Joburg LGBTI clubbing institution Simply Blue closing down


Dino Abrahams and Jerome Camp

It’s the end of an era. Johannesburg’s longest running LGBTI nightclub, Simply Blue, is closing down after 15 years.

The club was launched by Jerome Camp and Dino Abrahams in 2003 in De Korte street Braamfontein, as part of the since shuttered Heartlands gay entertainment district.

In a city then known for its gay clubs that predominantly appealed to a white crowd, Simply Blue was a breath of fresh air.

“We brought lots of diversity as a place for people of colour and those who appreciate colour, and we are not apologetic about it,” Camp told MambaOnline. “We were very cosmopolitan; when visitors from locally and abroad wanted to experience other than a Eurocentric club culture they came to Simply Blue.”

The venue also became a haven for drag performers from across the region, putting on regular shows and pageants, including Mr and Miss Simply Blue and Miss Black Pride. Most significantly, the owners created the annual Miss Gay Jozi pageant, arguably the biggest such event in Gauteng.

Over the years, Simply Blue moved to Braamfontein’s Orchidea Hotel and then, after being evicted due to the 2010 World Cup, to two different spaces in Rogers street, Selby.

Camp said he and Abrahams had decided to close Simply Blue for a number of reasons, including dwindling support and the personal strain of running the club. “There are many factors. We still felt relevant but recession affects everybody, and other social effects play a role in swaying people’s interests and priorities,” he said.

Camp added: “All good things must come to an end, and that is not a cliché. It is also very exhausting. United we stand divided we fall…”

Abrahams remains very proud of Simply Blue’s contribution to the drag scene. “We can honestly say the culture of pageantry was a highlight; our drag shows were world class. That is what we call empowerment!”

Abrahams also paid tribute to two figures who have passed on but who helped make Simply Blue what it was: Madam La Rochelle, a dynamic personality who introduced pageantry to the club, and Vernon Ousus, “who instilled a sense of good management and lots of pizzazz”.

The late Madam La Rochelle

Camp said he would like Simply Blue to be remembered “as a great safe space where freedom of choice reigned supreme; where you could be who you wanted to be with no judgment.”

The duo, as the main sponsors of Miss Gay Jozi, have not yet decided how the club’s closure will affect the future of that pageant, but “local drag pageantry is alive and well outside of Simply Blue, so we don’t foresee a collapse.”

When asked how he views the state of queer clubbing in Johannesburg, Camp replied: “What LGBTI clubs? It’s sad that a leading African city and a country with such constitutional freedoms cannot boast of a thriving night scene, like back in the day, when these freedoms had not been realised.”

He added: “Perhaps it’s generational. The big question remains, are gay spaces still relevant?”

Simply Blue will have its “final curtain” party on Saturday 27 October at 36 Rogers Street, Selby to celebrate Johannesburg Pride 2018.

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