Today, there are spaces where queer women can be around each other or respectful allies, but spaces for just queer women are a rarity. I know that the list of lesbian bars in North America are shrinking but a Google search indicates that the same is true for the UK as well. Gateways Grind, then, is a mostly polished look at The Gateways. It’s a bar that was open in Chelsea before and during the 1960s to the 1980s where queer women can be themselves. This documentary features the usual with a twist. The title sequence is snazzier than most queer history docs. There’s also the surprising diversity within the interviewees and the reenactments. The former features MENA and South Asian women. And the latter has Black queer women face to face with their white counterparts. This is one more reminder that maybe queer spaces were more diverse back then.
Sandy Toksvig is mostly successful as Gateways’ Grind‘s ‘host, as she guides the viewers towards the Gateways’ most important factoids. Like how its original owners possibly won the Gateways’ lease by betting on a Jake LaMotta fight in London. Or how the place became its own character in a Robert Aldrich film. Or how other spaces popped up, rivaling the Gateways’ dominance in the queer scene. The documentary does lack in a few areas. Toksvig has a blink and you’ll miss it introduction. This makes it difficult for non-British non-queer viewers to know who they’re interacting with for the 75 minute running time. A few moments here also feel more like a television special, which in fairness, is how most studios release documentaries nowadays. Other stretches lack the structure that docs need. Nonetheless, it’s always good to look at queer history and this brings that in living, lesbian colour.
Gateways Grind premiered at Inside Out on May 28, 2022.