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‘A spring fling full of balloons and bunting’: Big Gay Prom at Margate Arts Club, in 7 magical images

Attitude sweeps into the seaside hotspot to review its premiere LGBTQ venue ahead of Margate Pride on 10 August

By Jamie Tabberer

Party-goers at Margate Arts Club's Big Gay Prom (Images: Stephen Daly)
Party-goers at Margate Arts Club's Big Gay Prom (All images: Stephen Daly)

“The queer community feels small enough here that I can fit my arms around them and hug them,” says a friendly partygoer at Margate Arts Club of the tightknit group of LGBTQ+s who call the seaside town home. It’s Saturday night and the venue is at capacity.  

Dubbed Shoreditch-on-Sea, Margate has long been hip on a cellular level, thanks in part to the influence of its most famous resident, anarchic artist Tracey Emin, and the enduring appeal of the delightfully retro Dreamland amusement park, which comes complete with roller disco and rickety, 100-year-old rollercoaster.

But since Sink the Pink co-founder Amy Zing and her partner Luke (Pompom) Vandenberg upped sticks and moved here from London several years ago and bought the fabulous old building where they manage ‘queer-run, LGBTQIA+-focused, anti-racist, intersectional organisation’ Margate Arts Club, countercultural queers have been migrating to Margate in droves. During our visit, we lose count of the number of same-sex couples we spot, whether at the vast Turner Contemporary art gallery (unmissable), or over lunch at the delightfully retro Forts café on the seafront. 

At Margate Arts Club, there’s a plethora of inclusive activities (gay Morris dancing, anyone?) and club nights on offer. (Look out for a Farrow & Ball-led makeover in the near future. The paint manufacturer is supporting the LGBTQ+ scene by giving a number of venues a makeover for Pride this summer.) Tonight, it’s Big Gay Prom, an annual spring fling full of balloons and bunting. Guests clad in pastel shades of tulle pose for the in-house prom photographer. Queer women, whether cis, trans, or otherwise femme-presenting people, make up 80 per cent of the crowd, and there’s nary a Muscle Mary in sight. It’s a relief beyond words.  

A party-goer takes the mic

We’re taken aback, though, when a local girl tells us, “You’re the most masc-presenting people here.” We’ve been called many things in our time, but never “masc-presenting”. There’s a first time for everything. 

A drag performance popping off

Over an excellently mixed margarita, we explore the space, which dates back to 1903 and is unlike anything we’ve ever encountered on the nightlife scene before. From the warm wooden floors to the delightful little courtyard, it’s been lovingly restored to a smart, presentable standard, but retains heaps of ramshackle charm. You feel as if you’re in someone’s home — that of an eccentric Victorian old lady, to be precise. (What’s the female equivalent of a man cave? A she-shed?) One thrilling detail is the teal-painted façade, apparently windowless on the night of our visit. “That can’t be it, can it?” I wonder aloud on arrival, before knocking on the front door and entering, speakeasy-style, with a thrill.  

Party-goers at Margate Arts Club's Big Gay Prom

“We put in rolling doors from an old fire station,” explains Zing. “So, there’s the option to roll them around for daytime events. Then we roll them back to be cosy and private for club nights!” It’s a tight squeeze inside — albeit cosy rather than uncomfortable — which is alleviated by a recently opened underground area. “It’s got so popular on weekends that we had to extend down and make a second bar,” explains Zing. “It’s ideal as the weekends help fund the events we offer local groups for free. We host trans socials, Pride meetings, open-mic events, Pride banner-making workshops, and folks use it to rehearse and practise DJ-ing.” 

For much of the night, DJs Alex Norris and Grace Goslin opt for a surprisingly mainstream playlist — not that we’re complaining.

Attendees dancing up a storm

With 80s bangers like ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ by Bonnie Tyler to the odd modern-day cult pop favourite from the likes of Addison Rae playing, the crowd goes wild. Zing herself dances with the most feverish energy, her enthusiasm rubbing off on all in attendance. You never got that at XXL! Indeed, everyone is so comfortable in each other’s company that as a visitor, you naturally conclude they all know each other and lean into the house party vibes.  

An attendee in a pink cut off shirt

This intimacy turbocharges the confidence of the entertainers: prom king T33n_angst, a self-described “pop punk + emo drag queen of ur teenage dreamz”, serves an exuberant performance worthy of a McBusted audition (we mean that in a good way!), while prom queen Lori Mae riffs on the tiara scene in Mean Girls to delicious effect. It’s a riotous night; so much so, we may well return for Margate Pride from 10–11 August.  

Margate Arts Club 
276 Northdown Rd,
Margate CT9 2PT 

(All images: Stephen Daly)