Mr Wolf’s on St Nicholas Street has been a much loved and intimate music venue for fourteen years, but the historic importance this building has served to an (often hidden) community in Bristol remains unknown to many in the city.
The Radnor hotel is believed to have been the first ever gay pub in Bristol.
It’s exact origins are something of a mystery but it may have been serving a mostly LGBT+ clientele as early as the 1930s (when homosexuality was still illegal) but it is known it was owned and run by a husband and wife who likely lived over the pub and eventually handed ownership to their daughter.
The pub was deep and narrow and offered tinted windows to protect the anonymity of its regulars.
It’s likely that it served a kind of dual purpose – being popular with market tradesmen and city workers, who may have been completely unaware that at night it became something of a second home to a loyal band of patrons who had nowhere else to go to socialise in relative safety.
The Radnor was popular with theatre workers from the nearby Hippodrome as well drag queens (once featuring an early performance from Danny La Rue) and during WWII, word spread among certain American soldiers stationed in the city who soon became regulars in the bar.
By 1967 and the decriminalisation of homosexual acts, the Radnor was able to “come out of the closet” to some extent, and soon gained something of a reputation as a den of sin among locals.
However, the clientele seemed to have been mostly left in peace and by the early 1970s, it was so popular that it was near impossible to get in after 9pm on certain nights.
In 1975 the Elephant opened a few doors up from the Radnor and was seen as a much more wholesome and spacious venue for Bristol’s LGBT+ crowd.
When a new landlord took on the Radnor Hotel that same year, he decided that the pub would no longer aim for a gay clientele, and the last of the bar’s regulars slipped away.
Over the course of history which has passed since the Radnor Hotel’s opening, attitudes (and laws) in Britain have radically changed.
As Bristol celebrates its LGBT+ community this weekend, it’s important to remember places such as the Radnor Hotel and the purpose they served to the city’s history – and also to reflect on how nowadays, LGBT+ people living in Bristol no longer have to live lives in secrecy or in fear.
Since early 2017, Bristol-based author Charlie Revelle-Smith has curated the @WeirdBristol feeds on Twitter and Instagram, in which he documents the secret, hidden and lesser-known history of Bristol.
His latest book Weird Bristol: The Ultimate Guide to a City’s Secrets is available in paperback and ebook from Amazon.