Faces of Yarra: Brett from The Laird
Friday 21 September 2018
"Freddie Mercury has been here, George Michael has been here. There’s no other pub in Yarra quite like it.”
The Laird O'Cockpen Hotel was built in 1847 on the corner of Gipps and Henry streets in Abbotsford. Today, The Laird is Melbourne’s longest running gay-owned and operated bar and accommodation venue.
Co-owner Brett Lasham tells us: “This is the first gay bar I ever went to when I came out and my partner Mark and I have been managers for just over 11 years."
“The Laird has been running since 1980 as an LGBTI venue and in 1998 it was granted ‘male-only’ status by VCAT. It soon became known around the world as a ‘leather and Levi’s’ bar.
“As far as accommodation and bar venues goes it’s very unique in the world and having the male-only exemption makes it even more unique. Freddie Mercury has been here, George Michael has been here. There’s no other pub in Yarra quite like it.”
“At the time, gay men wanted a place to feel comfortable to meet and gather information, particularly around the issues of HIV prevention. These topics were still very ‘underground’. The exclusion was less about keeping women out and more about welcoming gay men in.”
“If we were the only gay venue in Melbourne, our ‘male-only’ exemption would be a problem. But this isn’t the case. All males are welcome in the pub – cis, trans, straight, bisexual and same-sex attracted.”
”We have open days throughout the year and work closely with community groups like JOY 94.9 and ThornHarbour Health (FKA Victorian AIDS Council) to run gender-inclusive days. One of these is Northside Bizarre. This annual event started in 2011 and has now grown to a huge, all-inclusive street fair. We take over the Collingwood Masonic Hall next door and we close off Henry Street for the party. We invite the whole community to this event. It shows how varied and diverse we are in Yarra.”
“Abbotsford is a really unique little suburb. You’ve got the river right there, trams, trains and buses. I can walk to Victoria Street, Smith Street, or cross the river and be thick in bushland. One of the first things we tell international guests who stay at The Laird is to walk to the Abbotsford Convent and Collingwood Children’s Farm. I love to walk along the goat trail on the other side of the river and look out over the farm, the convent and Melbourne city. It’s absolutely amazing. And it’s right there!”
“Abbotsford doesn’t have a lot of pubs left, but it’s great to see that we’re holding on to these parts of our local history and preserving them.”