2 February 2021, 17:00:00
The Wembley Store, at 305 Kingsway, was established in 1924, a charming shop specialising in luxury food, located at the corner of Republic and South Streets - an excellent location with a high volume of passing trade which still operates to this present day.
During the 1960s and 1970s, a small band of young men met outside the Wembley Store. The band made its way to Valletta's Lantern Bar, a gay-friendly pub in Sappers Street.
There was Freddie, "Wistina", Ġużeppi s-Sufi, Lorenz and Olga (John) of St Julian's and "Ġanna l-Griega". There was Mario from Ħamrun, "Marija" Portughes, Felix from B'Kara, Johnny from Żabbar and another John from St. Julian's nicknamed "Ġanna taż-żebbuġ", Dragu (the late Baron Joseph Drago), Tony of Gżira, Victor and Charles from Paola, Karlu t-tiġieġa and Arthur the Baroness.
One of them later recalled: "during the late 60s and 70s, the Bar used to be packed...with gays, both local and foreign, and the owners made good money on the drinks gays bought there". This band of men was, most probably, the first of its kind in modern Malta to "flaunt" its sexuality.
No one knows for certain how the Wembley Store boys came together. It might have started out with two or three young men arranging to meet outside the Wembley Store before heading off to the Lantern Bar. This one-off appointment probably developed into a routine and other joined them.
By 9pm, most visitors to Valletta headed "toward the bus terminus at King's Gate and Castille Square, where the girls take the last bus that gets them home before the 10pm curfew which most parents impose". So as Valletta emptied itself of heterosexuals and their families, the band of young men was ready to begin a night of revelry. The empty city safeguarded their anonymity.
A young man recalled how he met the group: "It was the only place where friends whether gay or straight met. I noticed this group of young happy boys at the corner of the Wembley Store. I could tell they were gay but my problem was how to join the group, myself being a little shy to mix with people. The year was 1967, summer. I met a boy called Ralph who had just returned from the UK. He stopped to talk to some of the boys...and that was it."
Chetcuti, J.C. (2009). Queer Mediterranean Memories: Penetrating the secret history and silence of gay and lesbian disguise in the Maltese archipelago. Lygon Street Legal Services: Australia.