There’s a joke in queer female folklore and it goes like this: what does a lesbian bring to a second date? The answer is a U-Haul. For those unversed in being a woman who fancies other women, it’s a joke about how lesbians get super serious super quickly, rushing to move in, get settled and never hook up with a random again. It doesn’t help this stereotype that rising rent prices have pressured the closure of countless LGBTQ+ spaces, particularly ones aimed at women. Morosely swiping on Her at home doesn’t quite have the same vibe.
But queer female cruising – and partying in general – could be heading for a renaissance, thanks to a new club opening in one of London’s most high-profile gay party districts, Vauxhall. In three years, LICK has gone from being a monthly club night to a fully fledged venue housed in the Fire & Lightbox Complex under the Vauxhall Arches. But there’s a difference between LICK and other gay venues, like the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, Heaven, or even lesbian bar She. LICK is a womxn and non-binary people-only space – it's not a club for cisgender or trans men, regardless of their sexual orientation.
At capacity within an hour of opening on launch night, the popularity of LICK proves there’s a demand for queer girl spaces that’s not being met by the current offering. Robyn, a 26-year-old librarian I met on the night, told me that even in the mainstream LGBTQ venue space, she felt sidelined. “There’s often an anti-women undertone, which is obstructive to everyone being there.” This was echoed by restaurant manager Alicia, also 26. “I really appreciate having a space that’s ladies only, because the gay community is so male-dominated. And other venues are lacking diversity, not just in gender, but with cultural differences too.”
It’s clear when you enter LICK what other queer spaces in London have been missing. Live DJs play hip-hop and dancehall over the three rooms that comprise the club, and B*Witched don’t make an appearance in any of the playlists. It’s a space where people of colour are actively welcomed and made to feel visible; something founder Teddy Edwardes was keen to focus on when starting the events and venue. “When I started LICK, there were no girls from these communities in Soho. There just wasn't a place before for mixed-race, black, and Asian women, and nowhere playing the kind of music they like to listen to. I wanted to invite a diverse crowd.”
Like any club, LICK is full of wonderful naughty corners for swapping saliva with strangers and wrapping your arms around sweaty hips. Women collapse into each other against the walls of shallow arches, and gaps around the DJ booth are full of horny splendour. But with the lack of straight male perving present in other venues, LGBTQ or otherwise, queer women can finally take centre stage here. The abundance of women and non-binary people making out and twerking in the middle of the dance floor highlights how impossible this has felt at times in other clubs, where lesbian fetishism often pushes us into the shadows and toilets for fear of being harassed or assaulted.
Equally, just dancing and chatting feels so curiously easy. There's a ‘meet-up zone’ which is like a safe space within the safe space, where attendees can sit at tables to meet new people, bond, and take a moment’s breather away from the busy dance floor. At a time where over 9 million people in the UK say they are always or often lonely, providing this space, without any twee undertones, feels vital. Overlooking the meet-up space is a quiet mezzanine, which, weirdly, didn’t even feel creepy. The toilets have free tampons and sanitary towels.
Monica, a 25-year-old data engineer, pointed out that even as a straight girl not looking to pull anyone, she felt welcomed. “I feel so comfortable, and I’m not used to that in clubs. This is probably one of the best events I've been to in ages. Sometimes in clubs, girls can be really competitive with each other, but I don't feel that here because there's no men. I didn't realise how much it would make the dynamics change. I don't feel the pressure to try and impress anyone. I can honestly just be myself. And I’m wing woman-ing my friend!”
In 2015, VICE sent Le Tigre’s JD Samson in search of the last lesbian bars in America. Suffice to say, it made for depressing viewing. We know queer club closures have been on the rise not just over there, but in the UK too. But in spite of the challenges faced by queer venues to fight for their survival, it doesn't look like they've taken their last dying breath just yet. At least not in the capital now LICK has opened. The queer POC womxn and non-binary community in London long deserved an alternative to invisibility, isolation and the weird, stained basement in G-A-Y. All that’s left is to hope LICK is here for a good time and a long time.
UPDATE, Wednesday the 17th of July: After publication, a representative of LICK contacted VICE to say they have a strict 'no men' policy, not a strict 'no cis men policy' as originally stated. The article has been updated to include to reflect this.