As the legendary lesbian hangout, First Out closes its
doors, Fiona Harvey examines how lesbian cafe society in the
capital is changing.
First Out was the first place I ever went to that had real live
lesbians. It was in the mid 1990s, and I've been there hundreds of
times since, but each time somewhere at the back of my mind I still
feel an echo of the thrill, the butterflies and the painful
Stooping to gather up a copy of the Pink Paper to provide a
cover for my blushes, I somehow managed to find my way to a seat
where I could gather my nerves and gaze covertly at the people
around - gay people. Oh, the wonder of it! This was where they'd
been hanging out. It was an experience repeated by thousands of
other lesbians and gay men, who found in the relaxed cafe-bar a
haven away from the often strictly segregated scene of hardcore
men's bars and the handful of women-only venues.
No more. First Out closed its doors for the final time on 29
October, ending two and a half decades of London LGBT history.
Gay and lesbian bars have always had a tendency to spring up and
fall back. Older readers in London may remember such haunts as the
Bell on Pentonville Road, the Angel on Graham Street, the adored
Due South in Stoke Newington and the much-missed Glass Bar in
First Out was an institution. Take it in its own words, from its
self-written blurb on the Queery.org.uk website, the guide to all
things LGBT from London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard: "Despite
feeling like it has been around since forever, First Out was only
established in 1986 (admittedly way ahead of the pack and come to
think of it somewhat older than the younger clientele - sheesh) and
was London's first out and proud lesbian and gay cafe-bar (hence
the pun-a-riffic name)."
Read the rest of this feature in the December issue of
PHOTO Holly Falconer