Opened in 1967, at 40 years old, The Nightingale, or Gale, is the oldest surviving gay venture in the city. It has a special place in the city's history as it was set up as much as a community venture as a commercial one, a place run for gay people by gay people. The club came out of the days before decriminalisation when there were no specific gay clubs or bars, just places popular with gay men or where gay men were ‘tolerated’. The police could raid these or the landlords decide not to serve gay clients anymore. It was often the case that landlords allowing ‘gay nights’ would overcharge customers and there was a sense that they were being ripped off by the purely commercial operators, most notoriously the Victoria Club.
During its history the club has occupied 4 different sites and for most of that time was a private members' club, requiring guests, or 'visitors' as they were known, to be signed in by members.
The Nightingale is unique amongst commercial gay organisations in Birmingham in that it was set up as a club rather than a business. It was originally run by a committee elected by the club's membership so that all members had 'ownership' and a say as to what happened in and to their club. The same is still true today. Although in recent years the Nightingale has 'incorporated' to become a business with a sound financial footing, its Directors are still answerable to the membership of the club.
Throughout its colourful history, the Nightingale has lived in several locations, from its inception at Camp Hill, to Aston, then to Thorp Street at the back of the Birmingham Hippodrome to its current location at Essex House, Kent Street.