Melbourne gay stalwart The Peel Hotel comes of age next weekend, turning the ripe old age of 21. Venue owner Tom McFeely, who has been with The Peel for 15 of those 21 years, told Southern Star he had seen the venue undergo a raft of changes in its time.
“Where do I start? The venue itself has definitely evolved, with new dancefloors and new lounge areas. We’re quite a unique venue in that we’re not quite a pub and we’re not quite a club. We’re a real meeting place, and I think that’s helped us survive,” McFeely said.
“We are also unique with some of our exemptions — we are the only venue in the world that can legally stop straight people coming in.”
That 2007 VCAT exemption caused perhaps the biggest controversy in the hotel’s history, and opened up a debate in both the gay and mainstream press about who should and shouldn’t be allowed into gay venues.
“We’ve only had to use [the exemption] a handful of times. We are still having to explain to people that the venue is for gay men — if other people come along and enjoy themselves, that’s fine, but they’re not our target audience, and they need to be respectful.”
Controversies aside, McFeely listed the venue’s continued lack of a cover charge as one of the key reasons for its continued success.
“When the Peel opened in 1988, it had no cover charge, but we did have one for a while there, until I decided to abolish it, simply because of how different people view the Peel — some people see it as a late-night pub, others see it as a dance bar.
“Because of that, they all come with a different mentality about paying a cover charge. I’m happy to continue striving to keep it free, although of course it gets harder each year.”
And with a night of celebrations planned for Saturday December 5, McFeely said he was keen to use the opportunity to give back to those who’ve supported the venue for all these years.
“Some people have still got the badges that were handed out at the first birthday party back in 1989. They’ve been coming up to me in the past few weeks to say they held on to their badges all this time. Anyone who comes along to the celebrations on December 5 with one of the badges will go into the draw to win an overseas trip.
“There’ll also be a special show on the night. We’re still working out who will perform. And of course there’ll be no cover charge. We see birthdays as a time to say thank you to all of our supporters, not to try and make money.”