It’s impossible to write the history of queer culture without talking about nightlife. From the molly houses of Victorian Britain to the buffet flats of Harlem, LGBTQ+ communities have been carving out spaces in which to be themselves for centuries. This has rarely been easy. Police raids have seen clubgoers beaten, harassed and arrested. It wasn’t until the 1960s that violent resistance to these raids grew in scale, led largely by queer and trans people of colour.
Without these acts of immense bravery, today’s global LGBTQ+ rights movement arguably wouldn’t exist.
Five decades later, the UK and Ireland's queer club scene is thriving. It’s likely you’ve heard of the heavy-hitters: Heaven, Flesh, Sink The Pink and Essential are well-known success stories that have long since transcended the underground, whereas now-defunct gay clubs like Glasgow’s Bennetts hold fond memories for old-school clubbers. But scratch the surface and you’ll find a wealth of parties that not only continue the long tradition of queer clubbing in the UK, but build on it, creating inclusive spaces that everyone can call their own: DIY club collectives, lesbian-led raves, alt-drag cabarets and euphoric club nights which centre and uplift QTIPOC (queer, trans and intersex people of colour).
These club nights are still needed. The last decade in particular has seen LGBTQ+ venues nationwide shuttered by gentrification and rising rents. Hate crime rates are rising, and for the most marginalised members of the LGBTQ+ community in particular, finding safe spaces can still be a challenge. Lesbian club nights have often been less visible and shorter-lived due to a complex overlap of socioeconomic factors specific to queer women – although this is changing. What’s more, historically, some gay clubs have leaned into door policies which are implicitly or explicitly racist and transphobic.
Here, There, Everywhere is an homage to the trailblazers and torchbearers rallying against these obstacles. It’s not a definitive list – we all have our own favourites – and as such does not claim to be exhaustive. It’s not a rundown of the most popular, the most successful or the best club nights. It’s a tribute to venues and collectives that laid the foundations, that are trying new things, that championed – and are championing – marginalised voices, and provide the backdrop in which we find out who we authentically are.
Our illustrator, Leeds based designer and DJ Leon Davis says, “This has been a dream project for me as my creative practice revolves around rave culture, queer culture, and visually exploring the histories and potential futures of marginalised communities. It was an exciting challenge to design a map while paying homage to queer club culture, which led me to take inspiration from the classified ads you might in the back of newspapers and magazines – not only were these ads synonymous with underground cultures, many queer clubs and gatherings would use these spaces to advertise especially in queer magazines such as the historical ‘Mancunian Gay Magazine’ and would therefore act as a map of sorts for queer people to find safe spaces. I wanted to take the visual style of newspaper classifieds and combine that with rave, punk, and tongue in cheek aesthetics that queer club posters often play with.”
Queer club nights don’t get much sexier than Adonis. Founded in 2017, the techno powerhouse quickly set down its roots at The Cause in Tottenham, a converted mechanics workshop. It’s a unique venue with steel cage lockers on the dancefloor, a sprawling outdoor space and even a grand piano.
It didn’t take long for Adonis to develop a cult following of thong-clad clubbers drawn to the high-octane atmosphere and ethos of sexual freedom. It’s not unusual to see some of the world’s best DJs playing hours-long sets, as hyped-up clubgoers thrash excitedly against the cages.
There’s almost always a weekend-long afterparty too, for those keen to stretch out the euphoria a little longer. Sure, Adonis is rooted firmly in adrenaline and hedonism, but it’s also carving out space for queer communities outside of mainstream gay clubs with pop-heavy playlists.
BIG DYKE ENERGY
History hasn’t been kind to lesbian club nights. The few that have emerged over the last few decades have largely been forced to move around due to rising rents, intolerant landlords and, more subtly, socioeconomic factors – the latter often translating into the well-worn cliche that lesbians spend less on nightlife than their male counterparts. But how can this theory be tested if the most promising examples keep being closed?
There’s proof to the contrary at Big Dyke Energy. It’s a collective, a record label and a monthly club night held at Venue MOT, an inconspicuous space tucked away in a Bermondsey industrial estate. Every month, the BDE founders open up their “intentional dancefloor” to a crowd made up predominantly of queer women, non-binary people, intersex and trans communities, all of whom are often underserved in LGBTQ+ nightlife.
