For those of us who had come out into a provincial gay scene of small back bars tucked away in larger straight pubs, the great metropolis of London offered up far more positive and welcoming choices.
Having arrived in autumn 1984, my own personal circuit consisted largely of the disco at the Bell Inn at Kings Cross (on Monday night, I think) and the extraordinary Fallen Angel on Graham Street in Islington.
The Angel wasn’t the most centrally located pub – it required a bit of a hike from the bus stop or Tube station on City Road. And, if I remember correctly, it’s immediate surroundings were wasteland and wooden hoardings so it was hardly the most salubrious location either.
Nonetheless, the people who ran it worked overtime to make it much more than your average pub. For starters, the main bar was decorated within an inch of its life – including a fantastic mural of the eponymous Falling Angel painted on the ceiling.
And because this pre-dated all-day opening, they simply turned the bar into a cafe at 3 p.m. and served non-alcoholic drinks till opening time came around again at 6.
But it wasn’t just the decor or the opening hours; the Fallen Angel went much further than that. Even my unreliable memory remembers art exhibitions, musical events and poetry and other literary events (including the reading by Eric Presland and friends of some new book called Tales of the City).
I think a number of support groups also met in the upstairs rooms, including Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. I remember attending the meeting on the night that the miner’s strike was called off: it was not one of the happiest experiences I’ve ever had at the Fallen Angel.
At one point the managers/operators introduced a women-only night – for reasons that most of us thought were fairly self-evident. But this was not to be; a member or members of our gay brotherhood took the pub to court on the grounds that it was acting in a discriminatory manner.
The court upheld the complaint and the pub was forced to drop the plan. Of course not all gay men were happy with the decision: some took it upon themselves to stand outside the pub on the designated women’s night and attempt to dissuade other men from going in. I don’t know what measure of success they had. Not a lot, I suspect: if there were gay men who were happy to take the issue to court, there would be others who would make a point of seeking admission as a matter of some misguided principle.
I have no idea how long the Fallen Angel continued thereafter. Clearly, from the photograph at the head of this article it has now gone the way of some many other pubs – subsumed into some other type of development.
But at least it still stands and the sight of it is enough to trigger my memories of that very special pub (including the long trek to get there!)