My own private London A gay life in the first year of It’s a Sin (Part two of six: The Semi-gay Pub)

Robin Rowland
10 min readMay 13, 2021

(Contains spoilers and may trigger some AIDS survivor readers. Names in quotation marks are pseudonyms. Many of the names from the 80s aren’t mentioned because I don’t remember. Other names are real, taken from my occasional diary or letters I wrote)

Serving sandwiches when I was a barman in the “semi-gay pub”

After I arrived in London, it took me about a week to get the paperwork sorted out so as a dual citizen so I could actually have no legal problems finding work. I started going to the Job Centre on Kensington High Street, searching the job boards and talking to the job counsellor.

One day the job counsellor left his office, looked at the crowd of about fifteen or so people in the waiting area. He pointed to me and two other guys and called us over to the counter. “Do you want a day’s work for cash?” he asked. We all said yes. “The baby shop across the street has just had all its Christmas goods delivered and they want three ‘good looking young men’ to unload.” Off we went across the street. Given that it was on Kensington High Street, it was an upper crust expensive store. I guess they didn’t want their customers watching as just anyone did the unloading. That was my first job in London.

A couple of days later, the counsellor told me about a job as a barman at a local pub, short term for the Christmas season, no experience necessary.

That’s how I came to work at what I call “the semi-gay pub.” It’s a small neighborhood pub steps away from Hyde Park. That Christmas, the pub had its own cast of wonderful characters.

Back in those days, you wouldn’t have found the pub listed in any of the gay guides to London. Why do I call it “semi-gay?” If you were the barman, then on your left hand side, where the bar curved around in front of the side door, that was where every night the pub ‘s gay patrons would gather. It was mostly the neighborhood gay “local.” Often their gay friends from outside the neighborhood would join them. The front bar is tiny, so back then the “gay corner” would take up at least a third of the space and more.

I am not naming the pub. It is still open. The pub has probably gone through several ownership and management changes in the past forty years. I went back a couple…

Robin Rowland

Independent visual journalist in Kitimat, BC, Canada. Author of five books, more at robinrowland.com