Credit: Holly Revell
By Miranda Larbi and Nicola Slawson
Halfway between the glitzy metropolis of Shoreditch and the cool but distinctly grimy environs of Dalston lies no man’s land.
But free from hipsters and burger shacks, this part of Kingland Road is gradually becoming a destination in itself, helped by the arrival of a Motown-playing, lip-sync-judging mecca: a bar known as The Glory.
Haggerston is Hackney’s latest LGBT hotspot, largely thanks to this arena – the brainchild of Jonny Woo, one of the UK’s most celebrated drag artists.
“The area is untapped and still quite secret,” Jonny explains, reclining on a squidgy sofa in the corner of the bar with his PA, Jack and an overly-affectionate bulldog.
“It doesn’t have the critical mass that Dalston has now, nor does it share in the unsolicited mess that Shoreditch is suffering from. And for the gay crowd, places like Brick Lane just wouldn’t be right – this is a good spot.”
For such a small and relatively quiet area, Haggerston has seen a recent “pink pound” boom, with places like the Shelter club also offering gay nights – although, Jonny claims, “The Glory is probably the busiest business on the block”.
Ben Anderson, 29, who lives locally, says: “I think it’s cool that an area of Kingsland Road which was unnoticeable before has The Glory going on.”
So noticeable is the increase of LGBT culture in the area that some are now using the name “Faggerston”.
Anton Lynch, a gay Haggerston resident who spends much of his time out in the Hackney gay scene, claims to have been one of the first people to use the term.
“I started calling it that last year, but didn’t know it would become an actual thing,” he said. “I quite like the Faggerston nickname.”
But Jonny isn’t buying it. “I’m completely indifferent to it – we have nothing to do with that term,” he says firmly. “I’ve lived in Haggerston for 20 years without feeling the need to call it or make it “Faggerston” and I’m not starting now!”
Originally from Medway, North Kent, Jonny now considers himself an East End local, and The Glory has tried to dissociate itself from the recent gentrification and influx of yuppies into the area.
“I’m catering for the same people who have been here for years. Sure, we’ve got a couple of hipster lightbulbs but this place gets a whole mix of classes and races.”
Before settling down in Hackney, Jonny lived in the States, where he refined his drag act. While he figures out what kind of shows he wants to perform on stage at The Glory, he is currently concluding a ten-round lip-syncing drag competition – the prize for which is £1,000.
The final is in two weeks and the judging panel boasts LGBT favourites such as columnist Grace Dent, author Damien Barr and Irish gay rights campaigner and drag artist, Panti.
The Glory may be thriving, but gay venues in the capital have struggled in recent times – and in Hackney, many have had to fight against developers and chains alike.
“I’m truly appreciating of a new place since the closures of Nelsons, The Joiners Arms and others,” Ben continued. “It came as a nice surprise.”
But it’s not been easy going for Jonny and his business partners to set up shop.
“Gay bars are generally opened by independent small businesses. It’s a lot of money and a lot of effort. I know other gay bars are being mopped up by the new East London chains that are growing and that’s quite sad.”
As Hackney becomes more mainstream, is there a fear that it will end up the same way as Soho, who’s future is currently hanging in the hands of developers?
“Yeah, I think it’s going in that direction,” he says wearily.
“I just think it’s a shame that Soho’s sleaze has gone – that was its character. Everyone loved walking through that alleyway, past those sex shops!”
Not all gay men are fans of Soho, however, and many don’t want to see the East End following in its footsteps.
Mehdi, 35, moved to London from France last year and calls the central London hotspot “provincial”.
“I moved from a tiny French city and sometimes I can’t the difference between the mega gay bars in Soho and the ones back home! Hackney is much trendier and has less attitude.”
Something you won’t see in Soho are East London’s most prolific residents – the hipsters.
At least they have one ardent fan. “I love hipsters!” exclaims Jonny, sending the bar’s resident bulldog scampering off. “Hug a hipster – they know not what they do!”