Last week, I stumbled across news of the opening of a brand new pub in central London called the Gabbi's Head. Described by the Evening Standard as "a beautiful pop-up pub for women, a haven of football and beauty", for one month only women can watch the World Cup there while getting their spray tan, nails and eyebrows done.
Everything that's not nailed down is pink and burgers are not only themed after teams in the World Cup, but after beauty procedures such as "the Brazilian", so that you can finally eat a dinner that is named after a type of pubic wax.
On the one hand, OBVIOUSLY the idea of the Gabbi's Head seems like a reductive cliché – I mean, it's an all-pink pub. An all-pink pub with a website that suggests women might want to come and "ogle footballer's legs", watch the football without "laddy interruptions", drink "exclusive cocktails" and "get gorgeous".
But I had to admire the balls it took to launch this joint in the age of the Twitter feminist rage machine that couples the turning circle and dexterity of Neymar with the endless rage of Wilson Palacios. The decor alone should have been enough to launch a billion op-eds, but actually, as far as I can see, Twitter has been kind of quiet and enthusiastic about the Gabbi's Head.
Maybe that's because – while suggesting that all women like to be addressed as "gals" and fantasise about spending time in Barbie's Dreamhouse – the Gabbi's Head is also acknowledging that women can be interested in football and beauty at the same time. Which might sound like it should be a given, but it's not.
When I was 12, I was obsessed with football. If I wasn't doing kick-ups in the garden, I'd be sat inside playing Euro 2000 on the PS1, or collecting World Cup stickers and swapping them with the boys at school. While this was happening, all the girls I knew were starting to shave their legs, paint their nails and put make-up on. I was the tomboy with the bruised knees and grass-stained jeans, until I was about 14 – when I finally got on board with Impulse Gold and Rimmel blue eyeshadow.
Back then, I felt pressured by other girls at school to choose between my beloved Zola shirt and a Miss Sixty crop top, but now, in a way, the weird football-beauty pub is telling me I can have both. It's sending out a message that football isn't exclusively for men and that it's perfectly acceptably to drink a cosmopolitan instead of a pint while you watch the game. And who doesn't enjoy a cosmo? So I decided to head down to Covent Garden to pay the Gabbi's Head a visit.
I chose to go to the pub on the day of the England vs. Uruguay match, for the optimum girls-watching-the-football experience. Because it was my birthday, and I didn't want to spend my 23rd birthday alone in a fuchsia room with laminate wood flooring, I brought reinforcements along in the form of a few female friends.
Men are welcome at the beauty pub, but I wasn't sure I felt comfortable dragging many guys I know to a place that serves Bellinis at half time. It would be nice to pretend we're all impervious to the gender politics of a space, but colours have connotations, and when I asked some boys I know how they'd feel about drinking in a bright pink pub, they laughed at the very idea of it – showing that the colour does tend to equate to a level of ultra-femininity in people's minds.
Nonetheless, there were quite a few men drinking at the pink pub, like the guy above, who I didn't speak to, but was definitely from the showbiz section of a tabloid newspaper. And also Will Young, who you can sort of see below in the red beanie.
If you're not the girliest of girls, the concept of a "beauty pub" might sound terrifying. I've been known to slap as much make-up on my face as a TOWIE extra, but "brow pods", "skincare stations" and "tanning booths" sound like things from a NASA training course to me. And something about having a spray tan in the same place that you're eating a gastropub burger reminds me of that time I went to the gym and a guy was eating biscuits in the sauna.
That said, there is something incredibly practical about being able to have you eyebrows waxed at the same time as you watch a football match. Now that women are, you know, empowered enough to have jobs, we're generally quite busy, and anything that helps us multitask can only be a positive thing, right? Fuck it – they should have got a hairdresser in.
When I asked some of the girls whether they wished all pubs had the option of an instant makeover, they laughed. "Nah," said one girl, "it's fun for this but it would be a bit weird at a normal pub, wouldn't it?" This seemed to be the consensus throughout the night, as one of my friends pointed out that "it didn't really feel like a proper pub without all the testosterone", before begging me not to include that because it "doesn't sound very feminist".
The atmosphere before the game was decidedly "hen-party chic"; white wine was glugged from the bottle, a girl from Made in Chelsea was taking selfies with people in the corner and everyone was eating nachos. Unfortunately, the room was too busy for anyone to make use of the pink dartboard, and the sight of this tailor-made football table being used as a booze graveyard made me feel sad inside.
When the match began the room started to buzz, but to my disappointment there was as much talk about how fit Suárez, Sterling and Sturridge are as there was about England's standing in the tournament. Thankfully, Rooney's equaliser sent the crowd into a frenzy, restoring my faith that the girls were actually there for the beautiful game, rather than just the beauty products.
By this point, I was really starting to enjoy myself. It's not so much the ear drum fracturing sound of men yelling at the TV that freaks me out about going to blokey pubs to watch the World Cup, but a slight anxiety that I don't really know what to shout at the screen myself. Sometimes, in a moment of reactionary panic, I'll yell something like "GET IT AWAY". I also ask loads of annoying questions, even though I used to play football myself:
"Who's that guy?"
"How do they choose how much extra time there is?"
"Why didn't that count?"
"Will there still be a game on Tuesday if we lose this one?"
It was really nice to watch the football surrounded by girls because they actually answered me. Also, I don't want to paint us as a load of gossiping medieval fishwives, but during the boring bits we definitely talked about who we were sleeping with.
When we eventually lost I was disappointed, but less so cause I'd got my make-up done for free. These girls were inconsolable, though:
After the game, as people began to disperse, tensions were running high and a fight broke out. Someone called someone a "cow" and someone else started crying. I wanted to see the fight as triumphant confirmation that women can care about football in the same irrationally passionate and violent way as men, and that the sport can make them just as rowdy about it after a few drinks, but really I kinda felt like I was back at an all-girls school, where we had no boys to show off to and so just fought with each other to create some entertainment for ourselves.
As I waded through broken glass and discarded make-up packaging, I left the Gabbi's Head thinking that, although the concept was a little trashy, ultimately I liked what it stands for. It was kind of heartening to know that football and beauty can coexist in the same space, albeit a space that makes you feel like you're inside a giant, cartoon vagina.