Another one bites the dust. The Beresford Hotel will be the host venue for Harbour City Bears for the last time on Friday 20 December. New Year’s Day 2003 will be the last time the laneway between the Beresford and Flinders Hotel will be used as a recovery space, at least for the time being. In early 2003, the Hotel will be totally redeveloped into units and a new restaurant/bar -“ and it probably won’t be gay.
For Harbour City Bears president Gary Stocks it’s the end of an era. Friday nights have been a burly, hairy event for the last five years.
It’s a great venue, Stocks said. It’s one of the last pubs of its type left in East Sydney that hasn’t been gentrified and -˜tizzified’, I suppose you would call it. It’s actually been ideal for our purposes.
Stocks is currently negotiating a replacement venue for the club, with an announcement to be made on 13 December. It’s a sad day for the bears, although it’s equally unfortunate given the pub’s place in local gay history.
Activist and historian Craig Johnston said that the Beresford’s opening as a gay venue in the late 1970s was hugely significant.
The shift of gay clubs and bars from Kings Cross to Oxford Street had already happened, but the Beresford really confirmed Oxford Street as the centre of the gay scene, Johnston said. The second thing was the way that the Beresford’s manager Barry Cecchini sort of branded the place, as what they called the macho or macho/clone or clone type bar. This was quite a decisive break in terms of the subculture from camp -¦
It also did so in a very open way precisely because it was a street level pub -¦ That got quite a bit of publicity at the time, where journalists writing for straight newspapers actually covered the Beresford and this new subcultural style.
Garry Wotherspoon’s City Of The Plain: History Of A Gay Sub-culture makes reference to these articles, with the mainstream press noting the gayification of old hotels, with new management actually redecorating venues to attract gay men. Johnston added that in the case of the Beresford, the community connection soon moved beyond the commercial.
Cecchini was very hostile to gay rights activism, initially, but there was quite a great tension between your gay rights activists and the bar scene, Johnston said. We made a conscious outreach to try and engage people involved in the scene -¦
Cecchini changed, and he and his bar and his clientele became very strong supporters of the gay movement and the law reform campaign and the Mardi Gras.
There were plenty more changes to come. The Beresford went from leather to lounge groove to bear, operating as a day club and at least biannually as one end of the beloved/reviled laneway. The pub also survived refurbishment when it was purchased from an orbiting, then crashing, Satellite group.
Now it’s time to say goodbye.
On the 20th we’ve invited all bears and admirers who’ve enjoyed the pub to come along and join us in celebrating the closing of a longstanding Sydney gay institution, Stocks said. No doubt a number of Beresford admirers will also hit the bar, for one last round.
Gary Stocks is an employee of Sydney Gay And Lesbian Publishing Ltd, which publishes Sydney Star Observer.