Jack Cullen

Saucy Sophie's Amateur Boys Strip Contest

Jack's East Side Story, part 2

In a dark dark town, down a dark dark street, lies a dark dark pub, where four cute boys are about to shake their funny bones for a tenner.

Limehouse (or Lime Haus as I promptly renamed it upon arrival) is an often overlooked pocket of London's gay scene. Only five minutes on the DLR from Bank, within arm’s reach of the station Lime Haus has its own Chariots, a cabaret pub The Old Ship, and the notorious White Swan...

One of London’s oldest gay venues, The White Swan made the papers in 1995 when Michael Barrymore walked onstage and came out to the crowd. Sixteen years on, the venue is still going strong and holds a harmless little amateur strip contest each Wednesday. With a top prize of £100 it’s the original Porn Idol, and a hell of a lot easier to win!

Like something out of the Mighty Boosh, the strip contest starts promptly at 11.30 on this pitiful tinsel-adorned “stage” in the corner, kicked off by a “professional” stripper who offers the most embarrassing strip tease I’ve ever seen, going from fireman to tarzan and ending up slapping a mint Radox-smothered semi in an gleeful old man’s face. Some would find this spectacle hellish, I personally thought it was fucking brilliant, and indeed – a group of post-ironic East London artists (including filmmaker Ed Firth) turned up purely for the high of this shambolic stuck-in-the-90s mess.

The strip contest itself is presented by Saucy Sophie. It soon becomes clear that sequin-clad Sophie is part of the Lime Haus furniture and is not to be messed with. She’s a professional drag, one of the old school kind, and one that has earnt the word queen. A quick Google search on my iPhone tells me she’s been stood on this stage block for over thirty years. When she asks me what my name is and whether I have a boyfriend I contemplate saying “Sebastian, and yes, he’s a tennis player”, I wish I did, because when I said “Jack, and no I don’t” she immediately tried to pair me up with another boy called Jack, a twinkly-eyed artist who looked like a pirate.

With three decades of comebacks stacked under her make-up Saucy Sophie savagely attacks her loving regulars: “He’s not your boyfriend dear, he’s your carer” / “Who’s that you brought? Try’na sound all butch in front of him – well I can tell you, he’s camp as fuck love” / “Aw, don’t worry, you don’t look thirty… but you did once” / “Oh look the cast of Last of The Summer Wine just walked in” etc.

She is sour-faced and catty yet remarkably at ease, and when it comes to encouraging men to pull their pants down onstage a natural flair for charm and persuasion reveals itself.

The first contestant is Bobby, a blond boy in need of cash who has got his mate to drive him in from Kent. The second is a peachy-bummed guy called Ross who chooses Underworld’s ‘Born Slippy’ as his stripping track. The third contestant is a hairy cub called Jason, and the fourth is a Latvian who says he wants money to which Sophie, unimpressed, replies “Alright, but don’t touch me dress, it cost five hundred pounds, you could buy six houses in Latvia for that”, the Latvian, whose English is a work in progress, then repeats “I do anything for money” and proceeds to throw his clothes off and dance.

The White Swan is a fun gay venue with friendly regulars, great entertainment, a late weekday closing time, lovely staff and it’s incredibly easy to get too. I really wish more guys in their twenties like me would give up their stupid pretensions and give these historic institutions a chance. It’s old-school gay culture, it's raw and it's happening right now in Zone 2! All you need is a sense of irony and three quid for a Red Stripe. I’ll definitely be returning, and would be lying if I said I wasn’t partly tempted to enter Saucy Sophie’s barking-mad contest.

Amateur Strip Contest is every Wednesday at The White Swan in Lime Haus, free entry, 9pm-3am.

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