The Glory founders remember 10 years of alt-drag, wild nights, and ‘five-star or one-star reviews’

John Sizzle and Jonny Woo look back at 10 years of The Glory
John Sizzle and Jonny Woo look back at 10 years of The Glory (Image: Provided/Markus Bidaux)

After ten fabulous years The Glory, the iconic queer venue, is set to shut its doors. The East London space has long been a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community, attracting visitors from the world over to experience the wonders of London’s alt-drag scene.

Back in December, it was announced by the bar’s owners – Jonny Woo, John Sizzle, and Colin Rothbart – that The Glory would shut its doors tonight (Wednesday 31 January). However, the space left by The Glory will be filled by The Divine. Billed as The Glory’s “naughty little sister,” the new space in Dalston is set to open with a no doubt outrageous launch party on Friday (2 February).

Ahead of its final night and a raucous party, we spoke to co-owners Jonny Woo and John Sizzle about life at The Glory.

What are your best memories of nights at The Glory?

John Sizzle: We had some wonderful weddings here at The Glory, scene icons like Tom Rasmussen or George Bourgeois from Bourgeois & Maurice had their big day here which was so special. We had a baby shower here for our dear friend Keeley. I really loved the one summer when I hosted LIPSYNC1000, Jonny was away touring so I went a bit wild. I stacked furniture on the stage, built a lunar landscape, and lived my Barbarella fantasy.

Jonny Woo: I’ll remember some of the international acts, I enjoyed showing the scene kids stuff that they’re not used to getting in their local queer venue. One of my performer pals from New York, Brandon Olson, came over and we did an experimental show called Whatever Happened To Jonny Woo. It was serving classic, early noughties, experimental alt-drag. I loved some of the Glory Lates shows that we did on Saturday nights with acts like Sarah Louise Young, Leah Shelton, Australian artists like Betty Grumble, we did some cool stuff with Mawaan Rizwan. I’m excited to do more of that with our new club The Divine.

The Glory
A Man To Pet at The Glory’s 9th birthday (Image: Zenhofer)
The Glory
John Sizzle’s Luge at The Glory’s 9th birthday (Image: Zenhofer)
The Glory
Letitia Delish (c) at The Glory’s 9th birthday (Image: Zenhofer)
What was the wildest performance you can remember?

JS: Christeene and Jonny did a party that descended into water sports basically and the audience was either crying with laughter or simply shrieking. Once we did an open call for Glasto gogos called Meatpacker Recruitment Drive and it got very competitive – people will do a lot for a Glastonbury ticket. There were guys dancing on the bar with hard ons, lube dripping from the ceiling into the ice trays. From the outside we were like this cute little pub with steamy windows but inside it was just naked men dancing on tables in pig masks waving meat cleavers to Diana Ross.

JW: I’m routinely putting fireworks up where the sun don’t shine on stage to Natalie Imbruglia’s ‘Torn,’ so it’s hard to know what people mean by “wild.” There were certainly Glory nights when even I was surprised by how far it went. But we don’t like to kiss and tell, you have to show up to see those magical moments.

TG at National Theatre
(Image: Sophie Wedgwood)
TG at National Theatre
Jonny Woo at the National Theatre (Image: Sophie Wedgwood)
TG at National Theatre
Mzz Kimberly (Image: Sophie Wedgwood)
Who was the biggest celeb spotted in The Glory?

JS: The Glory had its own clientele of East London super freak psychos who were so outlandish that the real celebrities blended into the background. In terms of A-Listers at The Glory we were lucky to count people like Graham Norton, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Keira Knightley, and Ben Whishaw among our own. Celebs have also collaborated over the years. Cara Delevigne threw a Burberry bash, and Billie Piper filmed some scenes of I Hate Suzie here. Designers like Christopher Kane and Erdem were always down The Glory. To be honest – nobody gives a f**k here and I think celebs like that, people would rather be seen dead than ask for a selfie. The pub has its own celebrities like Barbs and Sharon.

