Queer Girl City Guide: London, Baby!

 

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)

Unskinny Bop

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.

Southbank Surfing via Denise O’Brian

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.

Bar Wotever (via Absolute Queer Photography)

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.

T club (via Leng Montgomery: lengmontgomery.wordpress.com)

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.

Sports

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

Look mum no hands

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

Dalston Superstore

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

Dyke March

Storm in a Teacup is an amazing feminist art collective with a fanzine, club nights and a record label in the pipeline. You can check for updates and events here

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.

Slutwalk London: Slut Means Speak Up is a campaign that developed out of Slutwalk London with a broad platform for activism against rape culture. You can join the network here.

Slut Walk

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.

London Pride

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!

East London

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.

Avatar of Sarah Magdalena

I`m a writer, yoga student & teacher, activist, poet, dog person, buddhist, creative, feminist, translator, queer, beach walker, copy editor, traveller and photographer living by the sea near Brighton, UK. I have graduated from the Open University with a degree in social science, creative writing and business studies and am currently studying for an MA in english literature.

Sarah has written 2 articles for us.

65 Comments

  1. Thumb up 4

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    YESSS THANK YOU this needed to be written

    I live in London but I’ve never heard of half this stuff so this is exceedingly useful, and for the things I do know, it’s all correct

    Now I’m just gonna go cry about how hard it is to get to dalston from my house

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    Thank you for this! I didn’t know about lots of these places and I really wanted to find a queer bookshop so thank you :)

    A new lesbian night is TLC at Green Carnation which is every friday. It’s really new and I haven’t had a chance to go yet but the music seems amazing and I’ve heard good things about it.

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    “On the tube on the other hand, it’s strictly forbidden to look at people or dare to smile.”

    This accuracy right here. Also, I’m so happy you mentioned Gay’s The Word because it was one of my favorite places to go when I was in London. Book nerd for life.

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    Brilliant timing! I am just on the verge of booking my tickets to London for July! I’m a sometime stand-up comedian and I’m keen to do an open mic while I’m there- anyone know of any decent Open Mic nights or stand up comedy venues I could attend/have a crack at?

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    Yes! I met some awesome people in London through events run by The Cutlery Drawer, which fundraises for various queer-friendly organizations. Among other things, they regularly get performances by Lashings of Ginger Beer Time, which is technically based in Oxford but comes to London every so often…and you should all go see them, because it will make you sing with glee :) Queer feminist burlesque cabaret? Anyone?

    God I miss London…

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    Gaybourhood: Stoke Newington

    Dissenters London N16: women’s choir and orchestra (Stoke Newington)

    London Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, BFI, South Bank: March every year

    RIP First Out cafe and the Glass Bar

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        I feel the need to (very belatedly) qualify that while stuff organised by LSE Events is GREAT, the Gender Institute is highly unrepresentative of the LSE as a whole and this is not the school you’re looking for if you want to be strongly engaged in queer/feminist work during your time in uni especially if you lean more towards radical/revolutionary thought & action. It has its merits, of course, plenty of ‘em really but it’s not exactly known for progressive left-wing politics… anymore.

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    I mean, I know it’s technically an extension of Candy, but Ruby Tuesdays are probably worth a mention.

    Also I cannot recommend Klara, the Barberette, enough. She always makes my hair look fantastic.

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    Gay’s the Word! I love that place. I didn’t even know it existed until my (American exchange student) girlfriend took me there when we were in London on a day out. I wish the UK had more shops for queer bookworms.

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      Gay’s the word is amazing. I was in London for ten days and went three times.you don’t get to complain about a shortage of queer bookstores until all you have within ten hours drive is one shelf in a second hand bookstore and an import tax on books.

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    The book club looks great!!

    Now I have more reasons to move to London! If I ever do!
    Great that there has been a post about somewhere in the UK!

    Anyone been to Brighton Pride before or going? – First time for gay clubs – any advice in that? Or just go with the flow and go for it?!

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      Brighton Pride…the last time I was there, they were charging admission for the main events in the park, which was unfortunate. The parade is fun and worth going to…I found the rest of the weekend a bit stressful, to be honest, but it’s fun having so many folks in town. Hope for some good weather to chill on the beach.

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          I found it stressful because it was hard to find washrooms, and we had to queue for so long for food anywhere…

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          That does sound stressful! It sounds like a festival to be honest! – Which I am ok with :) Did you stay in a hostel?

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          I stayed with friends; luckily I used to live in Falmer so have lots of folks in Brighton to crash with.

          What NOT to do: I decided to avoid the crunch on trains by cycling to and from Pride. London to Brighton is a reasonably strenuous trip by bicycle if you’re carrying all your stuff for a few days, and leaves one with almost no energy for actually enjoying Pride.

