Observer Hotel, The Rocks, Sydney
WHEN I drop into the Observer Hotel at Sydney’s Rocks, I like to drink a schooner of beer using my left hand. The gesture is in memory of a left-handed drag-queen who performed in the pub’s back-bar for over 25 years.
Every Sunday afternoon from the 1970s until the early 1990s, Lani entertained a packed Observer Hotel with her risqué act, which consisted of ‘music hall’ style bawdy tunes, dirty jokes, and crude insults, all from a stool in front of an upright piano.
Lani, who was rather ‘large’, was in her 60s. Decked-out in a sequenced gown, heavily made-up with bright blue eye shadow, and crowned with a glamorous blonde wig, she swore like a trooper, and had a huge and devoted following. She was accompanied by her faithful and rather slim piano player, ‘Rambo’.
The foul mouthed drag-queen, who left many a tourist aghast when they poked their heads in the door of the Observer Hotel, had a left handed policy.
The audience had no choice but to hold their drinks in their left hand. If Lani spotted a drinker holding a glass in their right hand during her performance, she would immediately bring the show to a stop, and summon that person to the stage.
“Stop the f#@*ing music!”,” she would scream – the pub would fall silent.
Gesturing with her gloved finger for the right-handed offender to come to her stool, Lani would seductively exclaim: “Come here, and sit on mummy’s lap…”
The reluctant offender was most of the time forced to ‘scull’ their drink, while sitting on Lani’s lap. Often the victims were young sailors, and were subject to Lani’s wandering hands.
The sailors loved Lani’s show… and the bar was often packed on a Sunday afternoon with men from the nearby Potts Point Naval base.
After her shows, Lani’s grandson – yes, her grandson, who was about 10 years of age during the late 80s – would help her pack her limited stage props into the back of her waiting car.
Lani sadly died, I think in the 1990s, and a small brass plaque (now sadly gone) was placed on the wall of the Observer Hotel dedicated to her memory. She had performed at the pub for over 25 years at the time of her death.
Next time you’re at the ‘Obby’ – as the regulars call the pub – take a minute to take a drink from your left hand in memory of an old drag-queen, who entertained countless punters during the 1970s and 80s.
Dermott Kelly writes that he saw Lani in the early 1990s: “I walked into the back bar she was playing in and she demanded the music stop. She then pointed at me and asked in a very arched voice ‘DAPTO?’ Confused, I blurted out: ‘no?’ This got a huge laugh from the bar, and Lani then informed me: ‘That’s alright. We’re waiting on a busload of poofters from Dapto… I thought it had just arrived’. The rest of the afternoon was a whirl of filthy piano songs with audience members being encouraged to come up and perform ‘Music Hall’ jokes and a busload of Japanese tourists being shown around the historic pub, being asked by Lani one by one if they were the Dapto mob.”