I’m sat in London’s only lesbian bar, She Soho. I’ve lived in London most of my lifeclare, have worked and partied at the hottest dyke nights in my city. I know the scene well, and sometimes, I like to pop in to the only permanent space we’ve got and let all that lesbianism soak in. It’s 5 p.m. on a Friday evening, and there are eight of us in here. Two people are having a steamy first date. They were sheepish at the start, and now, they’re seconds away from dry-humping on the empty dance floor.
There’s a newly married couple drinking G&Ts to my left, and a group of young Australians on my right. All are lesbian leg-spreading and feverishly discussing how hot Kristen is in Charlie’s Angels.
It’s a good-looking underground bar. It was once fairly dark and dingy but after a recent revamp it looks like the inside of a spaceship, decked out with Scandi-furniture and a secret ‘lady garden’ out back. Later this evening, it will be heaving. It’s an 80-capacity venue, but 200 women will stream in throughout the night.
She Soho has a strict door policy: Guys can only come in if they are with at least one woman(-identified) or non-binary person. It is the only building in London with the word “LESBIAN” written on the front door and is on a crazy-busy nocturnal strip which means hilarious (and very lame) antics happen all the time, like a man begging me to take him inside because he “loves women” while doing this strange pouty-lip, thrusty-crotch thing. Or another thirsty guy, who offered someone £50 to take him inside. As Tina Ledger (one of the managers) says, “They literally think there’s lesbian oil wrestling happening down here.” www.she-soho.com @shesohobar
On the face of it, London is a bit of a barren land for queer women’s nightlife. She is our only bar, and Soho, ostensibly the “gay area” (what the Village is to NY or what Castro is to San Francisco), is full of gay guys, hen-dos, and straight people on gay safari.
I’ve got the inside scoop on why London’s scene is better than ever and why it could well be the best destination for dyke nightlife in the world.
For the last ten years, queer women have nurtured a narrative of lack. “We don’t have anywhere to go!” bemoaned lesbians in pubs. “Why are there so many gay guys in here?” sulked queer women in corners. “Is there anybody out there?” women yelled while waving strap-ons above their heads in gay bars.
And while we were all wallowing in the city’s lack of lesbian activity, people were hard at work creating space for our community. Getting their decks out, designing flyers, hiring venues, building networks, and coming up with names like Nite Dykez; Butch, Please!; and Big Dyke Energy. They have built an abundance of nights for all kinds of dykes, allowing us to find our crews, our baes, our fashions, our dance moves, and ourselves in the night.
We now have parties for punks, drag kings, butch dykes, high femmes, gender benders, baby dykes, and sugar mummas. In one weekend, you can listen to garage in a bougie bar, techno in a sweaty basement, or poetry in a DIY community space.
The scene is thriving, so now’s the time to hop across the Atlantic and come get sweaty with us Brits on the dance floor. Obviously, when you arrive, you’ll be an excited little puppy — all revved-up on pints and English accents — so we’d recommend dipping your toes in all elements of the scene. To help you narrow things down, let’s go by vibe.
Bad ‘n’ Bougie
If you like going out drippin’ in all kinds of finesse, Mint is the place to be. At 13 years old (their birthday party was held in a massive penthouse-style venue overlooking the Thames), it is London’s longest-running queer women’s night. Owned by Nicola Chubb, it moves around the city taking over very swish venues and private members clubs (think Soho House and Century Club) and filling them with lesbians of all ages. This is definitely the night for you if you’ve got a thing for power-lesbians with British accents (…who doesn’t?). www.mintevents.london @minteventsldn
LEZ similarly converts glam, hetero-dominated venues into little Sapphic paradises at their monthly party. Founder Mitra Wicks always liked going to bougie bars but hated feeling like women have to perform for or be subordinate to men. “I loved the scene, the music, the spaces, the table service,” Mitra told GO, “but grew to hate that dynamic.” LEZ have filled multiple central London clubs with women(-identified) and non-binary babes, and the atmosphere’s always wild and welcoming. They play lots of ‘90s UK garage (think Artful Dodger and Ms. Dynamite), plus hip-hop, pop, trap, and dancehall. LINKS: @lezevents_
Punks ‘n’ Queerdos
Calling all punks, riot grrrls, artists, anarchists, activists, and gender-benders: Dalston Superstore has a bar stool with your name on it. The iconic East London queer bar is open daily. It’s a date place and a workspace, with great food, a superb sound-system, and one of the most sought-after underground dance floors in the city. They host world renowned DJs, a continuous stream of hedonistic parties, and have incubated more dyke nights than any other venue.
