Iconic gay bar wins late hours battle after losing £2 million over the pandemic

By Jacob Phillips, local democracy reporter

One of London’s most iconic LGBTQ+ venues has been allowed to open late to help it fight huge losses from the pandemic.

KU Bar will stay open until 1am at its sites in China Town and Soho from August 2 after Westminster Council made a rare exception to extend the company’s alcohol license.

The council received 32 letters of support from the London Mayor’s office, neighbours and LGBTQ+ activists wanting the 26-year-old bar to bounce back from its pandemic losses.

The bar lost over £2m when it was forced to pay its £400,000 rents with no method of income when the country was cast into lockdown.

Gary Henshaw, who owns KU Bar, lesbian venue She and Little KU, said: “I have put my neck on the line. It is so important to see that we are different.

“I took a full page advert out in West End Extra to say thank you.”

Gary Henshaw outside Ku Bar

In the past decade 60 per cent of LGBTQ+ venues in London have closed with 13 venues recently closing in Westminster alone, a recent study found.

The City of Westminster now has just 21 LGBTQ+ venues left according to council documents.

In a letter supporting the bar’s application, Trans activist Rebecca Tallon de Havilland explained safe spaces like KU Bar are essential for the trans’ community’s survival.

She said: “Gary tirelessly raises awareness and funds for HIV and AIDS. KU bar and Gary Henshaw make that difference in our Soho community that’s vital for our survival.

“We have our functions and celebrations at KU Bar, where we also have the support of Kensington Palace and Chelsea Football group.”

The bar and nightclub regularly helps test people for HIV and allows a large range of Soho groups to use its dance floor during the day.

Each weekend the venue provides space for sexual health screenings and has raised over £100,000 for The Food Chain – a charity which ensures people living with HIV in London can access nutritious food.

This includes West End Theatre groups and drumming groups preparing for Chinese New Year in China Town.

G-A-Y Owner Jeremy Joseph also wrote to the council explaining how KU Bar was one of the most important businesses in Soho.

He said: “Venues for our community have sadly declined over recent years.  It is so important to promote and protect those of us who are still standing.

“We really need support from you to help keep our businesses alive and continue to play a key part in Westminster’s world renowned inclusive and cultural offer.”

Pierre-Antoine Guitard, who lives above the bar, added: “[KU Bar] has been a monument for the LGBTQ+ community, and has helped to raise awareness on the acceptance of everyone as who they are.

“It is essential to offer support for those who face difficulties because they do not fit in the accepted social norms.”

Usually Westminster Council turns down any licensing application in the West End Cumulative impact area, but a rare exception was made for KU Bar.

The Met Police and Environmental Health Service both initially opposed the application but withdrew when they heard about the significance of the venue.

One regular, who has been visiting the bar for seven years and wrote in to support the application, said: “KU is important to me as I have been going to these premises ever since I was 21, when I finally had the courage to come out as Gay.

“Back when I was a young gay man on the scene not really knowing what I was or who to trust, KU Bar was and still is a place where you can be yourself and feel safe in doing so.”

KU Bar first opened in 1995 on Charing Cross Road before moving to Lisle Street in 2007 and then adding Little Ku on Frith Street in 2009.

The venue was the first gay venue to have windows that view inside helping to change the perception of the London gay scene and building acceptance.

The council’s licensing committee granted the bar the extension.




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