Words: Alastair James; Images: Netflix UK
Netflix’s I Like to Watch UK tour descended like a glittery meteor on the Kent seaside town of Margate on Thursday (9 September), as local LGBTQ staple Sundowners bar threw open its doors after 18-months of pandemic-related closures to bring punters face-to-face with some bona fide British drag superstars.
I Like To Watch has amassed a dedicated following on YouTube, with RuPaul’s Drag Race UK series one winner The Vivienne and a guest offering their own hilarious (and often stinging) critiques of Netflix gems, and the show’s current UK tour – which is scheduled to stop in Bournemouth, Nottingham, Glasgow, Swansea and Hull over the next five weeks – brings the infamous couch to vital regional LGBTQ venues around the UK for lively movie watch-a-longs.
The Vivienne was joined in sunny Margate by her Drag Race UK sister Cheryl Hole to watch Netflix’s He’s All That, a remake of the 1999 classic She’s All That which sees Addison Rae’s popular high schooler attempt to turn a less popular classmate (Tanner Buchanan) into a Prom King.
Cheryl Hole arrives outside Margate LGBTQ bar Sundowners with the Netflix’s I Like to Watch tour bus
After pulling up outside Margate’s Sundowners bar - one of the only LGBTQ spaces in the town - in their fabulously kitsch I Like To Watch tour bus, the queens welcomed in a crowd of excited Kent natives to the event and kitted them out with some suitably geeky accessories (read: fake glasses and moustaches) to set the mood for a queer viewing party like no other.
Guests get made up at the Netflix I Like To Watch tour stop at Margate's Sundowners bar
With The Vivienne and Cheryl Hole enriching events on screen with sharp, sassy commentary, it was clear everyone was in good spirits as the music pumped and the drinks flowed, culminating in a real-life dance battle to mirror a key climactic scene in movie.
“To bring something like this to a small town, and a small venue is just great.”
Having performed at Sundowners before the pandemic, The Vivienne reflected on the emotional significance of the event while speaking to the fabulous drag performer Cheddar Gorgeous; also Attitude’s host for the evening.
“Everyone felt the sting”, reflected The Vivienne. “But it’s these smaller venues that have 100 capacity maybe, to have that completely taken away, not only for the business but the local community and the people – it’s a place to go, it’s a safe space and it was completely gone.
Drag Race UK legends Cheryl Hole (left) and The Vivienne soak up the Kent seaside sunshine at Sundowners
Meanwhile, Cheryl Hole encouraged others to get out and support their local LGBTQ venues: “We’ve got to make sure everybody is out there supporting these venues that have suffered and struggled so much without having their trade, their custom and the life and soul that is our community.”
Duncan Bayles is the owner of Sundowners and has run the bar in the town where he was born and raised for six years.
Life in the pandemic has been a struggle for Duncan, as it has for everyone. “When you’re used to being surrounded by people every day being locked away with no one for weeks became very hard.”
Sundowners bar is a vital focal point for Margate's LGBTQ community but has been fighting for survival during the pandemic
As a business owner, that change has been strongly felt. “Grants haven’t covered half the rent let alone all the other bills. It affected me more not seeing people. I was in the flat on my own for weeks and weeks.
Surprisingly, he’s now finding it difficult to hire staff, saying that many seem to be put off working in hospitality due to the raw deal the sector has been dealt over the last year and a half.
In towns like Margate, the survival of LGBTQ spaces isn’t just important, it’s essential; offering a lifeline to queer people with few other outlets to freely express themselves. “Since the lockdown the amount of people who said how worried they were that if we were gone, they’d have nowhere to go”, reflects Duncan. “You realise just how important you are to certain people in the community who don’t feel safe elsewhere.”
Amy Zing, the co-founder of Sink the Pink as well as being the artistic director of Margate Pride, says spaces like Sundowners are “vital”.
Glow Up winner James Mac Inerney was on hand to give guests bedazzling make-up looks at Margate's Sundowners bar
“Sundowners is an institution. It’s been here a very long time, its owner has worked hard at booking a very diverse, interesting line-up and it’s very hard to do that. They do a really good job. Supporting them and coming out and being visible in a queer space if you’re queer or an ally, knowing that it’s a space you can come and show your rainbow and work a look is vital.”
Cheddar Gorgeous agrees. “The small bars and spaces [often] end up being the first place people are able to find community and safety and meet their tribe who have a shared understanding of an aspect of their experience.
Cheddar Gorgeous hosted Attitude's coverage of Netflix's I Like to Watch tour stop at Margate's Sundowners bar
“Wouldn’t it be amazing if we lived in a world where those sorts of spaces were integrated everywhere. That’s why it’s really important to have these places where people can explore aspects of who they are.”
With upcoming dates in towns and cities like Nottingham and Swansea set to see drag stars Tia Kofi and Cheryl Hole team up with local queens to for watch-a-longs to films like Pitch Perfect and Netflix’s Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, there’s plenty of I Like to Watch magic left to sprinkle of Britain’s LGBTQ bars as they continue to make their comeback. And given the tour’s already proved to be a sell-out, it seems there’s plenty to be optimistic about.