LGBT+ CAMDEN: ‘The closure of the Black Cap has been appalling,’ says its former manager

Joy Pampo reflects on happy time running famous venue

Friday, 4th February

The boys and me at the Cap

Joy Pampo, right, with some of the old regulars inside The Black Cap

IF there was a map of LGBT+ Camden, perhaps the Black Cap pub might be marked as its capital – always celebrated, forever cherished but sadly standing empty…for now.

Joy Pampo was once a regular customer but then moved behind the bar during the 1990s to help run the legendary venue in Camden High Street.

“Its legacy should not be underestimated,” she said.

“It was a different time, and being openly gay in a public place like a bar and not having to feel concerned about that was quite a milestone.”

She has watched as the bar’s future hangs in the balance.

Former owners Faucett Inns shut it in 2015 as they tried to push through a controversial homes project on the upper floors.

Late last year the New Journal reported how campaigners who have never given up hope that it will reopen again felt they had made some progress.

Hopes have been raised before but a community interest company backed by experienced industry investors have approached the new owners of the building to find a viable solution.

After being closed for so long, a victory suddenly seems tantalisingly possible for those who have given up days, months and years demanding it reopens as it was.

Joy, who first stepped through the doors in 1988, this week recalled how special the Black Cap was – getting a taste of its fame when she moved out of Camden  Town after growing up here.

“Two friends I met when I lived away used to travel into London once a month to visit the Black Cap,” she said.

“And when I moved back to Camden, they said let’s meet up there.”

There has been a pub on the site for three centuries, and it was also once home to the Black Cap distillery.

It was in the mid-1960s that its reputation for its cabaret shows, atmosphere and sense of being a safe space began to grow. It helped launch the careers of a host of performers including Rex Jameson, whose on stage persona Mrs Shufflewick was celebrated.

By the mid-1990s, Joy was working at the Mornington Sports Centre in Arlington Road and had become a regular.

When the sports centre shut and Joy was made redundant, bar manager Jimmy Smith offered her work.

“I’d not worked in a bar before – I started part time,” she recalled, but soon she became a key part of the pub’s story.

“I was lucky in a way, finding the Cap when I did,” she added.

“When I used to go as a customer, they had just opened the upstairs bar. It was very small and upstairs was more of a daytime place.

Campaigners got to see behind the doors late last year as hopes rose for the venue to reopen

“That was the idea behind it – a place to use for the community, a space to meet which was not a nightclub.”

The upstairs bar, which also served food, had the air of a welcoming, non-members social club about it

“It was a mixed crowd, people across age ranges,” Joy said.

“It was reasonably well mixed between men and women and younger and older people.

“There were not many late night licences in Camden back then and it could be rather a random mix after 11pm.”

The venue’s current state remains an ongoing wound for the hundreds who knew how special it was – and want it back.

Campaigners have vowed never to give up

“It is appalling,” Joy said.

“This place deserves to be re-opened. Some gay bars have a general age group they cater for – they are night time venues.

“Some of the older boys want somewhere to sit down, have a pint and a catch up. The Black Cap did that.”

“The Cap made a real difference to peoples lives, and should do so again.”


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