By Tom McGhie

It’s a tranquil late summer evening in Norwich city centre. A blanket of stillness coats the ancient streets and the sun’s gentle retreat takes with it memories of a pristine Sunday afternoon.

Earlier in the day, a walk through the Lanes would have been punctuated by groups of young men in a state of alcohol-induced revelry or tourists snatching photographs of the Cathedral. Now, it’s an easy stroll with a soundtrack of birdsong and distant traffic.

The bars which haven’t already closed contain a few regulars, maybe the odd couple enjoying a quiet drink. Mostly it’s bored staff leafing through books or sipping a Dry Hopped lager. Weary from a weekend of excess, the city rocks itself to sleep.

That is, except for a certain bar about half-way down St. Benedict’s – the old street at the heart of Norwich’s lanes. Here sounds of laughter, chinking glasses and flamenco ooze into the night and suddenly we’re in Venice in the 1960’s. Souls drift in and out of the wedged open door to smoke in a little enclave near the entrance, peering in at the grand piano mounted on a stage where a man plays guitar.

Platform 12 is packed.

Elderly gentlemen sit nearest the stage, heads titled ever-so-slightly back, greeting the music through closed eyes and soft smiles. Further back, long haired rocker-types clasp pints of stout and nod their heads vigorously. Further still, students crowd round tables, lit up by candlelight and conversation, their raging debates given a certain rounded edge by the music which pervades their beings and reverberates inside their subconscious. When the rest of the city went quiet, this pocket of night time activity danced on.

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No longer.

On 15 January, Platform 12 announced via Facebook that they would not be re-opening after ‘emergency maintenance issues’ had caused them to close their doors. The online reaction alone was testament to how much of a loved establishment the quirky bar had been. Hundreds of shares and comments from bereft punters and ex-staff signed on to voice their sadness at its passing.

A pub closing down is not uncommon – recent evidence shows that one pub in Britain shuts its doors permanently every 12 hours. With each occasion there’s a certain sadness and end-of-an-era feel, but the outpouring triggered by Platform 12’s closure hinted at a feeling which hit home on a deeper, more intimate level.

The old adage of ‘there’s no judgement this side of the beer taps’ was never truer than in this bar. Everyone was welcome through its doors. The same friendliness from staff Greeted each customer, regardless of who they were. It was a safe space where all members of the community could come and relax – many tight friendships were formed inside its walls and will no doubt continue long into the future. In particular, it was a place where the LGBT community felt at home, with special events like Drag Bingo and Trans nights running on a regular basis.

“We’ve loved every minute of it,” said Steve Eccles, partner of Colin Sewell, owner of the bar. “There are lifelong friends we wouldn’t otherwise have met – so many people have connected through Platform 12 and it’s something we’re very proud of.”

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After the bar’s announcement of its closure, the diary – which included countless musical nights and bookings – was swept clean. However there was pre-organised event which could not be overlooked: a birthday party for John Taylor, friend of the bar and regular customer. 18 January had originally been scheduled as just another boozy Saturday night, but it turned into a wake for the venue as regulars of Platform 12 and close friends of Taylor flocked in for the last time. The evening was a fitting send-off: music blaring, people from all walks of life embracing and paying their respects to the hallowed floors. The mood that night was one of both emotion and joy – it was an end of an era.

“What’s special about Platform 12 above all else is the people,” said Taylor, affectionately known as ‘Rioja John’ because of his love for the Spanish Red. “There was a universal welcoming of all-comers – race, religion, gender or sexuality – all were rightly equal, and free to express themselves.”

After the band had packed up and slunk into the shadows, regulars and owners partied late into the evening, resenting the prospect of wresting themselves away for a final time. The resolution matched the way the bar had stuck to its principles – love, acceptance and dedication to having a good time – since it’d opened in 2014. What’s next for the owners is unclear, but if they do set up shop in another part of town, they can do so safe in the knowledge that the community they helped build will follow them and continue that same mantra. It was unlike any other bar in the city and its memory will endure wherever the patrons end up.

“It was an oasis of comfort in an increasingly divisive world,” Taylor said. “We need more Platform 12s.”

Cheers to that!

All images courtesy of Platform 12

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