“ 4 Carlisle Street, W1. Tel: +44 (0)20 7494 4041. „
The Candy Bar is somewhere in Soho. I couldn’t pin down exactly where it is for you. I couldn’t give you an address or a grid reference but I could get you somewhere near. I know roughly where it is. The problem is that whenever I go to the Candy Bar I am drunk. Friends, drag me there after a few ales, through the streets of Soho. I say these things to clarify two points: that a) I do not go here without persuasion and b) I don’t go here on my own. I want to clarify this because Candy Bar is London’s best lesbian bar. The Vespa Lounge, I hear, is awful, and this is the only place that the bright young dykes wanna hang out. So after a few pintas with me in some of London’s scraggiest pubs my old mate, who happens to be in the vagina business, wants something else to amuse her. Somewhere to hang out and have some drinkies after closing time. How could I, after all, deny her that? There is an obvious venue. So me, her, her girlfriend and assorted others head for the Candy Bar. Now, dear reader, let it never be said that I am a reactionary right-winger, intolerant and bigoted. I am a fairly straight-forward kinda guy (god, I sound like Tony Blair.) Live and let live, say I, apart from ardent Tories who can die and rot in hell. But when confronted with the prospect of the Candy Bar I can only but feel afraid. Call it prejudice. Call it a result of lesbian stereotypes. Call it whatever you like. But the butterflies are always maniacally flapping in my belly. It’s a members’ place I think, and one needs to sign in. One also needs to pass the bouncers. It’s Soho, it opens late, so yes, it has a bouncer. Usually a fairly scary looking woman in a bomber jacket. I shall never forget the exchange with the bouncer the first time I visited: Bouncer: You a member? My friend: Yup. Are blokes allowed in tonight? (She says motioning to me.) Bouncer: Is he gay? My Friend: Yup. ( No, I̵
7;m bloody not I shout internally. Whilst trying to propagate a slightly camp smile and nodding agreement.) Bouncer: Are you sure? Me: Yes. I can’t get enough arses. My friend was trying to suppress her laughter at my newfound interest in buggery, but the bouncer let us in and we headed for the bar. Now, you now those westerns in the saloons in the desert with swinging doors? The maverick strolls in and the place goes silent, the cowboys eye him suspiciously. Well, it was a bit like that. Not much, but you get the picture. I was bloody petrified so all I could do was nonchalantly make a bid for the bar. It was at this point my friend revealed her urgent need for a visit to the toilet. “OK,” I croaked “I’ll get the drinks in.” So she heads for the latrines and I was left at the bar. On my own. I felt rather vulnerable. I ordered a pair of drinks and was extra polite and tried to not to look at the barmaid’s breasts. That would blow my cover. As I am taking my first slurp from my drink, a woman appears by my side. “Are you here with a member?” She barks, over the music. “Yes,” I reply. She eyes me suspiciously. She is a curious looking woman. Big glasses, mousey hair, stern eyes. Imagine a strident feminist, with very little humour and a keen interest in Marxism and you will have a picture of this woman in your mind. She clearly doesn’t believe me. She thinks I am some kind of pervert who likes to hang around lesbian bars for kicks. Fortunately, my friend returns and she confirms that she is a member and that I am kosher. The witch relents, my friend gives her a fierce look and we perch on stools at the bar sipping our vodka and tonics. She is eagerly eyeing the girls up. I am trying to look relaxed and probably failing miserable. This was in the old Candy Bar that was a more bohemian place than the new venue on Carlisle Street (that’s what it says up at
the top). It had a rather homey feel but the new place is more cool, more self-conscious. It is set on two levels. The upper level has a bar and feels more like a bar but downstairs it is more chilled, relaxed and like a lounge. There is also a second lower level, secluded and secret. It is difficult to begrudge a bar that wants to upsize and become more grown-up. The old place felt like the student lesbian bar, seeing if it could be successful, the current Candy Bar has graduated. It knows it can work, it is confident of its abilities. It seems a little less scared by the presence of men. Although, of course, we still have to be chaperoned. We still need to be signed in and marshalled. But they do have women only nights, I believe. It was a bit different in the old gaff mind. Men were interlopers. On my first night we migrated upstairs after a few and whilst I hoped we would sit quietly in the corner my friend went straight for the pool table and put her money down (it is a shame that the new place doesn’t have a pool table) despite my anxious protestations that I didn’t want to play. The match in progress was a desperate and vicious battle of wills. I was left alone whilst my friend played the winner and won and then played another and won. It was getting embarrassing. But then I was distracted when another fella with a boyish girl came on up to the pool room. He looked relieved on seeing me and plonked himself next to me as his companion greeted her pool-playing mates. “I couldn’t help noticing you were a man,” he said extending his hand. I nodded, agreeing I was man. I didn’t bother asking if he was man. He had a rather large beard and looked like a young, more Greek and, to be fair, gayer Tsar Nicholas II. We chatted amiably as the girls played pool, ever more aggressively. After I had been talking to the Tsar for a while it became increasingly apparent that I would need to go and shake hands wit
h the unemployed. That is spend a penny, have a slash, siphon the python. I had been dreading it in the same way one dreads an imminent fart in bed after the first shag of the relationship: inevitable but unavoidable. I asked the Tsar and he thankfully confirmed there was a Gents toilet and he briefed me fully as to its location. I fielded the slightly displeased looks that came my way as I went down the stairs back to the main bar and across to the lavs. I was trying not to eye anyone up, it was kinda tough as I have a thing for boyish girls but as I always say it’s better than girlish boys. Didn’t I mention that my friend was an ex-squeeze? I didn’t? That’s for another time. I don’t think there’s a Dooyoo category called ‘Are any of your ex-girlfriends now lesbians?’ With the toilet now firmly sighted, I walk stridently towards it. Masculine but with a hint of campness. More Rupert Everett than Dale Winton. There are three women waiting by the door to the ladies and I go straight for the handle of the Gents. I hear a tut. The door is locked. I try and push it again. I have had, after all, a few drinks, and doors can be tricky. “Wait your turn,” one lady waiting says. I wonder for a moment what she means but my answer comes when the lock on the door bearing a picture of a man clunks and out strolls a woman. It takes a moment but I join the back of the queue. When I finally get in to the bog I am aware that I am an Ambassador for Gentlemankind in the difficult field of toilet etiquette. Obviously, I lift the seat up making a mental note to put it down again. I tinkle with extreme caution. Any spillage would be more than unfortunate but it all seems under control and as I relieve myself my eyes settle on an unusual looking condom machine. It takes me a moment to realise it is a tampax machine. So I finish up put the seat back down and check all is in order and re-emerge to the bar. I don&
#8217;t think it could be more traumatic had it been Buckingham Palace. It’s a good place the Candy Bar. Obviously not the venue for a quiet pint or a squiz over the papers, but it exceeds expectations. It has thankfully managed to move beyond what one might expect a lesbian bar to be. There are no signs for Tofu and karate evenings and although it does not say “hello boys” it does say “alright, come in if you must” and that seems fair to me. After all, this is one for the ladies and they extend a far warmer welcome than many gay pubs do to women. And as Soho gradually becomes Disneyland with Starbucks, Pret a Manger and Macdonald’s abounding and the street populated by tedious twenty-somethings with an affordable cocaine habits and ersatz cockney accents, wearing gap khakis and twisty jeans it reminds you what Soho is actually there for. It’s a little bit more real, daring and honest. It’s brassy and unapologetic. Thanks for letting me in.