As the industrial venue would suggest, BDE aims for an old-school, DIY vibe – it’s there in the tagline, “South London’s OG rave.” An homage to rave culture, the collective platforms a spectrum of dance music: from jungle and techno to ambient. It’s taken too long, but lesbian club nights are finally getting the recognition they deserve – and Big Dyke Energy is leading the way.
BOLTS AT THE DOME
It’s hard to overstate the importance of LGBTQ+ spaces at the height of the AIDS crisis in the 80s and 90s. Despite fear, confusion and immeasurable grief, bars, cafes and pubs offered hubs of community support. In these venues, queer people could process loss together, share information and ultimately build the activist networks that would do so much to alter the course of history, pressuring feet-dragging governments to take the crisis seriously.
The tenor of the tabloid reporting on AIDS created a climate of intense homophobia. As more time passed, sex workers, people of colour and trans women became heavily stigmatised, too. This media misinformation, unsurprisingly, had a profoundly negative impact on queer nightlife.
A salient reminder of the impact of this widespread homophobia is made clear through one example in Birmingham. In May 1986, a gay club night named Bolts launched at the Dome nightclub. Barely anything is known about the night other than its initial success (there’s a surviving flyer for a one-year birthday party) and its demise in September 1987, which came after a new manager told organisers the gay night was “putting off straight customers, who were fearful of catching AIDS.”
Only by bringing these histories to light can the true extent of the destruction wrought by AIDS upon LGBTQ+ culture be measured.
CHA CHA BOUDOIR
Cha Cha Boudoir is a celebration of all things weird, queer and camp. Want to see a gold-painted drag alien lip-sync to Shirley Bassey? Maybe an emotional rendition of Christina Aguilera’s Beautiful performed by an overworked reindeer? If so, this is the place to be.
Initially, Cha Cha Boudoir was founded in 2013 by Manchester’s Family Gorgeous as a place to spotlight talented, alternative creatures of all descriptions. Nearly a decade later, it’s a bonafide institution. It’s also acted as a breeding ground for some of the country’s brightest drag stars, including Juno Birch, Liquorice Black, Anna Phylactic and Cheddar Gorgeous.
It’s not just about the drag, either. Cha Cha Boudoir is a sanctuary for the wacky and wonderful, soundtracked by pop megamixes and the elated screams of sweaty, dressed-up clubgoers. The night is seemingly on hiatus - the most recent event was a Pride party last year - but the UK’s alt-drag scene would be a lot less interesting without the creativity and chaos of Cha Cha Boudoir.
When Emma Obong and Khalil West founded Chew Disco back in 2009, their aim was to build something interdisciplinary and truly innovative. Liverpool’s scene at the time was – like most – dominated largely by white, cisgender gay men, and neither Obong nor West saw themselves represented in the city’s mainstream gay clubs. Chew Disco was borne of this frustration, as well a desire to offer a groundbreaking alternative.
DIY values and leftist politics underpinned every one of their events. As well as dancing to diverse, experimental DJ sets, clubbers could wander through venues filled with large-scale art installations and live performance art. Free mixtapes would be handed out, and it wasn’t unusual to see go-go dancers covered in fake blood.
Chew Disco ran regularly until 2016 and has been largely on hiatus ever since, but there have been sporadic reincarnations of the forward-thinking project. Throughout their main run, the co-founders brought queer icons like Vaginal Davis, Mykki Blanco and Cakes da Killa into their fold, platforming their talents to raise money for queer, grassroots initiatives worldwide. This DIY ethos has cemented Chew Disco’s legacy as one of Britain’s most important queer projects, and it’s one which continues to inspire a new generation of collectives moving forward.
Goddess Kali is known as the Hindu mother Goddess a primordial force of feminine power, strength and divine protection. Her blue-skinned beauty is omnipotent, a source of inspiration for postcolonial feminist scholars worldwide.
In 1995, DJ Ritu and a collaborator known only as Rita channeled Kali’s strength. Both of these women worked in care industries, and both yearned to see a “safe, caring, almost maternal space” for LGBTQ+ South Asians to come together in an environment which centred them. When it came to naming this much-needed night, the choice was obvious: Club Kali.