The big mumma is Fèmmme Fraîche. It’s a tale of two parties: upstairs is trashy pop & disco, downstairs is a packed, sweaty basement dedicated to techno & house. The monthly night is always full and attracts an eclectic mix of queer women/femmes/non-binary folks. There’s a strict safe-space and non-discrimination policy, enabling people to really let loose. Palpable DTF energy surges through the venue. Be ready to eye-bang continuously and probably go home with a stranger.
Fèmmme is run by Michelle Manetti — the fairy dykemother of the east London scene — who uses her nights to platform and showcase women(-identified) artists, DJs, and performers. On top of this, she runs Fraîche Fruit, a monthly Sunday party offering free beginners workshops to women(-identified) & non-binary DJs. When the learning is done it turns into a juicy little dance party courtesy of the ripening local talent. www.femmmefraiche.com // @femmmefraiche @fraichefruit @michelle_manetti
Female Trouble is an anything goes night of drag, radical dyke culture, and political activism. Held monthly at Dalston Superstore, it is inspired by the eponymous John Water’s movie. The film’s most iconic line is that “The life of a heterosexual is a dull and boring life,” and this party is the ultimate ode to queer eccentricity. You’ll find yourself chanting “trans rights are human rights” en masse one minute and flinging yourself around to Peaches & Le Tigre at another. This is the place to play with your gender, experiment with fashions, and let your freak-flag fly.
Founder Celeste Guinness also hosts the UK’s first and only Dyke Brunch at — yep, you guessed it — Dalston Superstore. Expect quizzes, Bloody Marys, and an all-day lesbian playtime paradise. LINKS: @itsfemaletrouble @celesteguinness
Fanny Packer is a “Big Lezzy Mash-Up,” a massive collab-night hosted by east London’s hottest dyke promoters. It is a monthly(ish) hive of dyke activity; you will likely dance with your fuck-buddy’s exes ex and go home with your lesbian arch nemesis. dalstonsuperstore.com/events/fanny-pack/
Dyke in the Pit landed in South London earlier this year. It offers an alternative night to pop-centric and dude-centric gay nights. Prioritising dykes of all genders, “It is a night for the rejects and all the queers who don’t fit in anywhere else,” says founder Frankie Tuffragette. With its roots in South London’s queer-punk, anarchist, and sex worker community, this is a great place to dive into a mosh pit or see experimental live performances, short films, and poetry readings. It’s a delicious taste of the dyke revolution. www.facebook.com/dykeinthepit/
For those who want to listen to women(-identified) DJs play the likes of Ri, Bey, Lizzo, and Pink in a hive of high-energy lesbian commotion, look no further than Aphrodyki. As seen in Desiree Akhavan’s recent hit series “The Bisexual,” there’s a fun, frolic-filled atmosphere at this monthly(ish) night. Now based in Shoreditch’s Miranda at Ace Hotel, you’ll either find yourself chatting feminism, polyamory, and the joys of throwing away the razor or pressed up against a wall making out with the cutie in the neon cycling shorts. LINKS: aphrodyki.com @aphrodyki
Similarly, Gal Pals is a queer dance party serving only music by women(-identified) individuals. Founded in 2015 by two IRL gal pals, the fun-filled night will see you thrashing to Bikini Kill one minute and twerking to Lizzo the next. The vibe is excellent; the organisers are conscious, community-minded folks; people are chilled; the venue changes; and the party shuffles between London and Brighton. @galpals_club
If you are (or are into) butch, a tomboy, a dyke, or a daddy, then beeline it to Butch, Please!, the UK’s official hub for hitting-on, basking-in, and doting-over butch lesbians. Butch mothers and baby dykes gather once a month(ish) at Royal Vauxhall Tavern (one of the city’s largest, most iconic queer boozers) to celebrate those living their best dyke lives. It’s a super chilled safe space, perfect for those with a hankering for leather chaps and biker dykes. @butchpleaseuk
Meanwhile Nite Dykez operates under the mantra, “Let dyke love blossom.” It is a space curated to centre more masc-identified women and non-binary folks (and their fans). The night focuses on quality music, safety, and space to throw some serious shapes. Refreshing mixes of Chicago House and Afrobeat stream through Dalston Superstore courtesy of founders GIN and Mica Coca, alongside a host of other women(-identified) individuals and non-binary POC DJs.
