Glass House Is London’s New Venue For Queers To Read, Eat, Drink, Dance, Learn, Talk, & Thrive

“We’ll sit by the window,” says one patron as they order a bottle of red, “so we can watch the world go by.”

“SOUNDS GAY, I’M IN,” reads the signage on Glass House, a new LGBTQ+ venue in Shoreditch, East London. Extraordinary in stature and location, the glass-fronted venue is giving big gay fish-tank vibes on Brick Lane, one of London’s trendiest and most vibrant streets. The capital’s queer community flitter around inside like little rainbow fish, tapping away on laptops, brainstorming, catching-up, slurping exquisite cocktails, tasty juices, and frothy coffees.

Permanent queer venues are not easy to come by in the UK, with almost 60% of LGBTQ+ venues closing over the last 10 years. Glass House – a place where you can just as easily take a hot Friday night date as you can work on a drizzly Tuesday morning – arrives like the first day of spring after a long, desolate winter. 

“The pandemic really highlighted how much we need spaces to socialize again, to actually meet each other,” says Aisha Shaibu, one of the Glass House team (and one of GO Magazine’s 2021 100 Women We Love). “Queer venues play such a crucial part in our growth, our development, especially after being inside for so long. The pandemic affected people’s mental health in so many ways. Just being around different energy and having a permanent space you know you can go really makes a difference,” she tells GO. 

Impressive as is, there’s more to Glass House than meets the eye. There’s a bar-restaurant named Common Counter, and underneath sits The Commons, a multi-purpose events space, where you can learn to vogue, master your asanas at community yoga, attend panel discussions (‘art as activism’ was one of their latest), find your voice in a queer writers’ circle, or engage in various other queer shenanigans: pottery, poetry, life drawing, speed dating and sapphic lino printing. 

“We’ve got an amazing sound-system and theater lighting down here,” Shaibu points out as she leads us through the venue. “We’re able to rent it out as a rehearsal or performance space at really affordable rates,” she says. 

Alcohol is prohibited downstairs. “Queer spaces are often very alcohol-centric, we really don’t have enough sober spaces to socialize in. This also makes the venue more accessible to our Muslim community members,” says Shaibu, noting that Glass House is based in Tower Hamlets, an east London Borough that’s home to the largest Muslim population in the UK

We know within our community that not everybody feels safe, not everybody feels welcome in queer spaces. We want Glass House to be that beacon,” she adds. “We’re really intentionally trying to make the venue not just diverse, but authentic in the way we do things for and through the community. I feel it’s a space where everybody can feel, not just like they belong, but like they can be themselves.” 

Back upstairs, we stroll past a handful of podcast recording booths. Though primarily for immortalizing hot-takes, they also double up as soundproof spots for free counseling and therapy sessions. The final pit stop on our Glass House tour is The Common Press, the on-site intersectional bookshop. “We like our books like we like our coffee: hot, fabulous and strong enough to smash the patriarchy,” reads the tagline on their website. And clearly, Londoners can’t get enough of those patriarchy-smashing tomes: in the first month of opening – back in September – they sold half of their stock. “We’re constantly introducing new works,” says Shaibu. “We have 1,500 titles about QTIPOC experiences. We’re centering marginalized voices, anti-colonialism, trans-inclusive feminism, anti-fascism and queer environmentalism.” This is the place to grab a vegan Caribbean or Malaysian cookbook, Sabah Choudrey’s Supporting Trans People of Colour, Lorde’s Sister Outsider, Daisy Jones’ All the Things She Said or Paul Mendez’s Rainbow Milk (as recently seen with Carrie Bradshaw in And Just Like That…). “For me personally,” says Shaibu, “this space was never about having one group of people, just solely doing everything on their own, but it’s about collaborating more, coming together and creating a better, more wholesome environment for all of us.”

Common Counter, The Commons and Common Press fuse together to make this multidisciplinary space one of the best – tangible, touchable, physical – things to happen to London’s queer community in years. How many venues can you rock up to at midday to sip a latte in a cozy corner while reading James Baldwin, to then find yourself at a Queer Shakedown – with the whole venue busting into the candy – come midnight?

Bet you’re wondering, ‘Who owns this extraordinary space?’ The answer is almost always a cis white guy, be the space queer or otherwise. This time, the hub is owned by a woman, an Asian business woman, who’s giving a textbook demonstration of what queer allyship looks like. Though wanting to remain anonymous, she has placed the space in the very capable hands of Glass House’s queer team (including general manager Oliver, plus Ray and Angie, who take the reins at the bookshop). Her vision is to create a space for queer and marginalized groups, “so she’s providing the space,” says Shaibu, “but we have full creative freedom… everything is by us, for us.” 

Some of the best people-watching and people-meeting this city has to offer can be carried out at Glass House. Some pass by with blue-green-purple hair, laden down with bags of vintage clothes. Others head back from Friday afternoon prayer at the local mosque, while lots linger outside, chomping down salt-beef bagels from Beigel Bakes, the famous Jewish bakery next door. 

It is a dream spot to appreciate London’s melting pot, all the while, being completely held in a safe community space: gender-liberated toilets, non-binary staff, pronouns exchanged when people meet. Queer folks trickle in throughout the day for green tea catch-ups and booze-fueled reunions. “We’ll sit by the window,” says one patron as they order a bottle of red, “so we can watch the world go by.” 

Check Out Glass House London on Instagram or IRL at 118 Bethnal Green Rd, London 


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