Almost three decades later, Club Kali is still going strong. Currently held at Tufnell Park’s Boston Music Room, the night’s music is a blend of hip-hop, house and Hindi film scores sung in a mixture of Hindi, English, Urdu and Punjabi. Bhangra and Bollywood dance moves are commonplace on the sweaty dancefloor, where LGBTQ+ South Asians – still hugely underrepresented in queer nightlife – find solace in Kali’s celestial energy.
Nottingham’s DirtyFilthySexy provides exactly what its name promises: a queer club night which celebrates messy, alternative queer culture.
It all started in 2009 when DJ Greyskull grew tired of LGBTQ+ club nights being uniformly polished and mainstream. There was little room in the scene for alt-drag performers and DJs to secure bookings, so DirtyFilthySexy became the night to house them. More than a decade later, the night has played host to some of the UK’s brightest, most bizarre drag talents, including Charity Kase, Prinx Chiyo and Marilyn Sane.
DIY punk values permeate DirtyFilthySexy. You’ll see drag creatures strip naked and smother themselves in goo. You’ll sweat, mosh and rave to DJ sets filled with industrial techno, hard rock and a sprinkling of t.A.T.u. You’ll be surrounded by a wide spectrum of queerness, often dressed to the nines in leather, studded denim and cybergoth neon.
Thanks to the night’s success, Nottingham’s queer scene has a visible, radical presence. As Pride parades become more corporate, DirtyFilthySexy offers affordable ‘Alternative Pride’ parties for clubbers who want the queer joy without the hefty price tag. DirtyFilthySexy embodies these inclusive values, offering a much-needed platform for alt-drag performers in the process.
DISABLED, QUEER & HEAR
In 2018, Wayne Allingham – also known by his drag alias, Sugar Cube – grew tired of being treated as invisible. Throughout his years as a performer, he’d noticed drag shows all too often took place at inaccessible venues. As a disabled performer, bookings could be tough to secure. He felt left behind, and he knew other artists felt the same.
The remedy came in the form of Disabled, Queer and Hear, a raucous club night-cum-cabaret dedicated to uplifting disabled talent within the LGBTQ+ community. Allingham’s brainchild quickly found a first home at the beloved Royal Vauxhall Tavern, a south London institution in its own right, but it’s moved around occasionally since its inception.
Wherever the venue, accessibility is a priority. The RVT has offered everything from Braille menus and a BSL interpreter to wheelchair ramps and a specially-installed disabled toilet, all designed to ensure nobody is left behind. At Disabled, Queer & Hear, disabled drag artists are given free rein to be as tongue-in-cheek, campy and outrageous as they wish.
FLESH @ HACIENDA
Manchester’s Hacienda played a pivotal role in the rise of acid house, but it was also the birthplace of one of the UK’s most influential queer club nights. Flesh was founded in October 1991, the brainchild of entertainment manager Paul Cons and Lucy Scher, who had previously spearheaded the club’s Summer of Lesbian Love events. Together, they threw pounding, energetic parties which ran weekly until the night’s closure in 1994. Attendees describe the vibe as a carnival, all kaleidoscopic costumes and spirited euphoria.
Consistently profitable, Flesh was also groundbreaking - resident DJs Kath McDermott and Paulette were the first women to ever earn residencies at the Hacienda. The sweaty, sex-positive night has been well-documented by club photographers, but it was also a vital safe space for queer people in an era which was hostile towards their mere existence.
Flesh was so unapologetically queer that straight people shied away, so these weekly “cathedrals of music” were filled with self-expression. Although Hacienda was known as the home of acid house, Flesh’s music policy was more diverse – see DJ Paulette’s Flesh Top Ten for a taster. The playlist offers a great jump-off point to glimpse a lesser-known chapter of the Hacienda’s legendary history, and one which lives on in the mind of queer ravers nationwide.
When Garlands first opened in 1993, it was the only gay after-hours club in Liverpool. Politically, times were still turbulent. Gay men, trans women and sex workers in particular were still suffering the backlash of AIDS stigma, and Garlands became a regular target for arson, police raids and far-right attacks. Despite these adversities, the club kept its doors open for more than 25 years, finally closing for good in 2019.
