Despite the closure of many bars and clubs in the gay clubbing scene, Babylon – The Joburg Bar, one of the longest ever running gay bars in Johannesburg, is celebrating its 12th birthday.
The global pandemic and disruptive platforms such as Grindr have had a lasting impact on the LGBTQI+ party landscape. Namely, a year-on-year decline in people visiting LGBTQI+ venues. Despite these evolutions, Babylon – The Joburg Bar has thrived and grown a deeply loyal following that despite everything, continues to grow.
2021 marks a massive milestone for the bar with many hurdles overcome. From public disapprovals and judgements, negative impacts from Covid-19 and a changing bar landscape, the team is celebrating its successes. This is in part due to an unusual (and clearly sustainable) social ecosystem between queer and hetero folk unique to a Friday and Saturday night at Babylon Bar.
Heinz Rynner; Babylon co-owner explains: “Heterosexual communities – especially Cisheterosexual women – enjoy our venue every weekend. That’s because mostly gay men frequent our bar, as a result, cisheterosexual women come for the no-drama candyfloss and popcorn night out, which leads to cisheterosexual men following the hauds of bachelorette parties. Everyone gets along and has a wonderful time – It’s a thriving inclusive social ecosystem!”
He continues, “On occassion, this isn’t always well-received by the gay community. But it is important for us to use this special occasion to once again tell the community that make no mistake, we are – and will always be a gay bar – but a bar that is open to everyone in society. Inclusion has always been a leading value for the entire LGBTQI community and we hold ourselves accountable to that principle every day.”
Through the acceptance of all communities, Babylon has continued to gain popularity and iconic status within Joburg’s nightlife. “As a straight-friendly gay nightclub, the secret to our success is our inclusivity, yet openness to welcome everyone.”
“Just like Babylon changed my life, Babylon itself has changed tremendously. In 12 years, Babylon has grown from a small bar with a couple of regular visitors to a place where queer people from all over the country come to experience Babylonian magic,” said Theo De Jager, Event coordinator and influencer.
Babylon also owes it’s grit and success to the way the business operations are structured. “We survived lockdown as we have no full-time employees. Also, all our employees have these incredible skills and talents which are used within the business to springboard their careers. Our barmen are graphic designers and photographers and we encourage them to use Babylon as a place to test and learn. Being open only two days a week allowed us to survive hard times.”
The year ahead will see exciting events on the horizon. “In our 12th year, we’re bringing out international drag queens from RuPaul, we’ve got GoGo Boys and gay porn stars from Only Fans visiting our stages,” said Heinz Rynner.
“Drag artistry has always been a stalwart force in our community. It’s such an honor to be a leading voice in my community and I’m so grateful that Babylon provides a space for Queens to do what they do best,” said entertainer and Drag Queen, Adam Benefeld.
The Babylon team looks forward to continued success in the years to come. While gay bars and clubs around the world are dying down, the team is confident in the venue’s future success. “Babylon hasn’t died out because of its ethos. We’re more than just a gay bar. We offer escapism. Our goal is that when guests arrive, they leave their problems and their ego at the door and come in and have fun. Here, everyone fits into the Babylon culture that’s been here for over 10 years. It’s fun for all generations. We don’t label anyone. For us, it’s about LGBTQI and heterosexual people evolving together, but still retaining a special place for the gay community.”
“I remember the first time I went to a gay bar – the joy and freedom I felt. It is an honour and privilege to witness the same feelings felt by patrons visiting Babylon. It warms my heart,” said Brad Cilliers, Babylon co-owner.
Following celebrations, plans are afoot to relaunch Babylon Bar as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon – a venue without a label. “We don’t want to be labeled as a club, or a bar, or a restaurant. We are just the Hanging Gardens of Babylon,” concluded Heinz
And when it comes to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, everyone is welcome.
Babylon – The Joburg Bar is the leading ‘open-minded’ venue on the African continent. Located in the heart of Illovo, Sandton, Babylon has the type of mainstream appeal most LGBTQI+ venues can only dream of. This is very much in keeping with our goal of being a home to the LGBTQI+ community, but inclusive and welcoming of everyone. For more information, visit https://babylonbar.co.za/ or contact 072 509-4994.