everybody bar,” says Stevie. “Anyone from any walk of life can come in – there’s no trouble. Everyone’s accepted.” While the pub’s trimmings and playlist have evolved over time – once a rock and roll kind of joint, and undoubtedly a far cry from its 1893 foundations – this attitude of universal acceptance has been a constant for as long as he can remember.
“It’s changed, but it hasn’t changed,” he says. “It’s kept its heart and its soul.”
As a gay man, Stevie is familiar with the way public spaces are carved out by and for certain identity groups. Throughout history, these spaces have overwhelmingly been claimed as heterosexual (and white, and able-bodied, and male), with their borders patrolled and policed – symbolically and at times literally – to exclude all those who fall outside this bracket. In the ’70s and ’80s, the gay rights movement saw the reclamation of gay territory, with the epicentre of this revolution staged on Sydney’s Oxford Street. The bars and clubs that sprung up along the iconic strip were crucial to creating zones of safety and belonging for the LGBTQI community – and remain so today.
Yet the effect of this differentiation is inevitably one of separation. You have one group funnelled to this space, and another group to that. “I remember years ago, I’d go to bars and I’d feel either not welcome or out of place and on edge because it wasn’t essentially a gay bar,” recalls Stevie. “When I first started here, I noticed the difference really quickly. It was one of those very few places where it wasn’t labelled a gay bar, and it wasn’t labelled a straight bar. That’s what makes it special.”
The pub’s location in the schema of Sydney is significant here. The area is known as the main home and hub of the gay community – the Sydney Morning Herald notes that 17.9 per cent of Darlinghurst couples are same-sex males, “the highest proportion in the country”. While friends and partners will troop over to Oxford Street chasing the wilder sort of nightlife, the vibe of Green Park is a little more relaxed.
“They call it their second lounge room,” says Stevie. “It’s the place where a whole mix of people can come in – after work, on the weekends, in the evenings – and wash the day away. Maybe they don’t want that big night out,” he adds. “Here, it’s chilled. It’s not quite as chaotic.” Megan agrees. “It’s like one big family.” And not of the dysfunctional kind, either. Not once has she seen an argument break out. The idea of any kind of physical scuffle happening inside is almost unthinkable.
In its unique positioning in the pub landscape – founded on an attitude, not a particular demographic – Green Park could be considered a kind of prototype for a more progressive Australian social drinking scene. It’s also meant that the place has been something of a measuring stick for change. Stevie notes how, as acceptance of the LGBTQI community has grown over the years, so has the volume and diversity of the clientele.
“All roads lead to the Green Park Hotel,” he says, and grins.