Garlands was good, campy fun. Event posters paid homage to gay icon Judy Garland, taking inspiration from classic films like The Wizard of Oz, and the club’s five floors were quickly filled with a mixture of gay and straight clubbers keen to keep dancing until dawn.
Despite the club’s closure, Garlands remains a key name in Liverpool’s queer history. In fact, Garlands is so renowned that it was even celebrated in a 2016 exhibition, which showcased drag queens’ feather boas, archive event posters and campy staff Christmas cards. It’s a fitting tribute to the award-winning venue, one which proved throughout its decades-long life that there truly is no place like Garlands.
Huddersfield’s Gemini Club is the stuff of legend. Described as “the Studio 54 of the North,”, it was also a regular target for police raids. Tabloid reporters may have called it a “cesspit of filth” but from the mid-70s through to its closure in 1983, it was a hotspot for queer people across Yorkshire and beyond.
In 1981, activists moved Pride from London to Huddersfield in protest of the relentless police raids. Together they pounded the pavements alongside a pink Rolls Royce and countless protest banners, even fending off harassment from the National Front.
This Pride demonstration marks a key moment in queer history, but other, more personal memories are still being shared in a Gemini Facebook group. Alongside heartwarming tributes, there are playlists jam-packed with the hi-NRG disco that made the club’s dance floor one of the North’s most exhilarating. Regional gay clubs still struggle today, but the legacies of venues like Gemini prove LGBTQ+ people across the UK need easily-accessible sanctuaries of their own, too.
In 2019, Grace Club co-founders Caio Fabro, Stevie Faherty and David Healy set their sights on launching a queer techno night in Dublin. As well as shared interests, they had different skill sets: between them, they had event management, design and DJ expertise. It didn’t take long for the night to become a success.
According to a 2019 interview, the trio were inspired by techno clubs and collectives across Europe, like Lisbon’s Mina Collective and Kit Ket, currently on hiatus. At those club nights, techno and sex-positivity meld together, and the same can be said for Grace Club.
At the door, clubbers have their phones taken away so focus isn’t pulled from the dancefloor and the sheer physicality of the music (the higher the BPM, the better). The result is an environment that invites you to lose yourself entirely.
Grace Club may have launched the year before a global pandemic, but they’re still a fixture of Dublin’s queer scene today, alongside other nights like NSFW and Spicebag. As its reach continues to grow, clubbers from across the UK are surrendering their phones, stripping off and diving deep into Grace Club’s temporary queer utopia.
Since 2019, DIY club collective Gut Level has been on a mission to prove queer hedonism is alive and well in the North. Born and based in Sheffield, the collective has carved out a reputation for its late-night raves. Community and collaboration are at the heart of their ethos, and other Yorkshire-based collectives like Leeds’ Rat Party, have also been brought into the fold.
For the last year, these late-night raves have been held in a disused venue on a small side street. The beers are cheap, and the courtyard is filled with plants grown and tended to by the collective’s members. But thanks to gentrification, this venue is soon to close.
All is not lost. Once a month, Gut Level teams up with FLAW Collective to hold ‘Working Them’s Club’ socials at local bar DINA, designed to encourage trans and non-binary DJs to cut their teeth in a welcoming environment. The collective is currently raising cash through merch sales and a last handful of ‘Happy Ending’ club nights while they hunt for a new venue, but their mission to keep Sheffield queer, sexy and hedonistic looks set to go from strength to strength.
When searching for a High Hoops logo back in 2015, co-founders Robbie Bloomer and Marcos Navarro found themselves looking to 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning. The story of Harlem’s influential vogue scene and the QTIPOC who drove it, the film centres the powers of community, chosen family and the importance of building those spaces on your own terms. This message resonated with the co-founders’ intentions to create an all-inclusive dancefloor, so they settled on an image of the iconic Octavia St. Laurent.
Seven years later, High Hoops is still going strong. As well as inclusivity, their secret to success is a mixture of well-established and upcoming DJ talent. Think: the likes of Honey Dijon and DJ Sprinkles sharing the decks with relative newcomers. The spirit of vogue looms heavy, too – performers from the House of Decay are often on hand to bring the iconic tradition to the dancefloor.
