“I know a bar in Birmingham that you have never been to,” I said with a devilish glint in my eye.
I was out on the town with one of my oldest friends. We have always enjoyed a pub crawl around the city centre. During one of these blurry nights out, we discovered a pamphlet showing the locations of over 100 venues renowned for real ale. The fact that neither of us drank real ale wasn’t going to deter us and we enthusiastically adopted this map as our guide to new places and adventure.
For nearly a decade, that map has steered us to an eclectic mix of hostelries, from traditional pubs to swanky bars: We have enjoyed comedy shows; been entertained by backroom bands; mixed with city socialites and slummed it in many a delightful dive. Along the way we have discovered some real gems, such as: the jewel of the Jewellery Quarter, the Rose Villa Tavern, with its magnificent stained glass; enjoyed a vibrant night at the, now demolished, Yardbird; and savoured the old-style charms of the Queens Arms on Newhall Street.
It was on one of these pub crawls, that I made my cheeky proposition to Jamie.
We were in the Lamp Tavern, a peculiar little pub hidden in the gloom of Bartford Street. Those around us supped on guest ales, with robust names like Badgers Scrotum and Admiral’s Arsenal, as we two heathens sipped on our ‘least offensive lager you have on tap’, as I am in the habit of requesting, “please”.
“It doesn’t feature on the map,” I smirked, as the idea dawned, “but there is a place close by that we could go to… but are you man enough?”
Although no stranger to the gay scene, having been dragged into most establishments in the gaybourhood by me over the years, I had never dared to suggest this notorious men-only bar before… because Jamie is straight (Yes really, with a wife and kids and everything! Take that look off your face, I know what you are thinking, but properly straight, not bi, nor curious, closeted or ‘oh go on then’ after three pints… believe me, I’ve tried).
We met back in our twenties when we both worked at a local arts centre. I was on the box office and Jamie was a steward. I took quite a shine to him and we spent a lot of time chatting while he was enduring the drudgery of a quiet gallery shift. I even went as far as asking him out for a drink one evening. It was a while into our ‘date’ that the penny dropped, and he realised that my invitation was motivated by more than mere friendliness. Jamie began to babble about his girlfriend and made an excuse to leave.
Several months later, we were both at a house party, where he apologised for running off that night and confessed that he had invented the girlfriend in panic. From that day on we have been good mates. I was even honoured to be best man at his wedding.
As I rang the entrance buzzer at the club, I turned to Jamie and told him, “This is a private members club, so you are going to be asked to sign up. They take your photo and details, but it is just a formality, you are not going to be put on some gay fetish mailing list. ”
We sat at the bar chatting with another customer, who was in Birmingham on business for a few days and Jamie predictably bonded with the straight barman, a chilled-out lad with an understated line in sarcasm.
“People are surprised that there are straight guys working here,” the barman told us.
“It makes sense, I suppose,” I said. “You’ll spend your time pulling pints, rather than the customers.”
“I had never been in a gay bar before I started working here.”
“Talk about jumping in at the deep end,” I exclaimed.
“I know! I didn’t know where to look at my first naked event.”
This open-minded barman quickly adapted to his new work environment and even got his younger brother a job there. His sibling was only 18 when he started and was an instant hit, particularly as he was cute, in a gawky bad-boy sort of way. Customers would frequently hit on him, but he would dismiss them with an entertainingly offensive, “Fuck off yer poof!”
One time, the lad bid farewell to a departing Eurasian customer with a cheery, “Kon’nichiwa.”
After the guy left, I said, “You do realise that was Japanese for ‘Hello’?”
He gave a dismissive shrug.
“…And he is from the Philippines.”
“I like it here,” Jamie announced after we’d been there a while, “and the beer is only £2.40 a pint. I’m coming back… but only with you!”
“Well,” I said, putting down my empty glass, “you can’t come in here and spend the whole time sat at the bar.”
Jamie nervously gulped down his own drink.
“Come on, I’ll show you around. Don’t worry, there is hardly anyone in tonight, there will be nothing going on,” I reassured him, as we embarked on the grand tour.
I showed him one of the group spaces, with its adjacent cinema then we walked around to the other side of the venue and entered the curved corridor, lined with cubicles, that leads to the darkroom.
“Don’t worry, your eyes will adjust to the gloom surprisingly quickly,” I told him.
As we turned the bend, we reached a sex sling in a cage… where an enthusiastic top was balls deep in his acquaintance. Jamie whimpered slightly at this unexpected hardcore encounter and shot out his hand to grasp mine with a grip so tight that it made me wince.
We hastened our pace and dashed back out into the main bar.
I have always been irritated by the silly twinks who giggle and twitter like schoolkids, but once we were back in the light, we both doubled over in hysterics. Seeing it from Jamie’s perspective was an eyeopener.
Now, while Jamie certainly is not the first married man to spend an evening in a gay sex club, I suspect he is one of the few to go home and tell the wife.
The next morning, I received a tongue-in-cheek text message saying, WHERE DID YOU TAKE MY HUSBAND LAST NIGHT?!
At least, I assume it was meant ‘tongue-in-cheek’. She has allowed him to go out with me since. Although in future, I think we will be sticking to the map.