Illustration of a night in the Cave of the Golden Calf

London’s First Gay Bar Opens

A program reading "Cabaret Theatre Club" and "Cave of the Golden Calf"

A program from the Cave of the Golden Calf

London, England — Amidst the rise of modernism in British literary and artistic spheres, Madame Frida Uhl Strindberg sought a creative space where avant-garde thoughts and modern art could coalesce properly. From this desire came what is widely thought to be London’s first “gay bar,” Cave of the Golden Calf, which was opened in 1912 on Heddon Street. The name of the cabaret theatre club was inspired by the Biblical story in which the Israelites abandon Moses’ rigid ordinances in a fête of sexual fervor and idolatry. The bacchanalian theme was especially present in an original advertisement for the club, reading: “We want a place given up to gaiety.”

One staple of the club was the unique art commissioned and displayed by Madame Strindberg. Most of the wall pieces displayed exotic jungle scenes and were designed to attract the fresh, Bohemian crown so favored by Strindberg. The influence of modernism, which was heavily discussed among Virginia Woolf and her fellow Bloomsbury peers, can be seen in many of the pieces that once decorated the Calf’s walls.

A painting by Spencer Gore titled Study for a Mural Decoration for 'The Cave of the Golden Calf'

Study for a Mural Decoration for ‘The Cave of the Golden Calf’ 1912 by Spencer Gore

Unfortunately, the Cave of the Golden Calf remained a part of London’s cityscape for only 2 short years, as drama unfolded between Madame Strindberg and the very artists she had commissioned to decorate her parlor. Despite its brief life, the Cave of the Golden left an impression on the London underground scene that would continue to influence bars and clubs for generations to come.

Posted by: Cristina Aragón

Works Cited:

Cork, Richard. “The Cave of the Golden Calf.” Artforum international, vol. 21, no. 4, 1982. pp. 56-68.

Gore, Spencer. Study for a Mural Decoration for ‘Cave of the Golden Calf.’ 1912. Tate Britain, London. The Camden Town Group in Context, http://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/camden-town-group/spencer-gore-study-for-a-mural-decoration-for-the-cave-of-the-golden-calf-r1139297. Accessed 27 September 2016.

The programme and menu from the Cave of the Golden Calf, Cabaret and Theatre Club. Exploring 20th Century London, http://www.20thcenturylondon.org.uk/mol-34-257-244. Accessed 26 September 2016.

Simmonds, George. “Where Have All the Good Gay Clubs Gone?” The Huffington Post, 16 Jan. 2015. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/george-p-simmonds/good-gay-clubs_b_6471348.html Accessed 26 September 2016.

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