Feature Image Via Maria Holmer Dahlgren
I’ve lived in London on and off for about a year total, once at 21 and then again at 26. Now I’m pottering around in Brighton, but still go up to London every week. I do love London for many reasons and I think it’s a fantastically queer place, but I am slightly bitter about the price you have to pay for being a Londoner. London can be brutal when the rent is due, but it’s also incredibly exciting, creative, glittery and beautiful any day of the week. You will definitely either love or hate it and if you come with an open heart and a couple of pounds in your purse, you will make memories to last a lifetime.
London at Night and How to Get Laid
Dalston/East London, Vauxhall or Soho are the main options for queer nights out. The Most Cake and Planet London are both good sites if you want to make plans and there are generally multiple options even on school nights.
DAD (20 Stoke Newington Road, London N16 7XN) Stav Bee’s newest adventure and a queer night for people with more advanced musical taste, – think rock n’ roll, with 60s garage, garage/punk, psychedelia and some 60s R n’ B – DAD is the kind of place where you wear your good shoes. Fourth Friday every month.
Candy Bar (4 Carlisle Street, London, W1D 3B) Since its opening in 1996 in Soho, the bar has established itself as “one of the most infamous girl’s bars in the world” and attracts popular female DJs. You can still watch previous episodes of the “Candy Bar Girls” show on channel five to get an idea of the madness. Monday – Thursday 3 pm – 3 am, Friday & Saturday 1 pm – 3 am, Sunday 1 pm – 12:30 am
Unskinny Bop The Unskinny Bop collective was formed at Ladyfest 2002 and is one of the nicest, most welcoming indie nights in the city. Expect soul, rock’n'roll, country, hip hop, punk and many many cute queers. Every third Friday of the month at Bethal Green Working Man’s club (42-44 Pollard Row London E2 6NB)
Southbank Surfing is an amazing networking night for grown up queer women and their friends. Every third Friday of the month hundreds of nice ladies meet up to get drunk, see old and new friends and dance. Since Benugo’s bar was stretched to its absolute limits, the London Wall Bar & Kitchen is the new home of Southbank Surfing. Third Friday of each month, starting at 7pm.
Bar Wotever (Royal Vauxhall Tavern, 372 Kennington Lane,Vauxhall, SE11 5HY) In a way, I can’t quite imagine a world pre-Bar-Wotever. This weekly night has touched so many queer hearts around the world and is the safest go-to haven that anyone with feelings about gender could ever wish for. It’s not just about drinks and snogs, it’s very much also about performance art, music, poetry and all the feelings. Every Tuesday night from 6pm, free entry.
The T Club (Dalston Superstore, 117 Kingsland High Street, E8 2PB London) “a club for trans, genderqueers and all in between with their women and men as guests.” Probably the most beautiful, colourful and eccentric crowd on a Thursday night in London. Come as you are or dress up, enjoy too many drinks and dance to various DJs who seem to always know what you need. Every third Thursday monthly, 8:30 pm.
Blue Monday (312 Archway Road, N6 5AT London) is a wonderful way to meet arty, creative queer women in north London. The live music is kindly provided by emerging and established female acts and the Irish pub Boogaloo gives the whole thing a very cozy feeling. You can drink mulled wine by the fire place and smile at cute people. Second Monday of every month
London’s Student Bubble
Being a financially challenged student in London is an interesting adventure that should not be explored by the faint-hearted. However, there are plenty of amazing universities with diverse LGBTQ groups. They are scattered all over the city, so there is no specifically student-y area, although Dalston is known to be the home of hipster art students with experimental sexualities. The LGBTQ groups of Goldsmith and Birkbeck University are known for excellent parties and much debate about queer theory and feminism.
Oh god, what do I know? I would have totally let you down on this one, so I asked my clever friends. Be safe, little rabbits, sports are for tough people.
Goslings Lesbian & Gay Badminton Club Training on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays
London Team Cruisers Basketball Ten years ago, the Cruisers formed a women’s team to play in the Gay Games in Amsterdam. Now they have four teams, including two for men, which participate in league games. Experienced players are always welcome. Women Bethnal Green Technical College (8 Gosset Road, E2 6NW) / Men Britannia Leisure Centre (40 Hyde Road, N1 5JU)
Dykes On Bikes On- and off-road lesbian cycling group with regular meet ups in and around London.
