As Luton’s nightlife gets ever more select, one new bar is planning to buck the trend after a jam-packed opening last weekend which saw queues gathering outside.
The Cali on Chapel Street, formerly known as the California Inn, opened to much cheer on Friday, April 26, after an extensive refurbishment.
One partygoer described the pub’s opening night as “electric” and added, “the atmosphere was immense.”
The pub has catered to Luton’s LGBT community as well as “its friends and allies” since 2005, and its new decor pays homage to a series of musical icons inside.
Nigerian drag queen Son Of A Tutu was on hand with raucous comedy and cabaret, eventually teaming up with Voices With Soul singer Corene Campbell for an impromptu duet.
When leaving the stage, Son Of A Tutu said: “Please come out and continue to support The Cali... Don’t let our bars be consigned to history.”
Owner Gerry Sexton has lined up live entertainment each weekend and Son Of A Tutu’s performance was followed on Saturday with a show by Union J singer Jaymi Hensley – currently on tour in Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
“It’s weird to be back here,” laughed Jaymi as he recounted his days singing karaoke at the bar.
Once known as the Kings Arms, the earliest reference to the site as a pub dates back to 1876 when it was inhabited by beer merchant Henry Flitton as listed in the Harrods Directory, and it changed hands countless times over the years.
In 2005, the then-redundant pub was transformed into The California Inn and since then has served as one of the town’s LGBT venues.
Luton’s once lively pub scene has dwindled from its heyday of over 300 to just 43 venues, with five believed to have closed during the ‘Beast From the East’ in March 2018.
To ease the problem, Luton Borough Council appointed its very own ‘Night Mayor’, Cllr Mark Rivers, to help drum up Luton’s nightlife.
Sarah Hall, infrastructure director at Luton Borough Council, said: “Pubs are a vital element of the mix of leisure and entertainment on offer in any town centre, including here in Luton, and we are not alone in the challenges we as a community face to keep them thriving.”
The Cali continues its entertainment line-up with Drag With No Name performing on Friday, May 10, at 10pm.