A Guide to Edinburgh Fringe Hook-ups

As an influx of visitors hit Edinburgh (and Tinder) for the Edinburgh festivals, here’s how to navigate the minefield that is dating during the Fringe

Feature by Liv McMahon | 02 Aug 2019
  • Fringe Dating

Every year, the arrival of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe brings on mixed feelings of excitement and despair. August sees Edinburgh come alive as clubs stay open til 5am and the price of pints rises to at least a fiver. It’s a time rife for experimentation, as performance artists and thespians flock from all over to soak up the atmosphere, rich with a sense of adventure, and this by no means begins and ends with the range of art, theatre, comedy and music on offer. The season breathes life into a city typically only besieged by stag dos, silent disco tours and slow-moving tourist groups all snaking their way through its narrow cobbled streets. 

While for many locals, like my flatmate, the Fringe is easily considered ‘the least wonderful time of the year,’ for others it presents a whole new world ripe with sexual and romantic possibilities, as sex preferences and attitudes shift to suit the festival’s experimental energy. As a bisexual woman shyly navigating my sexuality during the Fringe, I was beset by worries that I couldn’t freely immerse myself in the festival’s burgeoning LGBTQ+ spaces. What if I wasn’t queer enough to be there? Or would I be rejected for my record of having been with and slept with mostly men? But something about the sheer influx of people from far and wide also provided some sense of anonymity that allowed me to explore my sexual preferences without shame or reservation. 

What you can expect 

With Glastonbury down and Scottish summer in full swing, Londoners stream through the Meadows, wellies and yellow raincoats at the ready for inevitable downpours, loudly exclaiming to unamused Edinburgh natives that this is their seventh Fringe in a row – so they basically live here now. In my experience of stumbling through the Fringe between shifts spent shovelling burgers to starry-eyed performers waving their theSpace cards for discounts, finding a decent hook-up in the Fringe can be remarkably similar to trying to walk through George Square without being pounced on by flyerers – exhausting, endlessly frustrating and pretty much impossible.

At this time of year, Tinder and Grindr get overloaded with male performers who will tell you why their two-star show is actually an undiscovered work of genius. Hinge users will only respond to the app’s questions with the title of their puntastic one-person sketch show. The rarity of seeing a show that proves side-splittingly hilarious is evident when, two years down the line, you’ll find yourself still stalking its effervescent star on Twitter in the hope that someday they’ll remember you for laughing extra loudly or dreaming up scenarios of you actually asking them out (and not giving in to fear and requesting a selfie instead). 

What to avoid 

Take my advice here – avoid date plans predicated on selecting a show at random, hoping that no matter how bad it is, it’ll give you something to bond over. I promise you that it is absolutely not worth it and there is not enough alcohol in the world to make it bearable. Also, reviews are your friend – read them before going along to yet another show you soon discover is decidedly not the sex-positive feminist experience you’d anticipated. Run while the lad banter rumbles loudly enough to keep the room distracted.

The only bonus of going to lots of terrible Free Fringe shows is that it will perfect your exit strategy should you find yourself at a lecture on drama as critical pedagogy disguised as a date, or in a crowded bar with a musician who pulls out a uke and makes a song out of small talk. 

And don’t get lured into the possibility that a potential hook-up’s Airbnb might look like something fresh out of BBC’s Clique; they’re likely paying the equivalent of your month’s rent every week to stay in a single loft bed in Bruntsfield which, yes, will probably break during a clumsy, drink-fuelled quickie. 

What to do 

Hide. Going outside is how I once ended up on a date in a disused building turned into a barn-style bar, sat on a bale of hay with a man who was playing a goat in a flailing Footlights production. These overpriced places open up all over Edinburgh in August as they lie abandoned as former bars, clubs and businesses soon to be turned into luxury hotels or sets of student flats. Let them cast you back to the good ol’ slum days when cattle crawled through the city’s underbelly. 

But should you venture into the festival, you might want to check out the shows still sidelined by the mass of white male mediocrity which swarms the Fringe year after year. Escape the festival’s 50 shades of beige and explore the comedy and performance art pushed to the sidelines by checking out Fringe of Colour and Somewhere at the Fringe for shows which will leave you feeling less like the butt of the joke should you identify as BAME and/or LGBTQ+. You deserve to feel seen and laugh until your face hurts just as much as anyone else and will probably leave these shows feeling excited to explore the Fringe’s nightlife beyond the pale, puke-scented hell of the Hive.

Dance, snog and smile the night away till the early hours in inclusive, sexy safe spaces catered to by nights like Shoot Your Shot. Here, you’ll find yourself less likely to be hitting on someone while anxiously wondering, ‘are they gay or do they just really like glitter?’ 

If you want to make your feelings for your comedy crush known, get creative – the classic move of chucking your bra won’t wash with these theatrical folks. Instead, get their attention by whipping your tights off halfway through their show; you’re serving Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct only with added clumsy charm should you accidentally get trapped in the seductive process. And hey, if you forget to take them with you at the end, nae bother – they’ll make an interesting token of appreciation that’ll be sure to arouse their curiosity. 

If apps aren’t your thing, take inspiration from those flyering with utter desperation – write your number on bits of paper and hand this out to passers-by. With enough mystery, intrigue or pizzazz, you might just get a date out of it, or enough of an experience to pitch a show on it for the following year. 

Where to go 

Too much time spent in the Old Town, where clowns and circus performers lurk around every corner ruining the romance of the Royal Mile, will have you running for the Pentlands. Sneaking off to the less-mobbed ends of Leith can feel like you’ve escaped the mayhem and actually sustain a fun, flirty conversation without having to shout over musical theatre troupes parading through Bristo Square, serenading you with badly written songs about actual shit. 

Wow your date by taking them on a whimsical wee wander through Dean Village, or along the Portobello Promenade – they’ll be smitten at your knowledge of the city beyond the festival limits and grateful for the refuge from over-enthusiastic, overworked and underpaid flyerers and their megaphones. But if you find yourselves trapped within the Old Town, it’s worth pitching a tent outside Paradise Palms to ensure you catch Polyanna, offering a gloryhole of queer performance and music at its most glittery and grungey. It’s worth missing that Brexit-inspired burlesque show for.