For 26 years Bruce Walker has been synonymous with the Joburg gay bar and clubbing scene. He’s been involved with a long list of infamous and much-loved establishments including Zipps, Zanzibar, Mrs Henderson’s, Embassy, Pandora’s, Krypton, Minnellis and Heartlands.
Younger partygoers in the city of gold may know him best for the popular monthly QC parties (which will soon transform into a regular weekly club) and his most recent venture, the RisquÃ© Lounge bar in Bryanston, near Montecasino.
This Durban-born larger-than-life party-maker, known affectionately by many as ‘Schnapps Bruce’ for his custom of offering select patrons trays of shooters, has seen the gay community evolve dramatically in a changing nation over almost three decades. Yet, while many will recognise his face and laugh – he’s always near the door and surrounded by good looking boys – few know much about him.
Where do you live? Why did you move to Joburg from KZN?
In Craighall Park. I love Joburg; it’s got life. But I hate the traffic. Durban was dead. It’s like a graveyard with electric lights!
When did you come out? Was it traumatic?
In 1990 at 24. And no it wasn’t. I was lucky. It didn’t really make a difference to my friends and family.
How did you get into the gay clubbing business?
A friend worked at Zipps nighclub and he asked me to help one night at the door. I was hooked.
What else would you have done as a career if you didn’t do this?
I’d run for president. I’d be a politician!
Has the clubbing scene changed over the years?
Yes big time! There are fewer venues now and some of the owners and managers are really insecure and full of themselves. They don’t think about how we can all get together to make the gay scene a better place.
How do keep going with all your late nights? You must have a liver of steel.
I don’t know myself, but I take some time to myself each day. I’ll turn off everything and relax for an hour or so.
What do you do to relax and chill out?
I’ll watch a good TV show. I love to watch rugby, cricket and English soccer. And eating out!
What’s your favourite drink?
Schnapps and a Louis Vuitton (bourbon and passion fruit).
Being a club owner do you get a lot of guys coming on to you?
Yeah, some guys think I can cure their problems and that they’ll have a good time all the time.
So have you tended to meet the men in your life at clubs?
Yes. They always want you to be entertaining. When you want some time to yourself they have a puppy… They don’t seem to realise that there is a lot of behind the scenes hard work. It’s not all fun.
Do you have a boyfriend?
No, I’m single. That’s a good thing; a boyfriend would be too much pressure right now.
You’re involved with Joburg Pride. What have you learnt from the experience?
It’s a thankless job. You never seem to be able to make everyone happy.
Why do you think that Pride is important?
So we can bring the gay community together for one day; have a good time and remember what we have achieved and see what we still need to do. It’s a time when we can show the world who we are.
We can’t seem to talk to one another. We want instant sex and relationships. We need to get to know one first…
What’s the most bizarre experience you’ve had in your years in clubs and bars?
Once I was arrested because we were making too much noise at Pandora’s in Rosebank. And then 50 guys came to the police station to demand that I be released!
Yes! They said that they’d demonstrate outside Nelson Mandela’s house if they didn’t release me. I didn’t even have to pay bail.
Do you Miss Pandora’s and that era in the nineties?
Yeah, we had something that will probably never happen again: We had a party every night of the week!
Do you think someone can get too old to be going out to party at clubs and bars?
No! You are only as old as you want to be… I’ve met some 22 year olds who act like they are 100.
You were involved briefly, as manager, with the second incarnation of the Heartlands complex in Braamfontein. Why do you think it failed?
It was owned by straight people. How can straight people tell the gay community how to party? The community will always follow gay businesses.
What’s missing in the gay social scene?
We can’t seem to talk to one another. We want instant sex and relationships. We need to get to know one first.
Why did you open RisquÃ© in the North?
Well it is a growth point. This is the new centre: you can get there from all over the city. Plus, we have parking and space to grow
What we can expect from the soon-to-be-opened outside area at RisquÃ©?
We have a large grass area with a bar with a very large pool with three tables in it… We will have some hot barmen there in Speedos helping you out with drinks. Later we’ll also open on Sundays so you can come cruise and sun tan.
What are your thoughts about drugs in the club scene?
One has to accept that you’ll never be able to stop it. I am not a cop and if you want to ruin your life that’s your problem. But I will tell you where to get help…
What’s the worst and best part of what you do?
The worst is that there will always be guys that will complain and moan about everything, instead of getting out there and helping the gay scene. Join pride or be a barman for a night… The best? I love to see people enjoying themselves.
RisquÃ© Lounge is situated at Corner Witkoppen and Main Road, Bryanston and is open from Wednesday to Saturday. The new outside area opens on November 5.