Dalston Superstore: Blurring the Lines Between Nightclub and Community Space.

As a mainstay of Hackney nightlife, Dalston Superstore proves it is committed to improving the lives of the LGBTQ+ community.

The colourful outside of Dalston Superstore

It is 1am on a Thursday morning, a bar-top dancer stomps their platform boot dangerously close to my pint of cider and shouts out ‘BLACK TRANS LIVES MATTER’ before proceeding to vogue, as the patrons scream in support.

This is Dalston Superstore, a small but fiercely colourful staple of the North-East London gay scene since it first slid open it’s rainbow shutters in 2009. From its early days on Kingsland High Street the bar has been intensely committed to its fun and diverse party nights.

Crowds of party-goers flock to the bar to enjoy themed nights such as ‘TransVision’ and ‘Knickers Off’. These events, debaucherous as they may seem, successfully highlight various issues that LGBTQ+ people face. As you squeeze your way through the narrow spaces, you see the proud presentation of almost-naked bodies and ‘non-binary finery’, aiming to destigmatize sex work, the black body, and the abolition of gender roles.

During the daytime, however, the venue offers a vast range of free community services for queer people, or anyone in need.

Perrin, the acting general manager, explained why it is necessary to provide services that aren’t centred around party culture: “LGBT people need spaces which aren’t so party focused all the time”, a message that is prevalent in queer media; on an episode of arguably the most mainstream queer TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race, Season 5 winner Jinkx Monsoon says that ‘partying and drinking excessively have been a longstanding part of the gay community, but it doesn’t have to be’.

In the daylight, the Superstore takes on a much different atmosphere, with the tall windows almost giving the impression of a queer café. At this time, sexual health testing is offered bi-monthly and is provided by the non-profit organisation @PositiveEast. The vibrant and familiar setting marks a change from the often cold and sterile atmosphere of hospitals and GP surgeries; not to mention the difficulty of getting seen at these sites in the first place.

Perrin recounts that it can take two or three redirected phone calls to get an appointment at a clinic in Hoxton, and that walk-in appointments will usually only take a few people (before 9am!) before being ‘full for the day’. After living as a student in Cardiff myself, trust me when I say the process can sometimes be hellish.

After social distancing measures were enforced during the pandemic, the capacity to see sexual health patients at many sites decreased by over 80%, thus furthering the need for pop-up sites. Since the end of lockdown, sexual health testing at Dalston Superstore has naturally seen an increase, as many young people return to crowded bars despite the potential risk, longing to belong again.

However, despite sexual health testing being provided at the public queer bar, the Superstore respects the privacy of its clients, with online bookings allowing for a smooth and fast operation if needed. The importance of providing healthcare and other philanthropic endeavors in safe spaces is not to be underestimated, as many young LGBTQ+ people often feel uncomfortable or face discrimination in typically ‘straight’ venues.

Aside from being a sexual health testing site, the Superstore has been known to transform into an art gallery, an information centre for people seeking housing, and a practice space for musicians; providing advanced decks for aspiring DJ’s to practice on before they go professional.

“It’s part of our responsibility… [events] can be sober, or take place during the day, they can be educational and beneficial.” Perrin goes on to say.

After being opened by three good friends who knew each other from the vibrant party nights of Shoreditch in the late 2000’s, it’s not hard to see how Dalston Superstore has made a big name for itself in its 12 years; so much so that it’s even popular outside of exclusively ‘gay’ circles.

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