Monday, July 11, 2011


Ad for Bigundi

Location: Istiklal Caddesi, Mis Sokak No. 5 (terrace floor), Taksim/Beyoglu, Istanbul, Turkey

Founded: around 2006

Closed: Closed and reopened with new address at least 4 times in the past five years or so. Still reportedly open as of April 2011 at the address above.
Bigudi is credited with being "the first lesbian-exclusive venue of Istanbul and Turkey." It was reportedly open as late as April 2011 at the address listed above. But if it's not technically a "lost" womyn's space, it is certainly an endangered one.

Here's how sploshspot reviewed Bigudi:

"Lipstick chic is the order of the evening at Istanbul's first lesbian bar. The terrace club is all girls; the café/pub, one floor below, is open to everyone LGBT, and friends."

The review at lonelyplanet echoes the same points--but also hints as to the difficult plight of Turkish lesbians:

The pub admits gay men, but the arty terrace club is mainly frequented by lipstick lesbians and is resolutely off-limits to non-females. The rationale for the barrier is self-defence, which hints at this country’s lesbian state of affairs: invisible, often not by choice.

It's perhaps no surprise that one international visitor trying to find the place got completely lost (apparently went to one of the four previous addresses):

I really went out of my way to find the bar & visit in an attempt to show some support to lesbian businesses around the world.
Bigudi is impossible to find & the address showing here on lonely planet, as well as the website, are incorrect.

You will find the cafe on the 5th floor in Sim Sokak (check exact address on above a bar called Altin Palik (or something). That's your only reference to find Bigudi (understandable in a less gay-tolerating society)

After all the effort to find the place (had to find a local male gay bar, use a dictionary to make myself understood to the guy & get him to call the Bigudi lady), we made ourselves beautiful and headed to an utterly empty Bigudi at 10.30pm (as in only the barmaid & a dodgy-looking older guy)

All other bars were heaving so we could safely assume that 10.30pm is not exactly early for Istanbul..

The Bigudi place was...interesting.. with a Xmas tree still on show and boxes scattered all around the space..

I had real high hopes for this place & was truly sad to see it so dead... Another terrible lesbian bar.. why oh why?! 

Some Dutch would-be visitors from titterzz ran into similar difficulties. Where the heck was this place anyway?

After this first short visit [to a gay club called Rocinante] we intent to find out more about Bigudi. Walking the streets of Istanbul, we share our nightly search with the sellers of roasted chestnuts, the street musicians, and the few unfortunates who sell nothing. They look for money, we look for Bigudi. We stare in distance of a big building: Balo Sokak 20 is empty. And there is no question about it, all stores are not in use anymore. What to do? We go back to Rocinante to get some information about Bigudi. ‘Kaput’, is the clear answer in Rocinante. But where the streets have so many names and they differ on every map, nothing is simple. We sit down, slightly disbelieving that the result of our search seems to be the echo of the Dutch vibes we brought with us: lesbian clubs are closing down instead of starting and celebrating lesbian life.

Disbelief is a nice trait. We ask around and with hands, feet, pen and our Istanbul guide, we learn that Bigudi is not bygone! Bigudi is alive and kicking in the highest floor of… Altinplak. Altin. Gold.

The search resumes on Saturday night.

Two alleys up, we recognize the sign; they were right, no problem in finding Altinplak. Then we have to get to the top floor. Stair after stair, we wind up to the sound of loud club music. Eventually we have to pay 10 lire’s and find the womb of Bigudi. My Goody, this is fun: no tables, no nothing! Just a bar, speakers, a lively swinging DJ, and dancing women. The pinkish light reveals the smiling silhouettes of women who have fun, blend in together, and make room to pass.

The visitors also get a chance to talk to some local women.

In the far corner, where plastic in front of the huge windows keeps us from tumbling down six floors, we talk to two women, who are proudly together for three years. At last we get our discouraging answer to what it is to be a lesbian in Turkey: ‘They hate us’. It is impossible to really talk, with the low ceiling and the speakers blasting a few feet away. We do get the information that they do not live here, but this is the only bar in Turkey, the only place to go clubbin’, embrace and kiss your lover.

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