Although it’s been running for 13 years, Bar Wotever may be the best queer night in London that you’ve never actually heard about.
This is partly down to the fact that it has always spurned advertising in the LGBT press – and clubs and bars that don’t advertise tend to get a severely limited amount of coverage.
‘The thing with advertising is that there hasn’t been a good place for us to advertise,’ says Wotever promoter, Ingo Cando, by way of explanation. ‘I’m not saying that there aren’t good magazine or papers or internet sites, but always felt like if we had placed an advert in a specific place, it would only be for a very small part of our audience.’
The name Wotever comes from the club’s all inclusive ethos; ‘for boys, girls, wotever.’ Ingo says that clientele range from 18 to 98. It attracts a large number of gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and non-binary people (Ingo is non-binary and opts for the ‘they’ pronoun).
In fact, more than any other night I’ve personally visited, it’s somewhere that strives to make everyone feel welcome and included.
A true word-of-mouth success story, the wider Wotever World now encompasses a diverse range of events. These include regular Queer Fayres, monthly ‘Non-Binary Cabaret’ at the Glory in Dalston, monthly Club Wotever at Eagle London, the weekly Bar Wotever at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, and guest spots at the Hackney Attic and further afield.
There have been recent events in Glasgow, Bristol and Brighton, while a Wotever Iceland has been running for the past year.
For those yet to have discovered Wotever, its upcoming Urban Wotever party for the inaugural Stonewall Season will offer the perfect opportunity. It takes place 8 November at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.
‘Sometimes you just want to hang with good people’
The Wotever story starts in 2003. Ingo’s background is in the theatre and teaching. At the beginning of the century, they found themselves working at London’s long-running LGBTI bookstore, Gay’s The Word.
‘Me and some friends were complaining that if we all want to go out together – socialize, flirt, possible sexual encounters – all those things that are nice if you’re going out to a party night, it felt like we couldn’t do that.
‘Because lesbians went to one place, gay men went to one place, straight people went to another place, etc. We were a mix of people who were like LGBTQI. Where could we go?
‘Sometimes you just want to hang with good people, regardless of whether you’re gay, straight or trans or lesbian or bi. You maybe have other things in common.’
The first Club Wotever event took place in a wine bar, and has continued to run, in venues all over the UK capital, ever since. Ingo later left their job at Gay’s The Word and now dedicates themselves full time to Wotever; a labor of love that they say gives back as much as they put in.
Wotever provides a safe space. There’s music, performances both from established acts and open mic newcomers, community announcements and discussion. Whereas other club events might provide a drug-fuelled, temporary escape from life, Wotever prefers to entertain and empower.
‘The thing about escaping from life for a few hours, is that you’ve still got to go back to your everyday life afterwards, but you can end up developing two different personalities,’ says Ingo. ‘For me it is very important that people realize they are enough, they’re OK as they are. They shouldn’t have to try and flee from life.’
Wotever also believes in helping communities less advantaged than our own. For the past 18 months, the club has been paying the rent and utility bills on a safe house sanctuary for queer communities in Uganda.
It came about when Ingo was introduced to a gay Ugandan man at one of Wotever’s Craft Fayres, where people sell homemade cakes, cards and artwork.
‘He came with a Wotever regular. He had a big bunch of prints and artwork to sell to raise money for his safe house where he lives in Uganda. He was over just on a visa for a month on respite break but had to return. He told me he was a dancer and I invited him to perform at Bar Wotever.
‘He did an incredible dance piece on stage where he expressed the hardship, literally of surviving, of always feeling like you’re looking over your shoulder.’
Afterwards, Bar Wotever agreed to cover the rent of the sanctuary house in Kampala.
‘We collect the money by shaking a bucket. We also have a PayPal set up and we are going to make it a charity
‘The sanctuary house is vital for a few people’s survival. There are between 6-11 people there at any one time. Many have had to flee and are cut off from their family.’
‘Wotever is a place where every type of self expression is welcomed and encouraged’
‘I’ve been coming to Wotever for nearly 10 years as its unique and amazing,’ says regular and sometime DJ Joe Pop. ‘I get to see performers who entertain, challenge and inspire me. I meet a huge variety of people from all over the world, and get to learn and share my stories too.
‘Wotever is a place where every type of self expression is welcomed and encouraged. Its political with a beat you can dance to, and a place of community where the individual can also shine.’
Ingo is excited about the upcoming party for Stonewall Season, particularly since the LGBT advocacy group expanded its campaigning work to include transgender issues last year.
The party is being held in conjunction with Patrick Lilley’s Urban World promotions. Both are keen to highlight black and ethnic minority performers and issues around being black and queer.
Urban Wotever will included performances Travis Alabanza, Sherika Sherard and Andreena Bogle, among others.
As for the future, Ingo says we can expect a proliferation of Wotever events – with more events nationally and internationally. There’s a panto planned at Christmas and a big pre-New Year’s Eve performance event planned at The Glory.
Since Wotever launched, concepts it has always embraced such as gender fluidity, non-binary identities and non-gendered restrooms have entered the mainstream. The Wotever World looks only set to grow.