Published: 16:07, 23 December 2021
| Updated: 20:58, 23 December 2021
Drag is set to become a regular fixture in north Kent as a classic boozer prepares to relaunch as an LGBT+ friendly venue.
The Hufflers Arms in Dartford has announced it will shut temporarily at the end of the month before returning early in the New Year.
A new management team has recently taken over behind the scenes at the Hythe Street venue after reopening during the pandemic.
It's being run by the Woolwich pub company which operates a small number of pubs and bars in south east London.
The team in Dartford have resurrected it as a community pub and host a string of weekly events, including performances from live bands and DJ and karaoke nights.
But the pub will close its doors again on New Years Eve ahead of plans to officially relaunch on January 8 as a pride bar catering to the local LGBT+ crowd, as well as its regulars.
It's understood it will be the first of its kind in the town and has generated fanfare online.
General manager Chris Leeder, 34, said: "We were just discussing new options for the pub going forward and if we made it into something that isn't around this area and what we thinks this area needs.
"We want to keep it as the community pub that it is and still offer everything that we offer now but just have that as the safe hub where the LGBT+ community will feel safe."
He added: "We are really happy, all the staff are on board and all the locals are on board as well.
"A lot of people have reached out to us, including new customers that are very happy with how we are going to go about relaunching."
There's a host of drag queen shows, comedy open mic nights and other events in the works, in addition to the venue's usual billing.
Some staff are members of the LGBT+ community, whilst others are allies and have thrown their support behind the changes.
There has been a decline in such venues in recent years but Chris believes they still have an important role to play in signposting safe places for the LGBT+ community.
The pub sits opposite the council's new Langley Square development, where hundreds of residents have moved into brand new apartments overlooking the train station.
"A lot of the younger scene are coming out now in Dartford and they are looking for somewhere to go," the pub manager said.
"They either go up to London, Brighton or to Rochester, there's a few places there."
He hopes the venue's club nights can help attract people looking to find that "happy medium" between traditional pubs and larger LGBT+ venues.
"There's not a huge amount between say Bexleyheath and Rochester," he adds.
"With us being right in the middle, we are really looking forward to put on those sort of things, as well as keeping a normal club scene."
This summer Gravesend held its first ever physical Pride event, amid a growth in such spectacles globally.
It comes as community events were disrupted during the pandemic with many of these events forced online.
And whilst digital spaces are important they are no substitute for the sights, sounds and social interactions that come with a welcoming LGBT+ friendly venue, said Chris.
"The safeness of a gay venue is what draws people in, " he added. "Whether watching a drag show or going to a club night that safeness is what is going to keep people there and want to keep coming back."
But when it comes to what a pride bar should look like he believes there is no one-size fits all.
Chris added: "It's really diverse. Not every gay person likes drag. But I mean a lot of the community do love that stuff which we want to put on as well.
"There's a lot of different things that can be done so we're really excited to come up with new things and take what our customers and new customers are saying on board."