“I’m not superwoman… yet,” Jade Hoskins quips.
Although, to open a bar during a global pandemic and be so successful that December will see an upgrade in venue, you’d have to be nothing short of superhuman.
That’s the story of London’s Zodiac Bar. Hoskins, also known as Lady Phoenix, built a COVID-safe space that allowed live performances and became a queer hub in Tufnell Park, far away from Soho.
The trans woman, who quips that her age is “timeless” when asked, faced critics when deciding to open a business in August. Nonetheless, her passion to create a space for people like her to feel safe meant persevering was worth the risk.
“I’ve never felt welcome in any bar,” Hoskins admits. “I’m a trans woman from the Philippines and wherever I go it’s like I’m alien to some people. In my head, it’s my calling. I want my own happy and positive place to be in and make everyone else feel included.”
Creating that space amidst the plastic screens and spaced seating of COVID-19 might be a near impossible task for some, but it’s one the bar owner has embraced. Hoskins has become known as ‘The Mother of Zodiac’ for turning the bar into a home.
“I make a point to talk to everyone who comes, I need to treat it like my home. You can give an air hug or a flying kiss, there’s always a way to make people happy and comfortable,” she said.
“The name Zodiac is because everyone has a birth sign and the bar is inclusive for everyone. That’s what is missing from commercial bars in Soho. People don’t introduce themselves or smile at you – they raise their eyebrow and gossip. Enough with that.”
Hoskins has had her critics in both false accusations of not taking COVID seriously and from the community itself. Not that it’s bothering her.
“Some people will visit and criticise me, there’s a lot of negativity outside. I don’t welcome that in my event. We are all mature people and know what to do [following guidelines]. You have to be empathetic before you open your mouth, otherwise don’t. If you don’t like it, the door is open. Bye b*tch.”
The owner has plenty of reason to brush off criticism too. The small venue on Junction Road was full to capacity, even under restrictions, and now needs a bigger venue.
That’s been found on Dartmouth Park Hill, just metres from the iconic Boston Music Room. Hoskins is now able to offer a capacity of 100+ under social distanced restrictions and more than 250 when those are lifted. A grand opening is planned for December 5.
“The stage is amazing for the artists. We’re looking forward to doing big monthly events for everyone to come together. Seeing that people are having fun, talking about it and wanting to bring friends is the goal,” she said.
That goal is being reached, according to Zodiac Bar customer Josh Graham. The 22-year-old attended one of the venue’s drag shows between lockdowns.
“Finally walking into a gay bar felt incredible,” Josh said. “I instantly felt at home and a lot of that is because of the warm and friendly welcoming I got from Jade. She managed to create a lively and energetic atmosphere while remaining COVID-secure.
“Watching a drag queen lip sync to iconic queer anthems whilst making light-hearted fun out of the audience members helped bring out that sense of community again that we’ve missed so much.”
A thriving queer event space is great news for hard-hit performers too. London drag queen Cosmic is one drag queen already booked by Hoskins since opening.
Cosmic moved back in with her parents in Oxfordshire during the pandemic as lack of performance opportunities and soaring London rent prices took their toll. Slowly returning to normal life, thanks to venues such as the Zodiac Bar, is welcome news.
“Since I started in the industry in the late nineties I’ve seen so many LGBTQ+ venues close in London, it’s so encouraging to see a new one with this much success.
“This has been the longest time not doing gigs and the first time in 11 years I won’t be on the stage this Christmas in panto. It’s been really devastating for all of us.”
Nonetheless, with a community raring to return to queer venues and businesses like the Zodiac Bar providing glimmers of hope, there is some light at the end of the tunnel.
“The saving grace is that people will always want to celebrate, dance and laugh,” Cosmic notes. “Roll on 2021 when we can do so.”
Featured image credit: Zodiac bar.