Greenwood: Edinburgh's new queer sober cafe

We talk to the people behind Greenwood to discuss setting up a new venture in the pandemic, crowdfunding, and the need for sober queer spaces

Feature by The Skinny | 08 Oct 2020
  • Queer Sober Cafes

Greenwood is a cafe space in Edinburgh which, under the stewardship of Oskar Hansen and Zak Riding, reopened last month as a queer sober cafe. Over email, Oskar fills us in on the story behind the venue, and the need for sober spaces.

The Skinny: How did the idea for the Greenwood come about? What were the initial thoughts/events/factors that made you think 'this queer sober cafe is a thing that should happen', and what was the process that led from that point to the crowdfunder?

Oskar Hansen: The idea of a sober queer space was bouncing around the community for the last year or so. I had numerous hypothetical discussions with people about it; 'wouldn't it be nice if there was an explicitly queer space that didn't just revolve around alcohol and drag?' 'Yeah I wish someone would do that'. One day in early July I saw a Facebook post announcing that a small shop in Polwarth called The Greenwood was looking for new management from September onwards. I shared the post, with a half-joking caption saying 'wouldn't it be nice if we had a little sober queer space one day?'.

Loads of people commented in support, and my friend Zak, who used to run the Joke Shop on Victoria Street, mentioned that he was about to write to them too, as he was looking for a new job. With Zak's mind for business, and with my creative experience and network, we united forces to make this a reality. One thing led to another, and we've now been open every day from 8AM-6PM every single day since September!

The crowdfunder was really well received and got a lot of traction and a lot of support; what was your reaction to that, and how has that played into your approach to the venue?

We started the GoFundMe campaign as a way to cover some very basic initial costs. We weren't too optimistic about it, especially during these trying times, but thought we may as well give it a shot. We smashed our original £1500 goal within just three hours of starting the campaign. We raised the goal over the following weeks as we realised just how much was needed for our vision, and seeing how much support was there for it made us extra optimistic; but more than just the money, the amount of messages and comments of support from people truly proved to us how much this was needed.

A lot of people mentioned that seeing someone take on a project like this gave them some hope during these dark days. The outpouring of love truly fortified us in taking on this challenge, and we are doing this for everyone who supported us.

Was The Greenwood always intended as a sober space, and what led the venue in that direction? How important are these kinds of spaces, particularly in the context of the queer community in a city like Edinburgh which is so heavily into 'going to the pub'?

Ironically, before lockdown both Zak and I worked in the queer nightlife scene, Zak as a DJ and I as a drag queen and cabaret host, both predominantly at The Street bar. Clubbing, partying and drinking are historically important spaces of socialisation for queer youth, but it is also a risky space for all sorts of reasons. Doing drag full time was exhausting, especially in how much of it revolved around drinking and making people drink. Having a hangover as part of your work routine isn't as glamorous as it sounds.

I think what we strive for in opening a queer sober space is having balance, creating a space where queer people of all ages can still socialise, eat food, and buy art, but in a space that is relatively quieter and doesn't expect you to be out of your senses. Not everyone can or wants to drink, and the amount of grateful messages we received from people saying they were thrilled about it proved that point. The more options and variety we have, the stronger we can be as a community.

What have been the practical challenges of setting up a new venture in the middle of a pandemic?

This whole project is very new for us, let alone during the times of a pandemic! There is always the anxiety that we could be back in lockdown, or that not enough people will want to come out and socialise again, or that someone could come in and infect us and other customers, but we knew the risks when we decided to take on this project, and will continue to do what we can, no matter what this year throws our way. The resilience of the queer community is not something to be underestimated.


Greenwood, 5 St Peter's Buildings, Edinburgh, @greenwoodkafe