FOUR years ago John Huggins was told that his new gay bar in Gloucester ‘wouldn’t last six months’.
Today those comments are being laughed off as the 34-year-old celebrates the fourth birthday of The Westgate, a venue which is now the only place in the county to proudly fly the rainbow flag after gay club Embassy, in Cheltenham, closed recently.
John ran a gay bar in Australia for a year when he was younger. After managing a spate of other venues back here in the UK, in 2010 he decided the time was right to set up his own bar in the heart of Gloucester – in Westgate Street.
He said: “We took over the pub on April 1 and some critics thought it was a joke. They told us that we wouldn’t last six months but here we are and the rest is history as they say.
“Now we attract such a mixed crowd. A lot of straight people come here because they see it as being a safe venue. It is not aggressive and it is not full of testosterone. Straight women come here because they don’t get hit on.”
But the venue is proving popular with other crowds too. A steady lunchtime trade sees coach loads of pensioners pile in each week for good grub.
John even revealed that some pensioners revel in having their pictures taken on a bondage cross that was installed as a bit of a joke.
The venue is also used by politicians and community groups as a place to hold meetings and a gay youth club also uses it as a base.
“People said that they a gay venue right in the city centre could never work. Most gay venues are down back alleys and have blacked out windows whereas we couldn’t be any more visible. We have a huge rainbow flag over the door and we have big, open windows.
“We have fantastic support from councillors and the community in general. They have really got behind what we are about.
“It hasn’t been easy of course and we have had our ups and downs. A lot of hard work has been put into the venue. For me it is seven days a week and often 18 hours a day of work.
“With Embassy closing recently, we are now Gloucestershire’s only gay venue which is unfortunate. We need a thriving gay community in the county.”
One low for the business was a fire in 2013 which destroyed the kitchen and put their lunchtime trade out of business for five months – but like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the venue is now firmly back on its feet.
On Saturday, April 12, the bar will be hosting a super hero theme party to celebrate the fourth anniversary.
John said: “Running The Westgate is not just a job, it is a lifestyle but I love it. There is a great bunch of people.”
The venue has also become a hub for the annual Gloucestershire Pride. The march will once again, this summer, leave from outside the venue and culminate in an after-party at the boozer.