A drag queen ate fire the first night I went clubbing at The Black Cap, and another drag queen ate fire there last night, probably the last Sunday I will ever go clubbing at the Black Cap. Because the Black Cap has closed. Sometimes it was a great cabaret venue with a nice roof garden, sometimes it was a great roof garden with some dodgy cabaret. I saw out my 20s there. I danced through my 30s until I realised dancing was silly. The Black Cap was a bar for all occasions. You could go for a drink with friends, go to read a book and chainsmoke on the terrace, or just get smashed and dance with strangers. Sometimes you'd go and it'd be a bit tragic, sometimes it would be the best night of your life. You could go see the same jokes you saw 10 years ago, you could go see something you'd never see again. You could go home alone, you could have sex on the bar.
The Black Cap was great because it was always there. When I worked in Cardiff and was only in London at the weekends, I'd make a point of going. Just to feel I'd done something. It was even open on Christmas Day, which one year was brilliant. I'd spent the day working in a basement in Broadcasting House, the rats scuttling through the ceiling just above my head. On the way home, I stopped off at The Black Cap. It was utterly dead, but that didn't matter. I'd far rather nod along to Rachel Stevens in a roomful of not-quite-strangers not-quite-friends than just not see anyone all day.
The Black Cap was a local, in the proper, old-fashioned sense of the word. It was exciting enough for me. In the last couple of years it became a bit too exciting - it had suddenly become roaringly popular, reinvigorated by a whole new generation of cabaret stars - events sold out, the bar rammed with people younger and prettier and cooler than anyone I ever knew had ever been. But you know, I'd still go for the occasional drink. That was the thing about The Black Cap - it was a local. It'd always be there. If the new wave of performers went away, if their audience declared the venue "tbh ovah", it'd still be there - a great place for a drink.
But no more.
Because London no longer needs quirky places that are in it for the long haul. Everything is now a pop-up, a passing fad. One day a cereal cafe, tomorrow a Nando's. And we always need luxury designer flats, ideal for the first-time buyer with a six figure salary. Just like you and me.
My friend Ben has charted the steady death of quirky London through the vanishing cabaret spaces over at Not Televisio. Cabaret venues are like the mining canaries of redevelopment. When the singing stops, the bulldozers are moving in. Ben helped overturn proposals to Camden Council to have the pub partly turned into flats. These were rejected because the pub was a living community space. So the owners solved that one - they simply shut the pub. Now all they have to do is wait a bit. And then, once it's just a dead reminder of what it was, it can be flats.
There are all sorts of arguments that waft around vaguely about all of this. "Oh, gay people don't need their own venues", "Tinder for shags and All Bar One for dates", "Drag's not really my cup of tea", "Well, the scene's really in Dalston these days". Yeah yeah yeah. But it's nice to have the option. Also, please stop pretending Dalston is a one-stop-shop Elysian Fields. It's not. It's Dalston. It may have nice bars and sky-high rents, but it's still pretty horrid. For heaven's sake, they even shut the Overground off at weekends, so they may as well put up a fence.
London is broken. Even if you can afford to live here, you're hardly going to have that much quality of life. We passed an estate agent yesterday advertising a bunk bed in a shared room for £100 a week. You'd be sharing with two strangers. For the same price as you can get a nice 1-bed flat in a city outside London. If you wanted to buy my flat, you'd need to be earning about £125k. Imagine the kind of person who earns that. Now imagine them living in a dodgy ex council flat in Kings Cross. Yes. It's all very well putting up those nonsense luxury flat adverts about mumbling Jamie Dornan lookalikes growling "I worked this city to live this city and now London is my playground", but let's face it - you're earning enough to buy a castle and you're still going to be looking out at drugs dealers pissing over the bins. But, be warned. If you've had enough of London being your playground, and just fancy a drink in your local, forget it. It's not there any more. Still, at least there'll be a Nando's.