As for the music, house and techno are guaranteed crowd pleasers alongside trance, disco and, of course, ballroom. It’s this emphasis on diversity of all kinds that keeps High Hoops fresh, maintaining its cult following and establishing it as one of the best offerings of Manchester’s queer scene today.
Despite increased awareness of biphobia, there’s still a lack of LGBTQ+ club nights aimed specifically at bisexual clubbers. This is slowly changing, thanks to the emergence of club nights like Dalston Superstore’s Fast and Bi-Furious, but up in Scotland, Hot Mess has been welcoming a mixed crowd of gay, straight and bisexual partygoers for more than a decade.
Billed as a “straight-friendly dance party for queer kids”, Hot Mess is built on tongue-in-cheek humour and genre-blending DJ sets. Helmed by DJ Simonotron, the club night debuted at Edinburgh’s Wee Red Bar back in 2010 and later expanded to Glasgow in 2012. It’s still a regular fixture in both cities.
It’s not uncommon for disco, techno and left-field pop to be accompanied by trippy showreels of sexy, dancing robots in outer space. These campy, unexpected flourishes have helped Hot Mess to sustain its fanbase, making it one of the best-known events on Scotland’s renowned queer calendar.
Although there's precious little evidence online Bristol's 90s lesbian scene is well-loved and remembered by women across the country. In fact, Misscoteque – a newly-formed lesbian club night in Bristol – specifically cites this heyday as their inspiration. But by 2010, the scene was struggling. Determined to fill this gap, Anna Rutherford, Amy Wilson and Suzanne Doyle came together to form Indigo, which later spawned the quarterly lesbian club night, Hush.
According to a 2015 interview, the Indigo co-founders were frustrated that even the few lesbian nights in Bristol were run by men. “They’re guy-run,” they explained. “Women simply don’t get much of a look-in.” Hush was their remedy, a night filled with “the best female DJs, a packed dance floor, a room packed wall to wall with brilliant girls and good fun times.”
Although Hush itself is seemingly inactive, Indigo remains at the forefront of lesbian life in Bristol. There are regular socials, comedy nights and gigs, as well as a recent Pride Party.
LESBIAN LINE DISCO
In the late 1970s, Zoe Balfour lived with a group of other lesbians in a shared house on Kings Road, Cardiff. Within that one house, there were women working for three vital organisations: Lesbian Line, Women’s Aid and the Women’s Centre.
Phone helplines were, quite literally, a lifeline for lesbians across the UK during this era. There were only a handful of lesbian-only nights at the time, usually branded ‘women-only nights’ for safety. The few lesbian clubs that did exist – Gateways, which was women-only from 1943 through to its 1985 closure, is the best-known example – were based in London.
At Cardiff’s Lesbian Line, Balfour offered advice on everything from homophobia to isolation, but she also understood the need for more lesbian-only events. Throughout the 70s and 80s, she met these needs by organising Lesbian Line Discos and Tea Dances, covert but joyous events where lesbians could meet one another in relative safety.
Things didn’t always go smoothly. In a 2021 interview, Balfour explained landlords would sometimes refuse to rent venues once they realised the women were lesbians. “They probably thought we were having one big hen party,” she joked, alluding to the historical invisibility of lesbians. Little else is known about the discos, but these hidden safe spaces illustrate a history of queer nightlife sparked by charities and helplines. These parties were born of necessity, and their legacy remains important today.
In the late 1970s, an inconspicuous advert in Dublin’s Evening Herald newspaper brought a small group of trans people together. In 1978, two women - Claire Farrell and another known only as Lola - formalised this tight-knit community, calling themselves the Friends of Eon.
Named after an eccentric, androgynous French spy, Le Chevalier d’Eon, the Friends of Eon were Ireland’s first trans collective. They quickly broadened their reach beyond the Irish border, organising regular trips across the UK to meet and connect with other like-minded trans people, building nationwide links in the process.
