The Glory in East London opened in December 2014 and has since become one of the most famous drag bars in the capital.
From the outside, the Haggerston venue looks like nothing more than a regular pub, especially now it’s showing the weathered signs of lockdown being graffiti-covered, but on the inside it is a sparkling haven that allows anyone the freedom to be anything they want.
John Nolan, 53, set up the Glory with three others in 2014 after meeting who he described as the “pied piper of alternative drag.”
Jonny Woo was the most prolific drag queen in East London. She met John in her drag alter ego, John Sizzle, in a bar 19 years ago and the two instantly bonded – they even featured in a zeitgeisty documentary film called Dressed as a Girl in 2015.
John reflects on their times going out to bars and clubs together and said: “I’ve always loved the naughty side of it all, the fun and giggles of it – you know, getting into a cab looking like a hot mess.”
John dropped his advertising career to follow Jonny Woo. The two friends teamed together with Zoe Argiros, the general manager of Dalston Superstore, and Jonny’s former partner Colin Rothbart, the documentary filmmaker.
They were shown around the deggy scraps of a derelict pub, signed the dotted line and started its makeover.
“It was a baptism of fire – we had a month to turn it into something, but it started strong straight away,” he said.
“There was a massive queue down the road while we were still painting the ceiling and it was a success immediately.
“There was a heritage before it even had one.”
Unfortunately, from the get go and still today the Glory has faced homophobic abuse from school kids, who kick in the door, and people who passer by that shout “batty, get out and faggot” according to John.
“People think we’re disturbing the local balance but as a queer venue I don’t think we are, we’ve got every right to be here,” he says.
The hateful comments are forgotten when it’s Friday night and the place is packed to the rafters with males and females of different ages, ethnicities and sexualities.
“It’s blown up and become an ecosystem of performers and creativity because of our open door policy,” John added.
John puts the success down to that exact policy.
He said: “It’s not just a middle aged white male gaybar. It’s diverse with spaces and events for different people under the LGBTQ+ umbrella.”
An example of this is ‘man up drag king nights’ which has helped create a culture for female-bodied people and the non-binary community a space that they can own.
Everything was going well. They were packed, sold out and raking in lots of money until lockdown hit last year.
“It was petrifying,” said John. “All of our success got chopped up and the money disappeared. We all thought we were gone.”
Luckily the Glory got two installments of £140,000 Art Council Funding from the Government in November 2020 then May 2021.
“It was not only a lifesaver for the Glory but also a lot of the performers who were being paid by the Glory,” said John.
Business is resuming now but not as normal. Table service means the Glory has lost its “anarchy”. John refers to it currently as a “Queertherspoons”.
That’s not to say shows aren’t fully booked out though.
More and more drag venues are popping up which John is happy about for the girls who perform, but insists The Glory will always do it better than anywhere else.