Saturday, March 29, 2014

First Out Cafe Bar

First Out Café Bar
First Out Café Bar

Location: 52 St Giles High Street, London, England

Opened: 1986

Closed: October 29, 2011

From The Most Cake:



First Out is closing:
London loses its one lesbian café

by Petit Fours
Where are we going to go for awkward first dates now?

The decimation of Soho’s gay scene continued with the announcement that cafe First Out will open for its last night on 29th October – three weeks time. The cafe’s been around since 1986 but has been pushed out of its building 52 St Giles High Street because of high cost of the lease.

All over Facebook, gays were bemoaning the imminent disappearance of the place that they have had countless Coronas/lattes/hummous platters. Not to mention the awkward first dates, random snogs, and times they spent looking at G3 while quietly hoping to be picked up.

We ran down there this evening to see what was going on, and though the despondent-looking staff didn’t want to go on record before boss Maria puts out a press release tomorrow, we asked about some stuff and understand that yes, it is a lease problem that is pushing the cafe out of its home for 25 years. It has come up for renegotiaton and it’s not gone their way.

Apparently the whole area is getting redeveloped as part of the Tottenham Court Road Crossrail programme (I hope this fucking train station is good after all this) and even if the lease came good, the future of the whole area is uncertain.

They may move somewhere else, but as yet have no plans.

But SADFACE – this was one of the few dedicated gay cafes in London. There’s the Dalston Superstore, and some other gayish places out east – that one in Brick Lane staffed by grumpy but kind of hot lesbians. But they are far out, not First Out and DSS aside, none that I can think of are explicitly gay.

Kind of a confusing write-up. The headline reels us in by identifying First Out a "lesbian café", then the text consistently refers to it as a "gay" place. So what gives?

The obituary at Diva Magazine characterizes it as a "gay venue", but one that was "popular" with "gay and bisexual women"-- if that's of any help:

One of central London's longest-standing gay venues has announced that it will close at the end of this month, DIVA can report.

First Out Cafe Bar, which is located on St. Giles High Street behind the famous Centre Point building, will continue to operate until the end of October when it will close its doors for the final time.

According to sources,
changes to the lease and rent increase are to blame for the closure, which will see the popular eatery and bar close after twenty-five years of service.

We confirmed the closure with staff at the venue - but they were unable to provide a quote.

Popular with gay and bisexual women, First Out was regularly featured in's Readers' Awards for Best Venue, but - in recent years - endured considerable disruption as a result of the Crossrail development in the surrounding area.

Former employees include broadcaster, writer and entertainer Amy Lame.

But then there's the death notice at The Guardian, which barely mentions women or lesbians, except in a rather perfunctory and patronizing way (i.e. the "1970s lesbian-stereotype feel" crap). In fact, the article is pretty much devoted to the gay guys and straight dudes (i.e. the "very heterosexual, hairy bikers") who went there:

 The last days of a legendary gay venue
The central London cafe First Out is to close its doors after 25 years in business


First Out          

The First Out Cafe Bar is closing after 25 years. Photograph: Frank Baron for the Guardian

London's lesbian and gay community is preparing for a bereavement. The First Out cafe, situated off Tottenham Court Road, is closing at the end of this month after 25 years in business. I had my first date there with my partner back in 1987, and have witnessed multiple cop-offs, breakups and full-blown gay dramas on its premises.

First Out joins the other casualties of the Crossrail development, the east-west rail link due to open in 2017, such as the famous Astoria Theatre. The cafe's owners say they are shutting up shop having failed to satisfactorily renegotiate the lease as the area undergoes redevelopment.

The venue was the first ever gay daytime venue, offering an alternative to the clubbing scene. "No one would immediately size you up when you walked in the door, so gay men would drop in without having to be done up in our finery," says Tony, a long-term regular. I often call in for a drink with friends, but avoid the food, it being a bit knit- your-own-organic-tofu-salad for me. The leaflets scattered around the place advertising flat shares in Hackney and classes on self-insemination can give it a 1970s lesbian-stereotype feel, but its warmth is palpable.

"This is home for so many people, including staff," says manager Jo Moores. "Our customers appreciate that this is not part of the gay meat market. It is much more of a friendly hangout, and everyone is welcome." There is plenty of romance and the odd bit of snogging throughout the basement bar and upstairs cafe, but you are as likely to see lone customers with their laptops, relaxing after a workout at the gym, and couples dropping in after a day's shopping.

Many straight folk also consider it their local. A group from a nearby church meets there weekly, and I recall a couple of very heterosexual, hairy bikers dropping in a few years back to taste the fruit smoothies. It is hard to imagine what could replace it.

Just goes to show how hard it is to find "dedicated" lesbian space of any type, even the kind that is "lost."

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.