Market Tavern Vauxhall London SW8
What don't you know about the Market Tavern by now isn't worth wasting precious words. It's up four flights of stairs, it's L-shaped, houses two bars, is painted black and has teeny-tiny toilets. Oh, there's a new pool table - a bright orange one at that. Occasionally, women-only nights have been tried there, the last notables being Chain Reaction (closed down after the radical feminists waged war with crowbars against SM dykes) and the Clit Club (in a brief moment of glory before wrestling in baby-oil thinned the crowds out).
Now there's Comeô - "a Saturday night party for dykes" - which attracted an almost exclusively South London crowd, slightly rougher around the edges but funsters none the less. Ushered in by a neon purple-eyed hostess, I waited for something original or innovative to happen. The space remained the same, the infamous camouflage netting had been liberated once again, and the music was the regular "vibrant vinyl" techno (loud enough to start the walls buzzing) - nothing extraordinary there but quite delectable all the same.
What did make an impression was the crowd. The faces were vaguely familiar - cute, ordinary and striking - but most seemed to know someone else. Spotting the potential for cruising is difficult - girlfriends arrive milliseconds later, or single females are pulled into a gang of women. It all looks very cliquey but that doesn't stiffle the mood... unless you're playing pool. Be advised that every game has a sharp pugnacity attached to it. Comeô is however one to savour. True, it probably won't win awards for its ingenuity or eccentricity, but you can't beat it for spirit. ©Megan Radclyffe
TO BE GLAM
WKD Café Camden London NW1
"Glad To Be Glam?" I queried. "The deep sound of the Big Apple?" I mused. I had to check this out, but decided to leave my silver platforms and hot pants at home, remaining Glad To Be Corduroy.
WKD is merely a hop, skip and a jump away from Camden Town underground. You'd be forgiven for believing it was an Arts Centre. There are some kooky mobiles hanging around - vibrantly coloured jigsaw moulds and neon hoops - and a bunch of dark and dramatic figurative paintings on the walls, hardly lit by red bulbs. You can just about view these purchasable arty frames from minimalist wooden chairs (which are surprisingly very kind to your bottom) while downing beers at £2 a bottle or even splashing out on a cocktail or three (£5.50 for a jug before 10pm).
The crowd is very Camden - an element that strikingly visible to the eye but hard to define - and the place is pretty much an attitude-free zone. Nobody really gives a hoot what you wear (as long as it1s out there) or what you do (some of the dancing was mildly wacky) - it's a place for club babes of both sexes who want to chill to garage remixes of "Funky Town" and Lionel "Hey jambo-ma" Richie. Yes, there is a "glam" element to it all but it1s a refreshing space and a fabulous alternative to the eternal drag marathon at the Black Cap - especially for trendy gay girls and togged-out faggots. ©Megan Radclyffe
ACE OF CLUBS *
Piccadilly London WC2
The Ace Of Clubs has a reputation as a bit of a dinosaur. After all, the club has been at a tiny site in Burlington Arcade for 10 years. The clientele leans heavily on the side of monogamy, doesn1t it? And the Old Guard rule the place, don1t they? Well don't believe the hype.
The club is in fact a virtually Babe-free zone which refuses to play heavy, mind-numbing techno. And there are some fine looking women holding up the bar. Okay, so a number of them look as if they'd been on the set of "Claire of the Moon" (blazer jackets, jeans and slightly tousled hair) but it's the atmosphere that counts, and the Ace has a fantastic one.
For those who remember the heady days of Below Stairs at the LLGC, the club will bring it all flooding back. For the bubble-heads who wear skin-tight t-shirts and silver wedgies, it's probably not for you. The music is chart-orientated (and last month's), there's clean air and the women sing along, loudly. As someone who has been forced to spend over two years swirling in a rave-induced cess-pit, the Ace Of Clubs offers a blessed and unique respite from having your eardrums popped the moment you enter the foyer.
The Ace is loose and friendly (although it was good to see some old-fashioned predatory dykes marking out their territory) and the club manages to attract a very healthy mix of black, white, Asian and Oriental dykes. And don1t think it's packed by midnight with groups of crusty matriarches, because the age range is pretty broad as well.
