The Oasis, 14-16 Park Row, Bristol, BS1 5LJ. Circa 1973 – December 1991.
Always called ‘The O’, this was Bristol’s major gay club for men until the 1990s. The Oasis occupied a basement beneath shops in Park Row, with the street entrance a barely noticeable black door with a vinyl canopy above (now the Dojo Lounge). It inherited the slightly Middle Eastern decor and arched openings from its previous incarnation when the Oasis had been a club for architects. Richard Sweet purchased the lease in 1972 and initially continued to run it as a straight club, but in 1973 decided to turn it into a gay club. The doors at the back opened onto a narrow paved yard known as ‘the garden’ overshadowed by Trenchard Street multi-storey car park.
Around the annual Pride week, there would be an afternoon garden party fundraiser, often to support AIDS prevention work and the Aled Richards Trust. Richard consistently supported charities throughout the club’s existence. Like the ‘Moulie’ (Moulin Rouge) the O had its ‘matrons’, two elderly women called Flo and Doris. Otherwise the door policy was ‘men only’ from the start.
I remember the camera in the Oasis and as you walked in to pay Hugh you knew that you were being watched. … Then there was the buzz of entering the club as the Hi Energy music pounded out and the night lay heavy with many possibilities! Utterly thrilling. On Sundays some camp old thing would be playing the grand piano …. tell that to the Lady Gaga generation! There were two elderly ladies who worked behind the bar. One had a voice like gravel in a cement mixer and I think used to say “Right my dearrrr” We used to take her off a bit. I’m sure there was some connections between her and the other lady. I think their children were married to each other? I’m sure there was a rumour that the son was a millionaire.
I used to like Flo. Being 16 when I went to the Oasis (sorry Hugh – I said I was 21) people used to try and get me drunk on doubles. Flo cottoned on to this pretty quick so used to serve me singles and pocket the difference! Good on her.
Flo was the smaller of the two. Doris lived in a flat on Lodge Street – I used to perm her hair.
Doris died a while back, I think. She was friendly with Gareth of Bar Domino in Benidorm.
Dale Wakefield, founder of Bristol Gay Switchboard:
I can remember the garden party fund raisers for Switchboard, the only time of the year that lesbians were welcome (although I could go myself I rarely did, the straight women who frequented the place were very objectionable to me, not to mention the mysoginists who tended to leave me alone in the O). On one occasion when blue movies were being shown, there were gales of laughter coming out, not a usual sound believe me, so I went to investigate. The projectionist had managed to thread the film back to front and upside down – it was the first gay porn film I found worth watching. Gay Switchboard in those days was almost fully funded by that annual garden party. For the event a chauffeur driven car would arrive at the house and carry mother off in style to collect the money on the door. No one got in to the Garden Party without paying.
I was invited to a cream tea and entertained by the delightful Quentin Crisp (after he) had appeared at the Students Union for a Gay Pride event. He and a few others including myself had been invited back. The tea party was at the flat above the O, I only went there once and can barely remember it, I just remember the Students Union and being in the flat.