Meet the Trader: La Camionera, the new lesbian bar that went viral on its opening night

The crowds on Broadway Market on La Camionera’s opening night. Pic: Screen grab from @lleoworld‘s TikTok.

What was supposed to be a small residency with 25 seats in the basement of another bar on Broadway Market in Hackney turned into hundreds of people gathering on the street trying to get in on the opening night last month. The word about La Camionera, the new tapas bar coming to Hackney and aimed at the lesbian community, spread like wildfire, and videos of the crowds waiting outside soon went viral on TikTok.

Having already created quite the buzz, founders Alex Loveless and Clara Solis have now decided to ride the wave and turn their part-time basement residency into a full-time bar and café above ground that is set to open within the next month. 

Alex, who has a background in the Hackney club scene, told Eastlondonlines that the turnout on the opening night was surprising: “It really wasn’t expected, we were only meant to have like, 20, 30 people in there. So I was very surprised.”  

The lack of lesbian bars in London might be the explanation to why La Camionera was met with such enthusiasm. As of October last year, there were only three permanent lesbian bars in the entire country, one of which is She Soho in London. Moreover, many of the existing queer venues are clubs or bars with a focus on parties and dancing, which makes La Camionera different. 

Alex said: “[La Camionera] is a bar as opposed to a club. That’s not really been a thing recently. It’s a chance to chill out in a more relaxed environment rather than go out dancing. It’s nice to have a kind of quiet bar to go to, where it’s just nice to be. Most LGBTQ venues are clubs, or they don’t really think about what they’re serving. They don’t really think about the food, or music, or decor and I think we’re kind of the opposite; we’re primarily a nice tapas bar, a nice place to be, but we’re marketed towards the LGBTQ community.” 

This type of space has clearly been long awaited. The Instagram post that announced that Alex and Clara had bought their own bar and would open La Camionera full-time received more than 10,000 likes. In the post, they also asked for support with funding, and set up a fundraiser page that lets people buy coffees and pints in advance to claim later.  

Alex said about setting up the fundraiser: “It was quite scary to do it because obviously it’s asking a lot, but we tried to give people a reward, so that people could pay for their pint in advance and then claim it, so it felt more like a trust exercise.” 

It soon turned out they had nothing to be afraid of – in less than two weeks they surpassed their goal of raising £50,000, and at the time of writing almost 1,500 people have pitched in. The money will help cover refurbishments, the deposit, and paying the previous owners to take over their equipment and alcohol and food licenses.  

Alex outside the new Well Street venue that is to become La Camionera. Pic: Cornelia Falknäs.

The new venue is located on 243 Well Street in Hackney, and will open later this month. Alex said about the new space: “It’s three times as big, it above ground. It’s got a garden, high ceilings and windows. It’s kind of the opposite of what it was. It was in a dingy basement before, which is cool too. But we’re making it a bit brighter and warmer.” 

With proper kitchen facilities, they will be able to expand their Spanish food menu, inspired by time spent at nice bars with cheap drinks and good food in Madrid – something they felt that London was missing. Their name is Spanish as well: camionera means female truck driver, but is also a slang word for a butch lesbian.  

Who is welcome in lesbian spaces has been a hot topic recently, as news came out last month about a lesbian bar set to open in London later this year which will only allow access to biological women and not trans people. On La Camionera’s fundraiser page, Alex wrote: “As a trans person, I can’t help but feel othered when spaces tack on whether I am / am not welcome. Let’s not let a minutiae of people control the dialogue – we’re stronger without them.”  

To Eastlondonlines, Alex said: “It’s crazy to me that you would design a space with exclusivity in mind. This bar is a lesbian bar because, you know, I’m a lesbian, and my friends are lesbians, but it’s not necessarily just for people like me. It’s just more marketed towards that I suppose, in the same way that, I don’t know, Turkish restaurants are marketed to Turkish people. People like to get political about stuff like that. But it was never really an intention, it was just my casual sort of assertion for us.” 

The venue they bought is going through big changes to become La Camionera – one of them is making the bathroom wheelchair accessible. Pic: Cornelia Falknäs.

Inclusivity is a key part of La Camionera, whether it’s about gender identity, wheelchair accessibility or daily happy hours to not price anyone out of food and a nice drink. What they hope to achieve is simple: “Just keep the business going and hope that it doesn’t end up like one of those bars that open for a while and then have to close because the customers stop coming. So that’s just the goal really,” Alex said, and then added: “It’s obviously a huge challenge for us. People are trying to open bars, and they shut every day. But just from the support we’ve had from the community and the fundraiser, I feel like we’ve built it together and we will try to keep up together and if it fails, we fail together.” 

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