Lola’s Disco was the jewel in the collective’s crown, a weekly club night held upstairs at Eon’s unofficial headquarters at the Parliament Inn. This fabled enclave, presumably soundtracked by the era’s euphoric disco classics, became a place for community escapism, love and celebration. Although shuttered at some point in the 80s, Eon’s mere existence is proof that trans joy has always found ways to thrive.
The last decade in particular has seen LGBTQ+ venues across the country forced to close their doors. From Camden’s beloved Black Cap to Leeds’ Bridge Inn, rising rents and gentrification have dealt a huge blow to Britain’s LGBTQ+ nightlife.
Despite this adversity, Birmingham’s Nightingale Club has survived more than five decades. It all started in 1968, when Laurie Williams and Derek Pemberton bought what used to be a run-down Indian restaurant in Camp Hill. Three venue changes later, the club - now located on Kent Street and marked out by beautiful murals - is a three-storey superclub, with a rotating cast of club nights, drag queens, go-go dancers and DJs.
Variety has kept the Nightingale fresh. Music varies based on the event, but club nights such as the campy, ‘90s celebration Glitter Shit and the emo-heavy I’m Not Okay - the brainchild of queer collective DragPunk - have found their feet at Birmingham’s most iconic gay club. Even after five turbulent decades, the club’s cultural momentum shows no sign of slowing.
Fashion, art and queer nightlife have always gone hand in hand. Alexander McQueen rubbed shoulders with avant-garde club kids in the mid-90s; a decade later, the likes of Henry Holland and Gareth Pugh frequented Hoxton’s BoomBox.
These links are alive and well today. Brighton’s Polyglamorous, usually held at Chalk, is exemplary; a self-described “chromatic club night” which encourages its revellers to dress up, get creative and dance the night away. The DJ sets are varied, but the ultimate objective is simple: play the kind of “queer dance bangers” guaranteed to get clubbers hot, sweaty and excited.
Crucially, there’s a zero-tolerance policy against discrimination of all kinds - one of the many reasons Polyglamorous played such a prominent role at this year’s Brighton Trans Pride. It’s a space for creativity and self-expression, so throw on your most jaw-dropping look and prepare to dance until it falls apart.
Pxssy Palace began as a series of house parties organised by co-founders Nadine Artois and Skye Barr in direct response to their own growing boredom with London’s scene. This was their statement of change: a raucous, sex-positive club night rooted in the celebration of QTIPOC.
Launched officially in 2015, Pxssy Palace has since become an east London institution. DJ sets span everything from ballroom classics – usually complete with a runway – to hip-hop and industrial techno. Sickening looks are highly encouraged, and a procession of ‘Badge Bitches’ keep watch over the dancefloor to ensure guests’ safety.
This ethos of mutual aid and protection continues to define Pxssy Palace. There’s a QTIPOC taxi fund to ensure guests get home safe; then there’s the upcoming Overflo Festival, an all-day serving of QTIPOC talent complete with art installations, a quiet ‘sanctuary’ and a small business marketplace. As Pxssy Palace continues to expand, its values remain uncompromised.
Cheeky, interdisciplinary and rooted in subversion, Glasgow’s Queer Theory launched in April 2016 and quickly became a fixture of the city’s DIY queer scene.
The collective’s values are plastered across Queer Theory’s booking and branding. The collage logo is slapped across posters paying homage to icons like Divine and Leigh Bowery; another promo flyer features two androgynous, hyper-muscular figures kissing atop Technicolor horses. The line-ups are generally a blend of performance art, drag cabaret and spoken-word poetry, featuring radical performers with genius monikers like Glasgay and Edinbuggery.
Glasgow’s Stereo café-bar has become the night’s regular home, but Queer Theory’s online presence is growing, too. Its social media feeds are used to platform talented, under-represented artists, and to celebrate the tight-knit community keeping the night alive. As they wrote on their sixth birthday, “we want a vibrator, a big ass, decriminalised sex work and unlimited supply of lipgloss, but mostly, the gift we want is you!”
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on British nightlife are well-documented, but Leeds-based trio Rat Party sniffed an opportunity to do things differently. Made up of Roxanne, Iyesha and Nicholas, also known by the DJ name NSFW, the collective launched their night as a series of socially-distanced raves. Driven by a need to to provide community during a period of lockdown-induced chaos, they were also motivated by their intention to centre underrepresented queer people, specifically “gender variant people, sex workers and queer people of colour”.