If you’re into strip clubs, now’s an interesting time in London, as a handful of queer space creators are working to eradicate the male, patriarchal gaze from strip nights, empower strippers and sex workers, and let femme sexuality flourish in safety.
Harpies is Europe’s only LGBTQ+ strip club night, held monthly at Metropolis Club. The venue is gorgeous, with a central stage that showcases performers from all points on the gender and sexuality spectrum (though trans women rule the roost). It’s a thoroughly subversive queer space — performers erode any conceptions you have of gender with every pose around a pole. It’s a very special event that’s open until 5 a.m. on weekends (a notably rare late night in this city). metropolisclub.co.uk/event/harpies/
Juicebox is a smoking-hot queer women-led striptease night. It launched earlier this year,and is all about booty poppin’ in safety to fresh hip-hop, grime, dancehall, and basement beats. Pole/aerial performers, fire dancers, and strippers perform throughout the night. Things will get very steamy, very sweaty, and very sexy — you’ve been warned. @juiceboxevents
Big(gest) Dyke Energy
If you like being surrounded by thousands of lesbians, then Lick is the party for you. The monthly mega-party and turn-up is held at various locations and encourages all to dance until your thighs ache. Everyone wears flats, and you are guaranteed to participate in more girl-on-girl twerking, daggering, and grinding than ever before. @lickevents
One of the scene’s crowning jewels is Big Dyke Energy. The new kid on the block is a massive warehouse party — yes, a warehouse full of dykes (I’m excited too). The tri-annual party is hosted by some of the scenes best DJs (Jaye Ward, Coco Cole, and Michelle Manetti) in a safe, inclusive, and liberal space that wants all queer women to party without prejudice. This is dykes building a queer utopia, one beat at a time. @bigdykeenergyldn
Lesbiennale caused a massive wave when it hit east London this fall. The three-day festival — comprising erotic readings, film screenings, art projects, and a massive Boiler Room dance party — was London’s first lesbian arts festival. Run by lesbians of colour, it is an attempt to broaden “lesbianism,” telling lesbian tales from the most marginalised voices in our community. “This is only the beginning,” promised Lesbiannale’s Nadine Artois (who also runs Pxssy Palace, widely rated as London’s best QTPOC+ party). It will return in the coming months packing an even bigger punch; amongst other additions, there’s talk of a sex party because, “You can’t have erotic readings without giving someone a place to go afterwards.” @nadineartois @pxssypalace
Well, that’s a whole lot of dyke energy in one city! Most of these parties are monthly. If you want to sample as many nocturnal fruits as possible, come towards the end of the month. That said, there are parties year round — not bad for a place with one lez bar.
It’s now approaching 9 p.m., and I’m still sat in She Soho. A (very hot) DJ has just entered the bar, sparking frenzied excitement amongst the leg-spreading Aussies. The married couple are heading out to find a mellower space to gaze into each other’s eyes. The first daters are somehow still here — ascetic acts in She — and are now on their fourth shot of Café Patron. Women are starting to pour in and groups congregate and friends reunite as eyes wander around the bar. The music gets louder, and for another Soho night, the dykes take up space on the dance floor. Cheers to that!