By: Kylie Condon

Lez Explore: London

I was thrilled to continue my travels especially because this time my girlfriend, Christina, would be joining me.  Our first stop was London, England.  I had been to London previously, during my awkward adolescent phase, but I was excited to properly explore the city as an adult.  Christina, on the other hand, had never been so I was eager for her to check out the city and to have a travel companion to experience London’s gay scene with.  We packed our heaviest sweaters knowing London’s November weather would be quite an adjustment from our near perfect 80-degree Los Angeles days.

She Soho

After arriving, it took us a moment to recover from some brutal jetlag and dramatic weather adjustments.  Don’t get me wrong, London is lovely in the winter.  They also take the holidays and decorating very seriously.  I mean, doesn’t every good Christmas movie take place in London?  Once we pulled ourselves together, we headed to the first stop on our itinerary She Soho, London’s only “female focused” bar.  As you can gather from the name, it’s located in the “Soho” neighborhood of London as are a number of other LGBTQ+ bars.  We climbed down a flight of stairs to enter the underground bar.  The first floor had a small, modern looking seating area.  We continued climbing another few stairs to get to the main floor.  This floor had a bar, more seating, a DJ booth, and what I’m assuming turns into a dance floor later when the night really gets going.  We ordered some cheap happy hour drinks (bonus points) and grabbed a table.  The bar had a very modern vibe to it and sort of felt like we were sitting in a storage container… a very spacious and clean storage container.  She Soho definitely had a different feel from your typical, grungy gay bar that has a certain bleach (maybe?) scent to it.  Probably attempting to mask the previous night’s sordid indiscretions.  Also notably different from other gay bars, there wasn’t a guy in sight.  Not to say they’re not welcome, but I’d imagine a dude might feel out of place here.  Regardless, it was cool to have a strictly female space and not just a “lesbian night” somewhere.  The bar was pretty quiet around 7pm on a Saturday, but we were told it really gets bumping with a DJ later.  We were also told that She Soho usually has some kind of event every night catering to London’s girl scene.  One of their most popular being “Boi Box,” a monthly drag king contest.  Still exhausted from our travels, we didn’t mind the low-key breather.  After we finished our drinks and had a little more alcohol-infused energy, we migrated to the next bar.

G-A-Y Bar

Our next stop was literally right across the street at G-A-Y Bar.  This place is the definition of a gay nightclub:  stiff cheap drinks, crowded sweaty bodies everywhere, and loud music that feels like one endless “Girls Night Out” playlist.  My brother and his friend, who were also visiting London, joined us at the bar.  Both are straight, cis guys and were totally welcome.  The bar seemed very accepting of everyone and anyone with a diverse mix of patrons.  Given that it was a Saturday night, the bar was very crowded.  G-A-Y also had an X-Factor event that night where they screen the live show and whichever contest gets voted off has to come straight to G-A-Y bar.  I don’t watch the show, but it seemed like the clientele there did and were all very excited about it.  We made our way to the main floor’s bar, passing some seating and extra floor space that served as a makeshift dance floor.  After we ordered some surprisingly cheap and potent drinks, we went upstairs to explore “floor 1,” which is what we in the US would consider the second floor.  Apparently, in London, they like to call the first floor, floor 0.  Whatever you want to call it, the floor was jam-packed with young gay men.  This floor definitely seemed like the party place to be, but it was even more difficult to move around than the previous floor.  We made our way outside to the smoking patio and got a tip that the basement floor was the designated ladies area… Why does London always put lesbians in the basement?  We headed back downstairs and realized our new friend was right, the basement level was in fact full of women.  This floor also had a darker, more loungey vibe.  We enjoyed the chill escape for a bit but after a few more strong drinks, we all decided the party floor was where we needed to be.  The four of us spent the remainder of the night there dancing to Little Mix, fully embracing British gay culture.

Dalston Superstore

We woke up the next morning a bit hung-over and figured the best way to beat it was with a solid Sunday brunch.  After all, a Sunday isn’t a Sunday without a good brunch- drag brunch specifically.  Excited to see how gays brunch on the other side of the pond, we headed northeast to the Stoke Newington/Dalston area.  There we went to Dalston Superstore, a bar/restaurant with a trendy eastside hipster clientele.  The space had a quirky look, but felt very chill and laid back.  A drag queen named Shaz was hosting a Thanksgiving themed drag bingo brunch, which we were ecstatic to partake in considering we basically missed Thanksgiving due to jetlag and the time difference.  To properly kick off our brunch, we ordered a bottle of Prosecco because we felt we deserved it after our rough morning hangover.  The menu had plenty of veggie options, so if you’ve ever wanted to try a vegan version of a traditional English breakfast then Dalston Superstore is the place for you!  We ultimately lost bingo, but Shaz was a delightful host with plenty of wit and prizes.  The servers were also friendly and very helpful.  We were surprised to learn from our server that this laidback café turns into a busy club at night hosting plenty of DJs and other interesting events including queer art exhibitions.  Dalston Superstore quickly became my new favorite place.  After we finished our meal, we wanted to ride out our brunch buzz so we headed out to see what else was happening on a Sunday.  Turns out, not much in the Dalston area so we headed back to Soho where we were told we were sure to find something.

 Admiral Duncan

Sticking with the Sunday drag theme, we headed to Admiral Duncan for a drag show.  Unfortunately, we had missed the show but decided to stick around anyway because there was a fun crowd.  Admiral Duncan’s was perhaps the pub-iest of all our stops with an authentic old British exposed-brick look (with a sparkly flair of course).  The crowd was essentially all men in their late 30s and up.  We befriended an older gay couple who were eager to share the bar’s interesting history with us.  Admiral Duncan was actually the scene of a deadly nail bomb explosion in 1999, which killed three people and wounded around 70.  The tragic event marked a turning point in the LGBT community’s tense relationship with the police.  Following the bombing, the police vowed to maintain a crime scene van outside the pub gathering evidence and taking witness statements until the perpetrator was found.  The van was also manned entirely by open gay and lesbian police officers allowing the community to feel more comfortable coming forward with information.  The neo-Nazi culprit was eventually caught, but that still didn’t make up for the injuries and lives lost.  Today, Admiral Duncan is a symbol of history and advances made in London’s LGBTQ+ community.  Grateful for the history lesson and meaningful conversation, we said our goodbyes to our new friends and headed home in preparation for our early morning train to Paris.

**To follow Kylie and see more travel photos, follow her on Instagram: @kyliegurrl and @lezexploreinsta

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