Two years since its first event in 2020, Rat Party is still going strong.
Based primarily at Eiger Studios (although there have been other venues, including a cave), it’s not unusual for these raves to run until 8am. Fairy lights are strewn throughout the space while a hefty sound system surges through a sweat-on-the-walls blend of techno, trance and pop bangers. The result? A euphoric atmosphere only heightened by the drag performers raving amongst concrete pillars.
The Rat Party co-founders all acknowledge there’s no such thing as a totally safe space, which is why they actively solicit feedback and create a culture of accountability. It’s this kind of community-led, mutual aid approach that’s paving the way towards a more inclusive future.
ROCK N DORIS
There’s still a shortage of lesbian bars and club nights in the UK. This is slowly changing in London thanks to the rise of Big Dyke Energy, Aphrodyki, LICK and more, but outside of the capital, Manchester’s Vanilla and Birmingham’s The Fox are the only dedicated lesbian bars still standing.
Despite this scarcity, Newcastle’s Rock n Doris has been going strong for more than three decades. The underground club night sprung up in the 1980s as a community-driven, no-frills night for lesbian rock fans, based for more than 12 years at the Live Theatre. Now, it’s based at the Cumberland Arms.
These histories are rarely spotlit, but the last few years in particular have seen renewed interest in regional queer histories. Julie Ballands’ Mothers of Invention is based on her own experiences of anti-lesbian discrimination in gay bars, as well as the solace she found in nights like Rock n Doris. Not only could lesbians meet up and rock out, they could organise together and protest against discriminatory laws, like Margaret Thatcher’s Section 28.
Rock n Doris remains a pillar of UK lesbian nightlife, and a glimpse into the more regional, working-class club scenes so rarely spoken about. It’s survived decades of gentrification and the slow demise of lesbian nightlife, making its ongoing legacy a vital part of British queer culture.
In the early 70s, Yvonne Taylor arrived in London to what she described as a “segregated” club culture. “I wasn’t really seeing Black people other than in Brixton or Tottenham,” she explained in a 2020 interview. As for mainstream gay clubs, they were – and still are – predominantly white, and they usually prioritised cisgender gay men, not lesbians.
Sistermatic was created as an alternative to all of this. It’s a Black, lesbian-led collective rooted in Black joy, music and community. In 1986, co-founders Yvonne Taylor, Eddie Lockhart, Lorna Edwards and Sharon Lee started their monthly club night at Brixton’s South London Women’s Centre. DJ sets were inspired by reggae and dancehall-heavy shubeen parties, but partygoers also had the option of a games room and a café.
In this sense, Sistermatic was more than a club night; it was a haven, where people, specifically, Black lesbians, could see themselves represented for once. Although Sistermatic ended in 1992, Taylor is still creating groundbreaking club nights.
The UK’s finest alt-drag talent has emerged from behind the gold tinsel curtains of The Glory, Haggerston’s beloved queer pub. It’s a mixture of old-school queer punk and a fresh, forward-thinking desire to toy with old blueprints, exemplified by the interiors: the wooden stools and tables may look cosy, but look left and you could see a bearded drag queen kicking glasses off the bar with dildo-heeled boots.
Since opening in 2014, The Glory has been credited with revolutionising London’s queer nightlife. As so many of the city’s long-standing institutions have shuttered, The Glory – co-founded by drag legends Jonny Woo and John Sizzle – has stayed strong by blending cabaret, performance and music with a friendly, welcoming atmosphere.
Here you’ll find nightlife pioneers like Jeffrey Hinton and Princess Julia behind the decks on a regular basis, as well as a rotation of regular club nights. If you’re lucky, you might get to see some bonus, avant-garde entertainment in the downstairs performance space, affectionately known as the Glory Hole.
THE WAYOUT CLUB
In 1993, Vicky Lee decided she wanted a club night which not only included trans clubbers, but centred and celebrated them. Thanks to Lee, it now exists.
