Lesbian bars in London
Time Out’s guide to the lesbian bars and pubs that give London the best lesbian scene in the world
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London's only full-time women's venue was originally launched in 1996 by promoter Kim Lucas, who painted the walls pink and introduced lap and pole dancers. Candy Bar is run by women, for women - or 'by girls, for girls' as the press release puts it. In early 2011 the bar introduced new regular nights Monster on Saturdays - all about monster hits we know and love, from the last few decades - and dirty electro night EcLekTra on Wednesdays.
Candy Bar, 4 Carlisle St, London W1D 3BJ (7494 4041/www.candybarsoho.com). Tottenham Court Road tube. Open from 5pm-11.30pm Sun-Thurs; 5pm-2am Fri, Sat.
If you want to mingle with the lesbian arty crowd, the Drill Hall is crawling with women who are theatrically inclined, plus general culture vultures and studenty types. Note: the bar is attached to the Drill Hall theatre, and is only open on performance nights.
Drill Hall, 16 Chenies Street, WC1E 7EX (7307 5060/www.drillhall.co.uk). Goodge Street tube. Open from 6pm on performance nights only.
The futuristic decor alone makes the Friendly Society worth a visit. And though the bar is hidden in a basement on a dark alley, the designers have cheered things up with mirror balls, violet lighting and a sky blue ceiling; the kitschy decorative touches prevent the modern space from feeling too clinical. The bar attracts a healthy mix of women and men, media luvvies and the odd celeb, especially when DJs visit on Fridays and Saturdays. Basement, 79 Wardour Street, W1D 6QB (7434 3805). Leicester Square or Piccadilly Circus tube. Open 4-11.30pm Mon-Thurs; 4pm-noon Fri, Sat; 4pm-10.30pm Sun.
Girls Go Down
Soho’s Girls Go Down has become the forgotten bar of the lesbian scene. Most women over the age of 20 can’t stand the place. And no wonder: G-A-Y’s sister space is not a very appealing place: it’s cramped and hidden in the basement of the popular men’s bar – en route to the toilets, no less. The dim lighting, multiple video screens and pumping music (mainly pop, R&B and chart tunes) are not conducive to conversation. Still, the cheap drinks attract a studenty crowd, there’s a flirty atmosphere and the bar staff are friendly.
Girls Go Down, G-A-Y Bar, 30 Old Compton Street, W1D 4UR (7494 2756/www.g-a-y.co.uk). Leicester Square or Tottenham Court Road tube. Noon-midnight daily.
A hub for north London lesbians, the Oak Bar is a big and unpretentious queer boozer with a couple of great club nights for women. There’s Lower the Tone, a kitsch mixed party held on the last Friday of the month, and Oysters, a women’s R&B night on the third Saturday. The rest of the time, a vaguely alternative crowd gathers here to drink beer, cocktails or shooters, or to play pool. There’s outside seating in the summer too.
Oak Bar, 79 Green Lanes, N16 9BU (7354 2791). Manor House tube/73, 141, 341 bus. Open 5pm-midnight Mon-Wed; 5pm-1am Thur; 5pm-3am Fri, Sat; 4pm-midnight Sun.
Sister in spirit to the bohemian Royal Vauxhall Tavern, the Retro Bar is the queen of the alternative gay scene for central London. It’s hidden down a quaint little alley, so it has a best-kept secret feel. Inside, the ambience is cosy and eccentric, with a jukebox that spins alternative and 1980s music. Although it always draws a mixed crowd, the busiest nights for girls are Monday and Wednesday, when women drop by while waiting for the doors to open at nearby Heaven. The upstairs bar is a great place to chat or have a date – it’s a bit quieter – while the ground-floor pub offers a range of themed nights, including a poptastic music quiz (Tuesdays) and karaoke (Wednesday).
Retro Bar, 2 George Court, off Strand, WC2N 6HH (7839 8760). Charing Cross tube/rail. Open noon-11pm Mon-Fri;
2pm-11pm Sat; 2-10.30pm Sun.
The Tuesday night event Bar Wotever (6pm-midnight, formerly held at Central Station) has always attracted its fair share of lesbians, particularly drag kings, who complement the gender-bending boys. The atmosphere is arty and flamboyant, but unpretentious. On stage, there is ‘talent’ of varying degrees – poetry readings, comedy, singing… wotever.
The RVT, 372 Kennington Lane, London SE11 (7820 1222/www.rvt.org.uk). Vauxhall tube. Open 7pm-midnight Mon-Fri; 9pm-2am Sat; 2pm-midnight Sun.
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