Ginger Beer also has a more extensive listing of lesbian and bisexual sport groups
Food, Coffee, Daytime Dreaming and Venues for First Dates
Look mum no hands (49 Old Street, EC1V 9HX) This is such a fantastic idea – the combination of a cafe and a bike workshop! It’s not officially a lesbian thing, but gravity pulls all the cute queers to this place. I once had a non-date with the most amazing yellow-hat wearing person there who turned out to be an endless crush and I bet you’ll be equally lucky at this place. It might be a good strategy to go there with your bike and look helpless.
Monday – Friday 7:30 am – 10 pm, Saturday 9 am -10 pm, Sunday 9:30 am – 10 pm
Dalston Superstore (117 Kingsland High Street) There is no way around this place if you are queer and somewhat close to East London. It’s full of cute, sweating hipsters in the night and a more relaxed cafe with wifi and pretty coffee during the day. Try the sweet potato and feta burger. Monday 12 am till late, Tuesday to Sunday 10 am till late
The Book Club (100 Leonard Street) is the best place if you want to write a novel with artistic inspiration. You can literally spend all day there looking at beautiful people if you have the time and cash. There are various music and art events and so much light and space and feelings. Awww… Monday – Wednesday 8 am – 12 am, Thursday & Friday 8 am – 2 am, Saturday & Sunday 10 am – 2 am
Vitao Organic Restaurant (74 Wardour Street) This place is so ridiculously amazing, I make all my friends eat at Vitao at least once in their otherwise malnourished lifetime. Everything is beautiful, yummy, fresh and organic and you can eat all you can stuff into your face for relatively little money. The buffet is rich and varied all day so you don’t have to eat things you don’t like from a set menu. They also do take aways for dates at the Thames, just saying. Monday – Saturday 12 am – 11 pm, Sunday 12 am to 9 pm.
Physical and Emotional Queer Health and Well-being in London
London has quite a few charities and resources for LGBTQ healthcare, but then even the tube can be really depressing, so there is much need to balance everything out.
PACE is promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender well-being in London and can direct you to other services that might be useful.
Galop aims to “make life safe, just and fair for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people” and can provide support and services around all the complicated areas of life. Their resources and safe spaces for survivors and victims of abuse are extremely important for the community and have saved many queer lives.
Pink Therapy is your best bet if you want to find a queer-friendly therapist in London or the rest of the UK. They also provide training and resources in various areas around gender and sexual diversity. Their amazing research papers are freely available on their website, definitely worth a look!
elop is a holistic centre for mental health in the LGBT community based in East London.
Activism, Feminism and Protest in London
Dyke March 2012 has seen the first Dyke March in London for 25 years with amazing speakers in Soho Square, a march through the city centre and a rather exciting after party. You can get updates for future marches on twitter @dykemarch
Reclaim the Night: The London Feminist Network organizes an annual march to protest all forms of male violence against women since 2004. It’s usually the Saturday night closest to the 25th of November. The Feminist Network is an umbrella organization for various feminist groups around London, some of them are known to exclude trans women and sex workers, others are more open.
Support for LGBTQ Families
Many facilities, especially within the NHS, are unfortunately still not trained and equipped to deal with specific issues that are relevant to queer families. Families Together London can provide support for families with LGBTQ members and Galop is a good starting point if you are looking for more long term support for your queer family.
Gaybourhoods and Communities in London
One might argue that your choice of neighbourhood is a political statement in London, but I’d say its more a questions of what you can pay and who you meet when you first try to get your foot town in the city. Hackney, Dalston, Camden and Vauxhall are popular places for queers, but this is changing all the time anyway. Best to do a quick poll at your favourite club to see where all the cute people live. Being north or south of the river is an important choice too – one that can make or break relationships. Really, real estate in London is just straight from hell. Get a caravan and park it up in Hackney.
Haircuts, Tattoos and Equipment for Queer Mating Rituals
Open Barbers (154 Tollington Park, Finsbury Park) is a hairdressing service for all genders and sexualities led by Greygory, Klara, Felix and Clancey. The weekly pop-up salon can make all your hairy wishes come true and has a queer and trans* friendly attitude. Check their website for hair cut Sundays!