It might be small and the drinks might be a tad over priced, but 10 years in such a fickle world as lesbian nightlife must prove something, surely? ©Megan Radclyffe
DUE SOUTH *
Stoke Newington High Street London N16
It's a bit of a shock to discover that a local pub has opened its doors to my kind of deviant. I briefly re-enact the death scene of a headless chicken and resolve to visit the establishment post haste. Here, I was pleasantly astounded.
Due South has ushered in a gay clientele for six months, and advertises its inclination with small pink triangles on the blackboards which lurk around outside. The interior is raw brick work and polished wood, housing a semi-circle bar which stocks a huge range of designer drinks including chili beer ("It's not a plastic chili"), alcoholic fizzy pop and five optics for snazzy vodkas. You can order kebabs, pizza and houmous from local eateries and bring it into the pub, as long as you "offer some to Julie [behind the bar] because she gets restless in the presence of food." It probably won't flabbergast you to know there's a pool table there, too.
The pub fills quite quickly but there's ample space to mooch about. The odd straight couple do saunter in but scurry out again before downing a drop, no doubt scared shitless by a predominately lesbian crowd who fall a stones throw from being modish. There's an almost frothy atmosphere to Due South, but it could equally be a home to quiet quaffing. A few words of warning though. Beware the wicked double step out of the ladies lavatory (especially if you're a tad squiffy) and allow a slight berth for rowdy hockey or football players, particularly when they've returned victorious from the battlefield! ©Megan Radclyffe
UP YOUR DECK
North End Road W14
"Oh..." my partner mewled when we found Ted's Place "That's not it, is it?" You might understand her initial pallor upon spotting a small green door, a wired-up window and an entry buzzer. Bravely, we penetrated the inner sanctum, down a steep, dark stairway. We found a long, cool and intimately lit room with half a dozen tables (complete with cloths and candles), Kate Bush on the turntable, and a bar crammed with exotic bottles and photographic evidence of the outré drag acts, dykes, TVs and fags who are regulars. Utterly fab, we thought.
We had arrived a tad early (the place didn't even hum, let alone buzz, until 8.30pm), and Up Your Deck is professed to be the quietest night Ted's Place has. It has an air of the 1950s about it, brought screaming into the 1990s with safer sex posters and stylish beefcake shots adorning the walls. My girlfriend must have said "It's very nice" fifteen times before sinking her first drink. Women chatted easily cross-table (a rare phenomenon nowadays) but then all hell broke loose.
Jean T. appeared, flip chart and clippings in hand, a wicked grin on her lips. We were a captive audience, and she was going to play with us. Unfortunately, I was spotted and was shanghaied into playing "Mrs and Mrs" with my truly mortified partner. According to the regulars, we got off lightly, scoring 7/10 and receiving a bottle of Vin Rouge for our trouble. Jean T. has something of a reputation for ritual humiliation it seems, but certainly knows when to back off from ragging a reddened contestant: if you are easily shamed, there is nowhere to hide from the roving microphone.
We staggered out into the breezy night air at 12.30am, clutching our prize vino and our ribs, thinking it well worth the 30 minute drive and the total ridicule we suffered. You may think us sad bastards, but we haven't had so much fun at a club in aeons. ©Megan Radclyffe
Balls Pond Road Dalston London N1
So, the Brixton belles have finally seen sense and moved the whole shebang to the North. No more trudging up four flights of stairs at the Tavern, no more teeny toilets. Hoorah! And that makes seven, count 'em, seven gay pubs within walking distance of my home.
I admit I was troubled, seeing those shuttered windows. No air, no light. I believed the interior would be dank, dark and dangerous but - slap me down with a dental dam - it's dead cushy. I had ample chance to mooch around because there was hardly anyone there before 10.45pm, despite the 2am curfew. After 11.30pm, it's mash pack city. The dance floor's concealed behind a velour curtain which also hides that flipping camouflage netting (carefully packaged and transported from the Tavern, no doubt) so no-one can crash into you and send your precious pint flying.
Come North didn't flabbergast me with club ambiance (a good thing). It's more like crossing pub semblance with "desres" sounds, without cranking the volume so loud as to render conversation impossible (another good thing). When I reviewed Come in 1995 I said, "It probably won't win awards for its ingenuity or eccentricity, but you can't beat it for spirit". Come North then, it gets so much better. ©Megan Radclyffe
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