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    Also also there’s a lesbian discussion group every wednesday at Gay’s the Word!

    It’s been running for over 30 years, the group is all ages and really friendly, and also everyone goes to the pub for drinks afterwards! Really good place to meet new queer friends!

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    Happy to see PACE mentioned! I just finished an internship with them helping with the re-launch of the website, everyone is so lovely and the work they do is really awesome and worthwhile. Also happy to see BGWMC mentioned because, you know, beer.

  12. Thumb up 0

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    Wow, didn’t realise how much I miss London until right now! Currently in Western Australia after 4 years in London and really feeling the cultural gap.

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    Thank you for this! It’s really high on my ultimate-fantasy list to move to London (from Australia) to study for a bit next year… but at this point it’s looking like I may have to pick another city in the UK, unis in London are haaaaaaaard to exchange to! Boo! At any rate, I still feel like London and I would be great friends.

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    I’ve been waiting for you guys to do one of these for London. Now if I can manage to have enough money left over after paying my ridiculously high rent (for a cubbyhole beneath the stairs) I’ll have to check some of these places out.

    If I don’t have a my own though, would it be cool if I just showed up at Look Mum No Hands with a Boris bike?

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    I am one of those people who never comments but London!

    Before coming to uni, I never really appreciated the perks of living in London but now everytime I go back home, I get all giddy and happy about walking the streets of London again.

    One of my friends shared with me a quote by Samuel Johnson: ‘when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford’ and I find this to be absolutely spot on. Anyone thinking of going to London, just go!

    I haven’t been to most of the places mentioned here as I am normally wandering around aimlessly, sat in a pub or visiting Camden for the bubble tea and things…I’ll try to get my shy self to visit at least one of the places recommended here because they look awesome so thank you!

    It may be expensive but London is worth it. (Also there is an abundance of museums!)

    *stops rambling*

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      Yeah, I lived on the outskirts of London and never really appreciated the ease with which I could get into London before I moved to my grandparents’. I’m almost old enough to actually get into bars without it being pride or a charity event and fortunately I have a monthly train pass and an oyster card (free buses!) because I still go to school there.

      I think I’ll miss some of the beautiful things in London at night when I move away to uni but perhaps not some of the more ugly places.

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    Ok so here’s the thing, my family owns the Dalston Superstore. I had absolutely no idea it was a gay club, and I have been completely terrified about being out of the closet with my extended family. I am an idiot. This is magical.

    Ok no really how is this real. It is actually a gay club?

    My family owns a gay bar. Holy shit I’m an idiot.

    I think everything is going to be ok guys.

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    AT LAST! I have been waiting for this City Guide, thank you! All very good suggestions too – Unskinny Bop is my favourite thing in the world. A couple of things that may also be of interest to London people…

    StorminaTeacup is a London-based women’s art collective who do awesome stuff, zines etc.
    http://joinourteaparty.org/

    Other People’s Property occasionally throw giant lesbian warehouse parties.
    http://www.facebook.com/clubotherpeoplesproperty

    Club Lesley is a monthly night at Dalston Superstore… I think it’s by the same people who did Twat Boutique??
    http://www.clublesley.com/

    Vogue Fabrics is a club on Stoke Newington Rd, it has a lot of gay man stuff but I’ve been to a couple of good nights there.
    http://voguefabricsdalston.com/

    Not to be hugely stereotypical but ROLLER DERBY <3
    http://londonrockinrollers.co.uk (GO LRR!)

    Also, it's not open yet but a cafe in East London full of cats is bound to be a lesbian hot spot right??
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2290629/A-purrfect-place-unwind-Britains-cat-cafe-set-open-London.html (sorry for the DM linkage)

    I have no idea if there's good stuff in the rest of London, can you tell I rarely venture out of East?!

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    I’m going to make it my mission to go to as many of these gay events as possible over the summer before I move away for uni.

    I suspect my birthday trip to Heaven will feature mostly men but it’s the best way to get my straight friends to go. I was terrified last time women tried to hit on me, so it’s probably for the best!

    Thanks for the list!

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    My wife and I are attempting to plan a trip to England in early July to visit my grandad who is sick. I grew up in England until I was 8 (Macclesfield, England to be exact). We currently live near Chicago and plan to arrive in London on July 3rd and make our way to Macclesfield on the 4th. Anyone willing to take in two lesbian newlyweds for a night in London?!

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    hello this is a long shot but I ended up in london with a 24 hour layover and was presently surprised to find out that it’s pride weekend!! are any of you going to fun events/do any of you want a friendly american with a penchant for missing flights to accompany you?

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