Pretoria’s Legends nightclub turns four this weekend; a remarkable achievement in the increasingly fickle gay clubbing scene. Struggling to draw a large crowd in its first year, persistence has seen it become one of the most successful clubs in Gauteng, packed to the rafters with sweaty boys and glam (and not so glam) drag queens every weekend – and this despite two venue changes.
Legends co-owner, Fulvio De Stefanis has been putting on parties and creating clubbing experiences since the massive Mother Raves in the nineties and has been behind other clubs such as the infamous and much-loved Bitch in Joburg. Mambaonline talks to him about the highs and lows, and the state of gay club-land in Pretoria and Joburg.
Did you ever think that Legends would last so long?
Well, in club-land you can never take anything for granted especially the life of a club. Legends was intended to become an institution and so it was always meant to be a long term project. Also, when we started, there were two other very well established clubs already in Pretoria and we were the new kids on the block; so it wasn’t going to be an easy ride.
What makes it different from other clubs in Gauteng?
Our motto: We are family! This is our biggest asset and what makes us different. It was our intention to create a place where everyone in our community felt comfortable and accepted, a place that no matter what letter of the LGBTI acronym fits you; you will be welcomed and respected at Legends.
Name some of the high and low points of the past four years…
The high points have been many, but winning the best Joburg Pride float for two years in a row is a testament to the energy, commitment and love of everyone who participated. Also, being able to have a summer season in The Capitol Theatre, even though it came with a lot of its own troubles, was definitely a great moment. Low points don’t really seem relevant now as they were at the very beginning; at the most difficult time of the birth of Legends.
Legends has moved venue a number of times; something that has often destroyed other clubs. How have you survived?
We’ve survived because the concept and success of Legends are not tied to a specific place or location…
Can we expect another change of venue for Legends anytime soon?
If the time comes where we need to make a decision to ensure a freshness for Legends, then we would consider it. But at the moment, we are very happy where we are.
With the closure of Oh! and Therapy, what are your thoughts on the dire state of gay clubs in Joburg?
Well, that is a very difficult question to answer without getting a lot of people very pissed off, so I would rather just agree that Joburg is in a dire state. What I can say is that I hope that when a new gay club opens, it is well-supported. But watch this space as there are plans in the pipeline.
What do you think are differences between club-life in Pretoria and Joburg?
Pretoria is much more of a party. People are far more up for having a good old fashioned, hands-in-the-air, swinging-them-handbags, sing-along-to-favourite-song type of party. People don’t seem to pay much heed to what other people think of the way and manner they enjoy themselves. Halloween is a great example of Pretoria people’s attitude to clubbing at Legends – more than 90% of the club made an effort to dress in some sort of outfit.
To what extent do you think [club manager] Miss B played a role in Legend’s success?
The success of Legends is due to a phenomenal and dynamic team that is committed to and care so much about their work at Legends. Miss B puts that team together and heads up the operations and so is a vital part of Legends. I always say, when I go to Legends for the night and people approach me with queries or request, I tell them to go speak to the Boss – Miss B!
Unlike many other gay clubs, you made Legends an accepting place for drag queens…
The drag queens of Stonewall marched – when gay men would not – against abuse and discrimination for ALL gay people at great risk and injury to themselves. In essence, the Pride marches were born and the drag queens were the ones who had the courage when others didn’t. So, whether you understand why they drag or not, whether you like them or not, drag queens, in my opinion, must always have the respect and gratitude that they have earned. Legends’ motto is We are Family! How can that be achieved if we do not honour and respect the ‘mothers’ of our family?
RuPaul was slated by your business partner Stuart Hillary for her attitude when performing at Therapy. Has this put you off bringing out expensive international stars?
No I don’t think so. I’ve had the good fortune of working with some other fantastic artists that counter the experience we had with RuPaul. The biggest factor to consider is not the ‘diva-ness’ but rather the expense. I would love to bring Olivia Newton John out! Although, I can already hear anyone under 25 going – “who?”
There’s been some criticism of Legend’s door policy of restricting straight people. Is this not discriminatory?
This is one of those scenarios where we cannot please everyone and ultimately will probably offend some people in our own community. But there is a very definite reason behind the policy. Many gay guys will often bring their straight girlfriends with them, which has two consequences: Firstly a lot of straight guys start coming to the club to try to pick up straight woman. Then the straight guys, who are naturally assumed to be gay by the gay patrons, get hit on by gay guys resulting in very homophobic responses and making the gay patrons very uncomfortable in their own club.
The second consequence is that straight girls themselves harass the gay boys. They become infatuated with someone and say things like “you can’t be gay- let me make you straight.” And the more they drink, the more they become a problem. This has happened far too often with far too many clubs for it not to be a pattern. We are ultimately a gay club for gay patrons and we must protect the safety of our gay patrons in our club. Unfortunately, until homophobia has been removed from society, we must enforce such a policy.
How do you manage the politics that seem to be inherent between all the clubs and party promoters?
I avoid them. I’m too busy with my projects to get involved. I’ve always believed competition is good and that we should all work together. Ultimately, the more bars and clubs there are, the more people will come out.
What can we expect from Legends in the coming year?
We’re very excited by the success of Legends Live which has seen some top local performers perform for our patrons. We are going to expand on that as well as continually strive to bring the best gay entertainment to our patrons. We are hoping to work closely with some of our sister clubs to bring out international DJs and make our theme parties even better.