Strait Street Valletta

Strait Street Valletta

Strait Street Valletta had a reputation for sexual fantasies that boiled over during its fiery existence and continues to simmer in its current revival.
The bubbling section of this famous street in Valletta stretched from St Lucia Street to St Nicholas Street. An alley that until the mid-sixties heaved with bars, music halls, restaurants and lodging houses. An alley that has seen so many servicemen flock  to ‘The Gut’ as British sailors had christened the street, that you would have thought they were heading to a shrine.

The ‘shrine’ was a heady concoction of live music, transvestites, barmaids and young and not-so -young women of easy virtue who kept you glued to the honey pot they promised but rarely materialised.

In spite of this, men from Great Britain’s armed forces visited the Gut time and again, knowing that the ‘alcohol’ the barmaids imbibed to make tokens consisted of either food colouring dissolved in water or else Coca Cola drowned with water to make it look like whisky. Each token, known as ‘landa’ in Maltese was the commission barmaids earned for each drink they made clients get them.

As Nina, a women of the world who made Strait Street her haunt, recalls: “I bought dresses costing £70 and £80. I splashed out on clothes because we earned loads of money.”

Being so close to Grand Harbour, Valletta lured many Maltese men to come live and work in the city. And with so many men about, apart from the regular visits of British warships – because Malta was the base for the Mediterranean fleet of the Royal Navy – budding barmaids and ladies of the night followed the money to Valletta. In fact, the money that gushed out of  Strait Street stoked the fires of the business community in Valletta, particulary the old market, is-Suq, and weaved its way around Malta and Gozo.

There were barmaids who believed that a higher income would come in handy and took men home. The street was an El Dorado because elsewhere work was scarce and brought in only measly earnings.

Apart from the lively and elegant tempo of swing and big band live music, Strait Street paraded a motley crew of drag queens, among them Bobby and Sugar. Bobby was the musician par excellence in spite of the fact that he played by ear. He impersonations of Hollywood star Carmen Miranda had music halls and bars packed to the rafters. As that Grand Old Man of Strait Street cred, Jimmy Grech, aka Jim Irish often quipped: “If you have a couple of transvestites performing in your bar, forget all the beautiful women in the world, because punters will struggle to grab a seat to indulge in their banter and saucy jibes.”

Recollections by the protagonists mentioned in this sneak preview as well as others who spent most of their lives along Strait Street are featured in George Cini’s latest book,  Strait Street Secrets and Stories from behind Closed Doors.