JW: Barbs does Claudia Winkleman better than Claudia Winkleman, in fact I think the real Claudia Winkelman is taking tips off Barbs’ Claudia Winkleman. We’ve all got The Traitors fever this month. But yeah, for me the real celebs are the people who come here and have made it their home.

A Man To Pet Backstage
A Man To Pet backstage (Image: Zenhofer)
Barbs (Image: Phoenix Edwards)
Bougie (Image: Phoenix Edwards)
A group of performers (Image: Provided)
Lavina, Camille, and Jonny
Lavina, Camille, and Jonny (Image: Phoenix Edwards_
Queens (Image: Provided)
Were there any poignant moments you remember?

JS: You know what? I’ve been quite teary about the closure, it’s still dawning on us just how important The Glory was to some people. Their queer youth happened here, their coming out years, people found themselves here and started their careers here, and made the most of the opportunities that The Glory provided. When you’re in the thick of it you don’t always have the chance to step back and just appreciate it all. By the time you read this it’ll be gone.

JW: We had some really touching performances here. Rudi Douglas was a hugely moving and fantastic live act singing on the piano. In the early Glory years we did Big Gay Songbook here and it was nicknamed “Gay Church,” the whole pub would be singing in candlelight, swaying along to Chaka Khan, and Fi McCluskey would be belting the tunes out with Rudi Douglas, before she started singing with Horse Meat Disco. It was a true queer family and I’ll cherish those memories. All those lovely queer candlelit faces on a Sunday, and a few people in sunglasses who hadn’t been to bed yet from Saturday.

Do you ever hear back from patrons about what it meant to have something like The Glory?

JS: People often come up to me to say how much they love The Glory. It’s usually when I’m trying to snog someone in a bar and really don’t want to turn and chat to a stranger. LOL.

JW: It’s always so nice to hear people tell us what The Glory means to them. We are as grateful to our customers as they tell us they are to us. It always takes me by surprise, literally. One night this guy came up to me while I was spinning after a huff of imported French poppers. I thought, “It’s lovely that you’re telling me how much you love The Glory – but I’m rushing right now.” I was wrong, he just wanted the Wifi password. Humbling!

What’s the best bit of feedback you’ve had from someone who’s performed at The Glory?

JW: I think the development of artists that have worked here is the best feedback I can get. People have used The Glory as a springboard for places like Soho Theatre, the Edinburgh Fringe, and then television, and often they send sweet messages or you bump into them and they say how much The Glory meant to them. For me, The Slipper Room in New York gave me a similar thing when I was starting out. I recognise the importance of letting new acts learn their craft and share our stage. Also when new faces come, and hang around, even without saying, it tells me we are doing something right.

JS: It feels like I usually get five-star reviews or one-star reviews. There’s never a middle ground in our line of work. I’ve considered getting one star and five stars tattooed onto my arse – I’m both it would seem.

JW: I think it will take a while to process the loss of The Glory. We’re very much going through it now, but it’s usually in hindsight that we appreciate what we’ve lost. However, The Divine is coming darlings! And with it, my new drag show called Suburbia – selling now!

The Glory has had its fair share of RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants. What were the Ru girls like in their formative years?

JS: Oh my God, Jonbers won the first-ever heat of LIPSYNC1000 here back in 2015. Ginger Johnson did a terrible/amazing karaoke night for us called Draggyoke. I remember Bimini being a complete draghag here – back in the day with her mate Barbs – and I mean that in the nicest way. It’s been wonderful to witness her starry transition, Bimini will be at The Divine this weekend, and so will Le Fil I think, and Just May. The Ru Girls from our end of the scene are still very much part of the fam, you can’t get rid of them. And we wouldn’t have it any other way!

The Divine opens on Friday 2 February. Get tickets here. You can follow The Divine here.

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