Phnom Penh is peppered with bars that cater to gay men, but lesbians didn’t have a spot of their own until this week.
On August 7, Cambodia’s first lesbian bar, The L Bar, opened its doors to the public, providing a space for women who love and date other women to congregate.
“We decided that this city definitely needed a lesbian bar,” said Mathilde Thillay, one of the two owners of The L Bar. “We were wondering where we can go if we want to meet a girl without all of the mistakes and misunderstandings, and the answer was nowhere.”
Thillay and Eugenie Thibaudier, both Europeans, had been living in Cambodia for two years when they decided to open The L Bar.
The women began thinking about the idea after exploring the local nightlife and realising the city didn’t have a place dedicated to women who date women. Previously, most of Phnom Penh’s lesbian community met via Facebook.
“There is an equal number of gays and lesbians in this city, but so many bars for gay men – at least five bars that focus just on the male audience,” Thibaudier said.
“So we thought, if it’s this complicated for us to find somewhere to go when we are expats and can do whatever we want, how is it for the Khmer girl in Cambodia?” Thillay added. “It’s already complicated for girls to go out, even if they aren’t lesbians.”
The idea soon took on a life of its own. “At first we just joked about it, but then we found this place and started renovating . . . everything just fell into place. It happened very fast,” Thibaudier said.
The new bar is located in a narrow, graffiti-covered alleyway off Phnom Penh’s Monivong Boulevard. A mural of an elderly bespectacled woman decorates the alley just outside the door. Above the doorway hangs a Cambodian flag next to a rainbow flag emblasoned with the lesbian pride symbol.
When The L Bar swung open its doors at 6pm on Sunday, patrons were already waiting to sit at the wooden tables, look at the bar’s book collection or order a drink. People left their shoes at the entrance and wandered around the bar barefoot, offering the place a comfortable and conspiratorial vibe.
There was also a variety of merchandise for sale, like female urination devices that allow women to urinate standing up, and renewable menstrual cups for women who choose to eschew traditional tampons or maxi pads. Books about feminism and erotic colouring books were also available for sale.
Opening night was celebrated with poetry readings by American, Australian and Irish poets living in and passing through Phnom Penh.
The owners plan to host more events in the future, including movie nights and workshops. They’ve been in touch with several local non-profits working for LGBT and human rights, and say they hope the NGOs will host events at The L Bar.
“We also plan to transform the second floor into an art gallery that will display the work of local women artists,” said Thibaudier. “And if the artists are also gay, that would be perfect.”
The L Bar is open from 6pm to midnight from Wednesday to Saturday, and from 2pm to 10pm on Sundays.