When I was 14, my dad was in Edinburgh and his Ford Cortina broke down.
Needing to use the toilet, he popped into a small unassuming bar next to the Playhouse while my Granda continued to ‘footer about’ with the engine.
My dad and Granda were both pretty gangster in their time.
This really wasn’t my dad’s time.
This was the early ’90s and Duncan Woods Jr. was still sporting short shorts and a Magnum PI porn ‘tache – a style he’d picked up sometime in the ’80s and forgotten to put back down.
The bar he slipped into to relieve his tiny bladder?
The Greenside Inn. A bar later renamed CC Blooms, now Edinburgh’s oldest gay venue – named after the character Bette Midler played in Beaches and immortalised by Margaret Cho in her concert NOTORIOUS C.H.O.
Needless to say, his current hot-pant handlebar-moustached dark and swarthy look was VERY popular there.
Apparently on arrival heads turned.
Someone whistled at him.
Someone else pulled up a chair.
Someone handed him a tambourine.
Someone offered him poppers.
Well those last parts I made up, but it thrills me to think of that being his experience.
It’s hard for me to be subjective about how the gays of the early ’90s might have responded to my father, so I took a poll with the ladies and gays in my office.
Apparently, in his mid 30s, in the right light, in some cultures, my dad was actually ‘quite fuckable’.
Who knew my mum was so lucky?
My ears pricked at hearing the tale told of how my dad accidentally stumbled into this gay bar. The hilarity this caused as he recounted the story over and over again stung a little, but it also ignited a little bit of hope in me. I was fascinated that just 14 miles from the house I grew up in, there was a bar for men who loved men.
At 14, my only experiences of gay bars had been the horrifically homophobic representation of them in TV shows and films like Police Academy. It’s not surprising then that I fully expected the Greenside to be exactly like the Blue Oyster Bar in the aforementioned film.
Dad’s storytelling of the situation did nothing to dissuade that.
For the next 2 years I nurtured a passing curiosity for the Greenside as it turned into CC Blooms. I knew where it was and I’d deliberately slow down as I passed it on my way to Vinyl Villains, the only record shop in Edinburgh still trading in bootleg LPs.
When I came into town with my friends for Christmas shopping, we’d walk past and make ‘arse bandit’ jokes.
If I was seeing a show at the Playhouse, I’d make sure to arrive early to see if I could catch a glimpse of ‘one of them’ going in, or coming out of the bar.
It was a very different gay scene back then.
Most bars still catered for the closeted homosexual. Windows were blacked out, entrances were discreet, and the scuzzier joints rarely opened before the sun went down; at least in the winter months.
It was a far cry from the Castro’s Glass Coffin – the universally praised Twin Peaks bar, America’s first unapologetic booze joint for lavender gentlemen with floor to ceiling windows.
In fact, Scotland wasn’t quite yet the progressive tolerant country that it is now, and the top of Leith Walk was closer to Irvine Welsh’s Edinburgh than that of The Proclaimers.
Toward the end of high school I started to hear rumours about CC Blooms.
At school, it became part of the bully’s vocabulary. Instead of just calling us faggots and threatening us, now the mouth breathers of James Young High School had more ammunition. And they were bulletproof. They could circumvent the teachers by making jokes that we hung out in CC Blooms. They weren’t blatantly calling us poofters in front of the class, but it was implied and it was the go to gag for most of 1994.
Everyone had their own ideas of what went on behind those blacked out windows, and true to high school, everyone believed the most extreme stories. But for a kid who felt all alone growing up in a council estate in Scotland, I had an inkling that behind those blacked out windows, I was destined to meet my tribe.
And CC Blooms did not disappoint.
There aren’t that many perks to being a hairy teenager.
When you have more hair on your arms and legs than most of your classmates have on their heads then you spend your life being astutely aware that puberty coated you a good 2 or 3 years earlier than your contemporaries.
It was evident at 14.
In a world of Marky Marks, waxed chests and chiselled jawlines I was going to be a hairy motherfucker with constant 5 o’clock shadow.
By 15, wearing a wife beater and a pair of good jeans I could pass for 20.
The doorman at CC Blooms thought so too.
And thus began my love affair with what used to be the tackiest bar in the world.
By 17, CCs was my regular go to club when I was at college. I’d go after class with a bunch of pals and we’d drink cheap beer or bottles of diamond white. The girls were welcome too… but we sent them packing by 10.
Studying in Fife took me further from home, though for those 3 years I’d often start my weekend with a CCs blow out, and only occasionally was that a euphemism.
When I started directing theatre, the theme of the work I was drawn to was usually the gay community, globally and locally. LGB history fascinated me. It would be irresponsible of me if my dramaturgy didn’t have me meeting as many gay men as possible. Suddenly White Zinfandel in CC Blooms became research. Sometimes I’d even get to see some Edinburgh flats after.
And so it was, and so it continued.
Fast-forward 20 years and CC Blooms is a very different venue from what it was. Taken over by the gorgeous Mitch Stark and Tim Douglas, they’ve brightened up the space, completely refurbished the building and most importantly for all… implemented cleaning.
Progress in equality and society means that there’s no longer a need to hide from the world. The windows have been opened out both upstairs and down in the club. The club now doubles as a basement cocktail bar, though when the sun goes down, her windows are blacked out and the tables are put away so that the geeks, freaks and uniques of the world can congregate for a dance until the wee small hours.
And that we do…
Now, when I’m there with my husband, friends and family dancing like the very ghost of Donna Summer, I always take a moment to appreciate the role CC Blooms has played in most of my adult life. I think of all the fun I’ve had there, and how many times I went home with a 10 at 10, and a 3 at 3. But mostly, I appreciate the daylight, and just how far we’ve come.
Thanks dad for always being a part of the journey.
Thanks CC Blooms.
Barry Church-Woods is a perfect homosexual living in Edinburgh. He works for the largest arts festival in the world and is currently developing Jock Tamsin’s Bairns, a site specific cabaret performance about equality. Today he smells of Clinique Happy. Because he is. Follow him on Twitter.
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