Join The Unicorn

John The Unicorn is a bar on Peckham Rye Lane that flung open its doors to the public in March last year. I meet with assistant manager Allie to discuss what the future holds for the bar with the magical name, including her plans to reinforce it as an LGBTQ positive venue, promote local artistic talent, love, unity and delicious food made for sharing.

Allie tells me that before The Unicorn trotted along it was a hardware store “it still has the original tiles!” she affirms before leading me up to the first floor where we begin our chat. I’m instantly fond of the place and its penchant for quirky but workable 1970s-style decor (think faux furry walls, glitter, plastic furniture, and of course various pictures and ornaments of unicorns and horses).

Naturally, I ask about the name. “We get a lot of stick for the name but I love it, I love unicorns. Our co-owner’s daughter had a toy unicorn when she was younger who she named John, it’s actually in a dome behind the bar – a prize possession.” (I’ve always found giving ordinary names to cute objects amusing, like calling your dog Dave –but this one really has a ring to it.)

The Unicorn holds various music and performance events but it’s Allie’s ambition for the bar to be an LGBTQ haunt of sorts, something she feels Peckham is lacking. “We do a drag and a burlesque night, we hold gay nights, lesbian nights, we’ve done fundraisers for Stonewall. We’re really trying to bring LGBTQ positive-ness! It’s not exclusive every night, but we do have specific nights for the gay community so they know it’s gonna be their vibe, it’s kind of the direction I want to go in.” The bar certainly has a vibe of inclusiveness and that’s not just down to the LGBTQ community or cosy sofas.

The Unicorn also hosts techno nights once a month, sometimes even opening their decks to anyone who wants to play. I ask if there has been anyone who hasn’t gone down well, “probably when my manager played Johnny Cash for an hour [laughs]… I’m kidding!” True or not, opening the decks up is an intuitive way to promote a variety of music at the venue.

One of the nights happens to fall on Record Store Day. Allie tells me about a guy from Italy who came in and played “all of his records for two hours”. Another guy called Graham came in on a separate night and now runs a night here, “you know, it’s a great way to scout DJs!”, she muses, as long as you keep the Cash to a minimum.

The Unicorn prides itself in being an open, friendly venue for new and upcoming artists, holding exhibitions and taking part in Peckham Festival last year with an artistic scavenger hunt (the public were challenged to collect objects around Peckham for the artists to make art from). They are also currently working with local music label Heyoka showcasing some of their DJs such as Kim Roman and B2B George, with all ticket sales going to the performers.

Allie tells me they’re always looking for new creative and exciting artists to perform and hold nights, to promote the talent Peckham has to offer. Even the staff can flex their creative muscles through their choice of (or lack of) uniform “I always encourage my staff to wear glitter and be individual” – I just hope it doesn’t get in the food (which is like a British Tapas and delicious by the way!). We end by talking about the community feel of Peckham, and Allie tells me about how all the local businesses meet up every month for Pub Watch (think neighbourhood watch without the net curtains and maybe more alcohol). “I want our vibes to be very much like, chill, eating during the day and gnarly in the night.. whilst promoting love and unity,” Allie enthuses as we sit on a green sofa that’s similar to my Nan’s. The Unicorn is very much real!

By Francesca Barnes

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