Dark, intense, kind of gross: they’ve all been used to describe The Barracks, Sydney’s only genuine leather bar, and now it’s gone.
I loved the Barracks. Below street level and with minimal d?r, the place made me nostalgic for a time I never knew -“ it reminded me of bars I’d seen in films like Nighthawks or Cruising. There was nothing out and proud about it, which kind of added to its weird, self-loathing charm. And on camp terms, the rooftop windows that revealed only the feet of passers-by reminded me of Laverne and Shirley’s apartment, except in this reality, Lenny and Squiggy would be having sex in the toilets. But my mind is wandering.
The last two years have seen the closure (or degaying) of the Albury, the Beau-champ and the Beresford. Now the Taylor Square Hotel, which includes T-Squared and the Barracks, is also gone, at least for the time being.
The previous owner Tim Berry wants to focus on his other venues (which includes the Midnight Shift) and the new owner Garry Papadopolous is still deciding what to do with the Barracks bars. It’s possible, but not likely, that it will reopen as a leather bar.
Greg Bloye, president of Sydney Leather Pride, is one of many saddened by the closure. Although not always a fan over the last six and half years (there were times when the music was too loud, for instance), Bloye nevertheless admits that the space was pretty unique.
That it was subterranean was good. People couldn’t easily find it, Bloye said. Originally it kept out the runners, light T-shirt and Levi’s brigade, because they were scared of going in and going down the stairs. But then when they discovered it, it didn’t stop them. And I don’t think drag queens could tease down those stairs and duck their heads so that their beehive wig wouldn’t hit the ceiling.
Andrew Clarke, one of the directors of the social group Sydney Leather Men (SLM), is also disappointed. All of the functions of the group (founded in 2001) have been held throughout the Taylor Square Hotel, although he’s pleased to inform me that the new owners have donated a slingful of Barracks memorabilia to the group. They’re not bad guys, but they have a different business plan, said Clarke.
All SLM (but not S&M) activity might be on hold, but the group are taking a proactive response to the closure. In a press release that was also sent to the Melbourne Eagle Leather group, Sydney Leather Men announced that they would be seeking to secure a new venue on their own.
The leather community in Sydney have often existed in otherwise poorly patronised or disused spaces and perhaps without the protection of a lease agreement and have often been the pawns in hotel sale negotiations, being left homeless at very short notice.
SLM will, by way of rent or lease, move to rectify the shortfall in the gay community in the shortest possible time frame. What form this will take we are unsure at present, but rest assured we are doing everything in our power to address the shortfall in this area of the Sydney gay community.
In the meantime, the options are limited and are anybody’s guess. Greg Bloye thought downstairs at The Midnight Shift was the next obvious temporary home, with the Phoenix also a possibility. Both Bloye and Clarke ruled out the Oxford as a potential new leather bar, and Clarke felt that for many SLM members, there are no suitable alternatives.
I think a lot of people won’t [go out], said Clarke. We know a lot of guys who were only coming out to leather-specific events. They would only drink at the Barracks. There are increasing numbers of leather guys, who will go out and have a huge party if there’s a party on, but will quite often prefer a smaller, more intimate space just to go for a drink -¦
There’s not a local pub left, in a way -¦ it’s sad to see because it’s another icon that’s gone. We’re losing too many, Clarke said.
Both Sydney Leather Pride and SLM will keep their members posted on any possible new venue, but in the meantime, it looks like weeks or maybe months of some good, old-fashioned cultural appropriation of space.
The Barracks is dead: long live the filthy, sweaty, pit of leather-scented dudedom that was The Barracks.