Zero21 a haven for LGBTQI community

Roberto de Faria.

When Roberto de Faria took over Rosie’s Bar four years ago, he had no idea how to run a nightclub. Now, Zero21 Social has grown into one of the most well-known, gay friendly spaces in Cape Town city centre, and Roberto could not be happier.

“It was meant to open up and be Rosie’s Bar number two, but I wanted more. So I did more drag shows, changed the music a bit, and it evolved into what I wanted it to be. Now, I’m happy.”

Roberto grew up in Woodstock and had lived close to the CBD for his entire life, having attended school in the city bowl as well.

After school, he studied to become a Microsoft Systems engineer. “That was my passion until I started working in the industry. It was not me. It was something I enjoyed doing, but not something I could do as a job.”

He then left the industry to help at his father’s fresh food distribution company. “My father’s business was struggling a bit so I decided to give him a hand, and I had more freedom, so I did my computer work on the side. Eventually, working with my dad became a full-time job, which I really began to enjoy.”

Roberto spent a lot of time at Rosie’s Bar, a gay club in Green Point, and he was good friends with the owner. When the owner was going to close Rosie’s, Roberto decided to try something new. “Because of economic circumstances, my father lost a lot of money. So when the opportunity to take over Rosie’s came up, I decided to take it and still helped my dad out. His business was scaled down.” Roberto then took over Rosie’s and changed the name to Zero21. The idea was to have a friend manage the space, but it didn’t work out as planned.

“My friend received another job offer two weeks before the place opened. So here I was, with a nightclub, having never run a nightclub before. It was touch and go. I was well-known at Rosie’s, so I knew people would come back to follow up.”

Asked to explain the meaning behind the name Zero21, Roberto said he aimed to make the LGBTQI community, which he caters for, feel more included. “I think every gay community feels like outsiders, and using Zero21, which is the Cape Town telephone code, and the logo which has Table Mountain as a symbol on it, was my way of including us and becoming known as the Cape Town gay community … at least to make us feel like a part of something.”

The Zero21 brand grew and became popular among the gay community. The space became too small, so Roberto had to make a decision. “And as much as it was a great venue and well-known, it just got too full, so I took a leap of faith and hoped and believed the brand was established enough and that people would follow us wherever we go.

“I did not look once around the Pink Village for a venue. I wanted to move to the CBD.”

Zero21 has now found its home in Canterbury Street, and Roberto feels that he could not have made a better choice. “There are a lot of gay people who hang out in the city centre, and students that don’t have transport and find it easier for them to pop into a bar around the corner. So I looked for something more central.

“The size made sense. It is central, but yet not in mainstream town, so it works. I still miss the old venue though, the intimacy of it.” And now, since the venue and the crowd has grown, Roberto said he has less time to rest. He is very hands-on, being a bartender, helping on the floor, and is even the club’s resident DJ.

“I’m too protective of this business, and the patrons. Knowing the music they like, I have more faith in myself than just a regular resident DJ. I took it upon myself to do well in every aspect of this business and I’m able to pull off everything.”

Roberto said that since he moved to the city centre a few months ago, the club has seen a change in the crowd.

“There’s more diversity – mixed races, straight and gay people. I think the straight community is beginning to understand that the brand is about having a good time.

“It has also become a lot younger due to the student digs around the club. We still have our regulars, but are more relaxed.”

And while Roberto enjoys the diversity in his club and appreciates everyone coming together in his space, he said that the focus is predominantly on the LGBTQI community.

“We welcome straight people, but they have to come with the pretence that this is a gay-friendly space. There are not many places where gay people can be themselves, listen to their music and just be. We want to encourage that.”

Roberto said Zero21 has also become well-known for the drag shows, which he decided to hold every weekend, as opposed to Rosie’s Bar which only had it on Sundays.

“Drag does not really bring a crowd for the show, but it’s my way of entertainment for the patrons and doing something that supports the culture, and giving the drag queens a platform.”

Asked about the inclusiveness of the LGBTQI community in the city centre, Roberto said that he feels it is more tolerated than accepted.

“There’s a minority that still get offended when they see gay couples walk in the street. So right now it’s more of a tolerance. For example, the club scene on Long Street is mainly heterosexual. A gay person going somewhere and having to be someone else will not enjoy themselves. But it is getting better.”

He said that there is a lot of changes in the w area.

“It is up and coming, and this will be the area that will be diverse and will cater for all. It is also safe, and the Central City Improvement District is amazing in this part of town.”