Barberette (Red Scissors, 65 Chalk Farm Road) offers gender-neutral, affordable hair cuts at the Red Scissors salon. Tuesdays to Saturday, 10 am – 7:30 pm by appointment
The Sh Womenstore (57 Hoxton Square) is your best bet for toys, lingerie, costumes, dental dams and all that jazz. It’s not exclusively for lesbians, but the Sh Womenstore is known to be a hot spot with queer friendly, knowledgeable staff. Open 12 – 8 pm every day
The Happy Sailor Tattoo Studio (17 Hackney Road, Shoreditch) is the platform for a diverse range of tattoo artists and has decorated plenty of cute queer ladies before you.
Queer Book Stores and Art
Gay’s The Word (66 Marchmont Street) is probably one of the best places in London if not the world. It’s a heaven for queer book-lovers and is stacked with everything you need to read ever. Monday to Saturday 10 am – 6.30 pm, Sunday 2 pm – 6 pm
The Feminist Library (5 Westminster Bridge Road) is a large archive collection of Women’s Liberation Movement literature, particularly second-wave materials dating from the late 1960s to the 1990s. Tuesday 10 am-6 pm and Thursday 6.30 – 9.30 pm
There is a beautifully diverse and exiting community of queer artists in London and you should definitely check out some exhibitions and readings when you come for a visit. Have a look at the listings of art school LGBTQ societies and check the Camden LGBT forum.
Pride in London
This is a rather controversial subject. Like London itself, Pride in London is big and many people from around the country and the world come to enjoy it. 2012 became a bit of a disaster with a last minute funding shortfall and the cancellation of floats and music. However, it’s great fun and there are plenty of art events and parties around the actual march. June/July every year.
Diversity, Safety and Queer-friendliness
London is diverse and so big that you can find like-minded people for any kind of weirdness, but its overall feel is not as liberal and open minded as Brighton, for example. There are, however, support groups and networks for people of any background, ability, gender identity and sexual orientation – you just have to find them, stay close and hold hands. The queer community is big, so you won’t run out of dates anytime soon unless you have an astronomical consumption rate.
You might be very surprised to hear that it rains a lot in London. This does not necessarily contribute to a friendly, cheerful atmosphere, but British people make up for it by being very expressive and friendly when drunk which is often. Pub culture is a big deal in England, especially in London.In fact, you will be able to observe Londoners racing to “their” pub after work to meet friends. It’s easy to make new friends in a good pub and you will probably be welcomed with open arms. On the tube on the other hand, it’s strictly forbidden to look at people or dare to smile. If you fail to stare at your shoes you will immediately out yourself as a tourist, so remember my words!
In terms of safety – as usual – common sense helps a lot. Since the public transport system is so complex in London, especially at night, you should definitely plan your way home and write it down before you go out. I can’t tell you how many times I ended up drunkenly staring at time tables and maps in utter confusion and it still took me three hours to get home because everything is so so complicated when I have too much wine.
The Metropolitan Police has a special LGBT liaison officer in every borough and I encourage you to report any kind of hate crime.
Cost of Living
Living on minimum wage in London has to go hand in hand with a certain level of masochism, be warned. London is one of the most expensive cities in the world with rent prices for a tiny, tiny single room in the outer areas starting from 400 pounds a month. If you want a grown ups double room in a nice area with an actual living room within reach of a zone one or two tube station you are more likely to pay 800 – 1200 pounds a month. Public transport is unfortunately equally expensive, a day pass can cost you 8,40 pounds just for zones one and two. But hey, it’s really exciting and you can see Big Ben!
If you want to really settle in London, you should plan ahead and be prepared to spend a couple of weeks in a hostel or on someone’s couch till you found a cheapish room. In some professional fields your earnings might be considerably higher in London than elsewhere in the UK, but hospitality jobs will keep you and your money on your toes.
If you’re just coming for a weekend you should have a good think about what you really want to see and do and where you want to stay to avoid long travel time. Pack some sandwiches and you’ll be fine.
Harmony of L, G, B and T Communities in London
I guess because London is so big, you are never really alone, even if you are a really extra special unicorn. Many clubs and bars in Soho are more dominated by gay men than the more queer-friendly places in East London or Vauxhall. Especially in the last years, a very strong counter-movement to mainstream and commercial club culture that seems like a race to the bottom at times has developed with new alternative nights and clubs springing up all the time. I think that awareness for real diversity in gender and sexuality is increasing, although there are unfortunately still “radical feminist” groups that will exclude trans women or clubs who have turned cute gender queers away. Hold the vision, trust the process I say!
London really is awesome and there is so much more to see and do than Big Ben and red telephone boxes. It might be a bit more expensive, but London definitely has everything you need for your queer adventures.