5 July 2023

Celebs, drag and hedonism – How Glasto’s queer nightclub became a jewel in the festival’s crown

Glastonbury's infamous NYC Downlow celebrated its 16th birthday this year — and writer Gary Grimes explains how it became a stalwart of the festival's queer scene and more.

“Fuck it, let’s build a gay venue at Glastonbury,” Gideon Berger and Stephen Gallagher, the co-founders of Block9, said to each other in 2007. They couldn’t have known then that what they would go on to create, the famed NYC Downlow, would become a stalwart of Glastonbury’s queer nightlife. It grew in stature and reputation to the extent that in 2016, this ephemeral structure – erected for just five days each year – would be christened by Resident Advisor as “categorically one of the world’s best nightclubs.”

Modelled on a seedy New York bathhouse-cum-meatpacking warehouse circa 1982, the Downlow is a temporary utopia for those who wish to worship at the altar of hedonism. Over the years, as the club has grown in notoriety, its name has become something of an oxymoron. This year celebrating its 16th birthday with its “cumming-of-age” party, the club doesn’t exactly exist on the down low. In fact, those who wish to step foot inside the space are often faced with queues that snake around barriers for hours. Intimidating and all as the line may seem, anyone who makes it through the vintage porn kiosk you pass on arrival will confirm it is more than worth the wait.

“We actually made a conscious decision not to do that much press this year, for exactly that reason,” Berger explained when HUNGER caught up with him days before the festival commenced. “We actually try to discourage the general public from coming to the Downlow so that the people for whom it’s a way of life and it’s critically important for their spiritual, mental and social well-being will get in.”

Although the club’s growing popularity does present some challenges, the Downlow’s spotless reputation as the jewel in the crown of Glastonbury nightlife has also helped to attract some truly god tier talent. Previous years have seen legends like Honey Dijon, The Blessed Madonna and Horse Meat Disco step behind the decks, whilst revellers at this year’s Downlow were treated to a line-up boasting the likes of Grace, GIDEÖN, Cynthie, Midland and Moxie, whose sets were punctuated by surprise appearances by Drag Race alum Bimini Bon Boulash, Scissor Sisters frontman Jake Shears, and East London drag royalty Jonny Woo.

Once within the sweaty walls of the Downlow, patrons are invited to fully immerse themselves in the clubbing experience, free from the distractions of real life, aided by the club’s no phones on the dance floor policy. The environment is electric and warm – both literally and figuratively speaking. “For me, a safe space is one that is safe, because it’s enforced by your fellow allies who are next to you on the dancefloor,” Berger explained. Beside you in the Downlow you’re likely to find a smattering of gorgeous bodies, syncopated to the groove of the music, possibly donning attire in line with the club’s nightly themes such as the annual leather night or this year’s tribute to the late, great Lily Savage. You might even see a famous face or two – over the weekend stars like Jessie Ware, Jonathan Bailey, Matt Smith and Nick Grimshaw were all spotted basking in the glory of the Downlow.

In an age when queer culture is becoming increasingly commercialised and watered down, the NYC Downlow feels like something of a sacred oasis, a callback to an era of clubbing that is sadly slipping away. “Social media and the internet have meant that something which was underground can never be underground anymore,” Berger explains. Rest assured however, that in the face of this shift, Berger – and Block9 writ large – remain steadfast in maintaining the ethos and spirit of this magnificent institution. “The Downlow will never sell out. We will never be sponsored by Coca Cola. We will never be an operation that exists for the monetisation of queer culture. Over my dead body.”


  • Writer Gary Grimes
  • Photography Allan Gregorio (@allangregorio)

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