Every second and last Saturday of the month, The Minories pub in east London plays host to the Wayout Club, a night for trans people of all descriptions to dance, mingle and seek out love on the dancefloor. Resident DJ Titch plays a floor-filling mixture of dance and commercial pop (chart hits available upon request!) but the true appeal of the Wayout Club is the vital role it plays for trans communities.
It’s no secret the world is hostile to trans people. That’s why Lee herself is usually a visible presence at the night, fielding the concerns of clubbers and offering help to anyone who needs it. It’s a hands-on approach to inclusivity, and one that continues to make the Wayout Club a beloved safe haven almost three decades later.
According to former barman Robert Keetch, a night at the Tunnel Club would usually begin with a familiar ritual: “You’d go along, you’d knock on the door, they’d slide a little hatch, look at you, let you in. It was a place to escape to.”
This screening process made for a unique atmosphere inside. Drag queens belted out tunes and cracked jokes for raucous crowds; one night, a Marilyn Monroe lookalike stripper raised more than a few eyebrows. Resident DJs would scour the vinyl shops of London and return to Cardiff with arms full of hi-NRG and house classics, mixing them in late-night sets that earned the venue a sort of gay superclub status.
The crowd is said to have been mixed, but like many gay bars past and present, cis gay men were the focus, to the extent that there was even a men’s-only bar downstairs. Upstairs, it wasn’t unusual to stumble across showbiz legends like Barbara Windsor or drag royalty Lily Savage, who held a monthly slot at the Tunnel Club for three years.
Increasingly, the Tunnel Club’s blend of joy and chaos is being commemorated. To mark 35 years of Pride Cymru, a wildly successful 2015 reunion saw hundreds of fond memories come together under one roof. The proceeds were donated to grassroots charities seeking a presence at Pride Cymru, a heartwarming example of queer past continuing to enrich the queer present.
Vague may have been short-lived, but it quickly gained a reputation as one of the coolest club nights in Leeds. Co-founded by Suzy Mason, Nick Raphael and Paul Fryer, lead singer of 80s electro-pop group Bazooka Joe, the night ran from 1993 to 1996. During this short run, it developed a cult following and a somewhat legendary status – a Melody Maker feature described it as the “dance equivalent of Andy Warhol’s The Factory.”
Luckily, surviving glimpses into this fabled night have been preserved online. In a video, a doorman named Chico explains his selective policy: “I’m looking for people who are open-minded, up for a laugh and out to have a good time,” he explains, dressed in towering black heels and a ruffled gold jacket. These rules were rooted in safety, and a determination to make sure nobody was there to harass or attack guests. To sweeten the wait time, drag artists would walk up and down the snaking queue, handing out lollipops, tea and biscuits to clubbers waiting for admission.
Inside, Vague was an explosion of kitsch, theatrical chaos. Partygoers danced topless on the bar to records drawn from the grittier realms of synth wave and electro pop. Upstairs, showtunes were mixed with glam-punk, soul and jazz. These eclectic playlists exemplified the “polysexual” ethos of Vague, which aimed to blend open-minded crowds of all sexualities.
Nothing says ‘camp’ quite like a giant, phallic banana as a club night logo. When Wild Fruit launched in Brighton’s Paradox nightclub in 1992, this tongue-in-cheek visual summed up its ethos: sexy, brash, colourful and always tongue-in-cheek.
For 25 years, Wild Fruit was the jewel in Brighton’s nightlife crown. Promoter Paul Kemp leaned heavily into the idea of creating a gay superclub, one to rival London’s Heaven, Birmingham’s Nightingale and Newcastle’s Powerhouse. There were oiled-up go-go boys grooving alongside drag queen hosts while club kids showed up and showed out, serving looks and maintaining nightlife’s close ties to art and fashion.
Then, there were the DJs. Wild Fruit was known for bringing the best of the best to Brighton, from Frankie Knuckles to former Flesh resident DJ Paulette. In 2003, Azuli Records even released a two-disc compilation of the night’s best bangers, featuring everyone from RuPaul to Fatboy Slim.
Wild Fruit burned brightly through to its end in 2017, but its legacy is still celebrated. In fact, this year saw a one-off reunion as part of Brighton Pride. Three decades since its inception, Brighton’s original “polysexual club night” is still as beloved as ever.
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