Working on the door at queer female events across the capital. First up, She, the only lesbian bar in London
WORDS BY CLARE HAND, IMAGE BY TASHA DOUGHTY
“Strictly no unaccompanied men. A lesbian venue for ladies and their guests,” reads the sign on She Soho’s front door. When I worked my first shift there last Friday, this sign swiftly became my mantra. As I stood in the doorway of the Old Compton Street venue collecting £3 from entrants in a cute, intergalactic fanny-pack, I found myself constantly turning around to reread and recite the sign. Perhaps on my initial reading I’d been struck with a dreadful bout of dyslexia, or maybe someone had taken it upon themselves to switch the sign to something along the lines of: “Welcome all men. A room full of available women. Join us.”
My shift was littered with instances in which I had to tell pairs of young guys – one normally more brazen, the other a little sheepish following behind – that they couldn’t come in, but could literally go anywhere else in Soho. Their reactions were fairly endearing as they walked away, red in the face like naughty toddlers. Others would get more insistent; one guy spent half an hour gathering random pairs of women asking them to faux-friendship to get him inside. Oh and my personal favourite, a woman in office attire strutted up to say, “It’s just me and six guys, can we come in?” The security guard told me that these queries were a constant feature of her job, though she seemed to quite enjoy it, belly laughing the second they were out of earshot.
What was most striking about life on the She door was that the words “Lesbian Bar” still (it is 2018, right?) induce a frenzied excitement amongst the drunken masses of Soho. At no point did anyone approach us to ask what the sign meant for trans, queer and non-binary folk (for the record the bar prioritises those who identify as female and is open to non-binary people). Instead, accusations of sexism were heckled at us by passing clusters of men, groups of friends loudly nominated a member of their party as a lesbian (the nominee tended to duck their head in giddy shame), and couples urgently nudged each other as they strolled by, flustered and incredulous, like they’d just spotted a disgraced celebrity.
In their defence, the venue is fairly enigmatic, just a doorway and staircase leading downstairs with a small smoking area outside. And to be fair, the bar was actually riddled with celesbians on Friday – though I doubt how skilled straight couples are at spotting them. Kasey Riot was DJing, and her entourage included Romy from The XX, pro Domme Mistress Bliss, singer Claudia Kane and DJ Michelle Manetti.
Queer female fan-girling aside, She was heaving; we gave wristbands to over 150 women that night. At points there were queues out the door, at others we had to stop people from entering until others left. Lots were students (their wrists laden with free entry bands for Heaven and GAY Late), many came in couples while a lot of women came alone. Some were older and more self-assured, others young and coy; one circled the block three times, feverishly dragging a roll-up, until she plucked up the courage to come inside. An hour later, she left hand-in-hand with another solo visitor. Though the majority of She-goers on that night were white, there were at least 20 women of colour – this was about average, one of the staff told me. We checked multiple British, Spanish and Italian IDs, a handful of Australian, Canadian and American passports – and three Chinese passports too.
What did I learn from working in the only permanent lesbian bar in London? That there is an incredibly high demand for queer female priority spaces in the capital. A reality brought home by the intrigue, incredulity and hilarity the words “Lesbian Bar” seem to spark in the Soho populace on a Friday night. And though She Soho is doing a sterling job at providing sanctuary, potential bangs and Jägerbombs to the lesbians and bi women of London, it’s about time we opened more venues. Next time let’s make it bigger, let’s make it more inclusive and please Lord, Allah, Ellen – make it on the ground floor.
She Soho, 23 Old Compton St, open daily 4pm-11:30pm, midnight on weekends
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