by Eyal Lavi
6 August 2016
RVT Future’s brilliant comic series by Baz continues with a glimpse of a scenario no one who loves the Tavern wants to see.
You can read the comic here, but if you’re curious about the real-life history behind it, then read on…
She’s a survivor.
The Royal Vauxhall Tavern was built around 1861. She was the first building in the bold new Victorian streetscape that took the place of the Vauxhall pleasure gardens.
She can take change. Aged 20 or so, she got a makeover courtesy of the star designer R.A. Lewcock. He installed the long curved bar that was for a century the Tavern’s signature feature – half serving station, half stage for drag acts to careen along, sending the drinks of the unwitting flying.
During the war, 2,500 bombs and rockets fell on Lambeth, a prime target during the Blitz thanks to key infrastructure along the river near the Tavern, such as Vauxhall Bridge and a major rail route. Yet she survived.
A couple of decades after the war, that Victorian streetscape gave way to the park that now lies behind the RVT. Terraced streets fell, and schools and shops and other buildings. Yet she survived. Stayed standing, now a peculiar island of a building, across from the railway lines, still facing down the traffic.
She had her own changes. In 1980, Lewcock’s bar was torn out and the fabulous new stage and seating installed. The decade that followed would be one of huge upheaval: new pinnacles of performance thanks to Lily Savage, Regina Fong and Adrella but also police raids and the devastation of the Aids crisis. Many a wake would be held under the Tavern’s roof.
Yet she survived. In the 1990s, the Vauxhall ‘gaybourhood’ sprang up around her. And she saw off a couple of threats too – rumblings about turning her into a backpackers’ hostel in the middle of the decade, and a few years later a short-lived scheme to turn the gardens site into a shopping centre with a water park and ‘snow dome’, if you please.
Yet she survived. And flourished. Her isolation as a structure became a distinguishing feature. She became a landmark.
Then, in late 2014, she was sold to property developers. Things looked ropey for the Tavern. Luxury flats and hotels were all the rage and she stands on ever such an attractive spot.
For those who cherish the RVT – who think of the old girl as an oasis, a beacon, a home – there has been a shadow over her ever since. Standing up for our venue takes time and labour but it also takes an emotional and psychological toll. The idea of losing the Tavern is deeply troubling to many a queer soul.
Yet she survived. In September 2015, she got listed – the first building in the UK ever to gain that protection because of the site’s LGBTQ+ history. And although her future still remains uncertain, we at RVT Future believe she’ll end up being owned by the community that love her.
She’s a survivor. And she’s doing all right.