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, celebrated 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 disapproval and judgements, the negative impacts from Covid-19 and a changing bar landscape, the team is celebrating its successes. This is in partly due to an unusual (and clearly sustainable) social eco-system between queer and hetero folk unique to a Friday and Saturday night at Babylon Bar.
Heinz Rynner; Babylon co-owner explains: “Heterosexual communities – especially Cis-heterosexual women – enjoy our venue every weekend. That’s because majority of the people who frequent our bar are gay men, as a result, Cis-heterosexual women come for the no-drama candy floss and popcorn night out, which leads to Cis-heterosexual men following the hauds of bachelorette parties. Everyone gets along and has a wonderful time – It’s a thriving inclusive social ecosystem!”
Heinz continues, “On occasion, 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 and 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 its 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.
Unlimited visits to the popcorn stall, friendly and sexy staff, the hottest summer jams on the decks and amazing stage acts prove to any critique why Babylon has stood the test of time in the nightlife scene.
As soon as you step out of your ride for the night at Muse Centre on Oxford road – because it’s always safer to be driven mainly because of the guaranteed good time you’ll be having, you’ll be greeted by a couple of security staff which speaks to the attention and care the owners have for their people. A few safety checks at the door, temperature check (COVID) and ticket confirmation you are welcomed to a world where body positivity is promoted and dancing is encouraged.
When was the last time you witnessed a champagne tower? Or sexy beasts and babes dancing on a bar top? Or better yet when was the last time you witnessed a sexy act that mixes aerobatics and pole dancing? Well all this and more was served at the epic 12th birthday celebration. The entertainment for the night was lead Adam @adaammahh who also played the role of MC. The stage was set on fire by the following Queens: Aphroditea @lady.aphroditea, Sarah Fortune @missfortune177 and Femme Aldehyde @thefemmealdehyde. Just as we recovered from the flaming performances, Vaughn Hurley @vaughnhurley and Marco Vargas @marco_vargas_jhb came in guns blazing with their Acrobatic act.
One gesture by the owners that is worth mentioning is the free supply of snacks including bottomless popcorn – again reiterating how thoughtful the management team is. From the section VIP to dance floor to smoking section one consistent element Babylon maintains is self expression and inclusivity.
In true silly season style, we recommend Babylon for your birthday party, your engagement party, your bachelorette/ bachelor party or even your divorce or break up celebration – whatever the celebration, Babylon is the place to be. A special shout-out to the amazing staff, especially the awesome guy who worked the popcorn stand named Future Sibanda, we appreciate your patience.
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