When Kate Toone and Rachel Hosking talk inclusivity, you can be sure it’s not lip service. The pair behind new bar and nightclub My Lover Cindi have made it their mission to welcome every member of the LGBTQI+ community (and allies) safely into their venue.
“We’ve both lived in Adelaide the majority of our lives and been partying in the queer Adelaide scene and just felt there was a lack of venues that appealed to us,” says Toone.
“We wanted to go out and dance and have a good time with friends. And some of our friends use mobility aids, and there are very few accessible venues in Adelaide. That’s really important, because it’s excluding people. We want to create a safe space where all the intersections of our queer community can feel represented – in our staffing and in our entertainment options.
“You know, the queer community isn’t a monolith,” Toone continues. “There’s variety. So we’re hoping to add to the scene and add some variety and have some fun times.”
The queer utopian space (as described in its Insta bio) is the first venue for the pair and brings together their respective backgrounds in hospitality (Hosking) and social work (Toone). “There’s a lot of shared values across those things,” says Hosking. (The partners also run an edible-flower business, Settle Petal, which will supply garnishes for the cocktails.)
They’d looked at several other venues before landing on the 120-capacity site on Flinders Street (formerly the German Club) through Renew Adelaide (“They’ve really advocated for us; we love them and what they do in Adelaide,” says Hosking).
In order to make the ’70s-era site more accessible, Toone and Hosking moved the entrance (originally down a flight of stairs off Flinders Street) to the side of the building off a narrow, sloping laneway. “That was a non-negotiable for us,” says Toone. “We wouldn’t be able to sleep at night knowing some of our friends – and strangers – are not even able to get in the door.”
They also moved the bathroom doors to make them more accessible to people with mobility aids, and added a quiet side room for people with sensory issues or those wanting to take a break from the noise. “We did a lot of community consultation in the early planning stages, and people had asked for a quieter space to have conversations and have a chill out from the dance floor,” says Hosking. Those conversations also resulted in the decision to eschew smoke machines and strobe lighting to accommodate people with breathing problems and epilepsy.
The site’s signature wooden panelling on the walls and ceiling remains, and the booths have been upholstered with plush green velvet. The pair have also added a lick of pink paint, and a dance floor (where resident DJs play a mix of Afrobeat, jazz fusion, contemporary R’n’B and “plenty of old school queer bangers”).
“There’s things about the space that we’re in love with,” says Hosking. “The wooden panelling, the archways … When there was as much of it as there was, it was a little overbearing, but I think with the colour palette we’ve thrown at it, and with that velvet seating, it just softens it all. And now it feels like a warm forest clearing or something.”
Accessibility isn’t just about the design, either. It’s also guided the menu, which has a large number of non-alcoholic options. Specifically, beers by Indigenous-owned Sobah Beverages and a selection of no-proof cocktails.
“We want to help normalise that in spaces, especially in queer spaces, which historically have really centred on drugs and alcohol,” says Hosking. “And that’s not to say we have any sort of value judgement in that participation, but for us it is about having those alternative offerings. And having people feel included.
“It’s been nice to be challenged to come up with a creative cocktail list that’s still delicious and fun.”
The drinks list includes classics such as Pina Coladas, Mojitos and Negronis, as well as a Banana Split that “tastes like Banana Paddle Pop in a glass”. And all are available with booze or without. “There won’t be anything too intimidating,” says Hosking. “With accessibility in all forms at the forefront of what we’re doing, we want people to be able to look at [the list] and [not feel] excluded because they’re not bougie enough.”
The menu is kept tight to avoid wastage, and the cocktails are all vegan. “We’re substituting cream and egg whites for alternatives like coconut cream and aquafaba,” says Hosking. “So you still get the froth you’d expect in an Amaretto Sour, without the animal product.”
There are also monthly cocktail specials named after influential queer people through history. “There’ll be a little snippet on who this person was, why they were significant … and some sort of pun, because we’re daggy,” Hosking says with a smile. The first was a “Dark n Stormé DeLarverie” (with spiced rum, fresh lime, hazelnut, ginger kombucha and lavender) named after the civil rights activist and drag performer who was involved in the 1969 Stonewall Uprising.
A concise edit of toasties – filled with mozzarella and “facon”; pizza sauce, mozzarella and basil; or a heartier combo of burger, hash brown and mozzarella topped with a pickle – are available from open till close.
“We really want to have that casual, relaxed bar offering [first]. That way people can opt in or opt out. If they decide partying’s not for them, [later] they can leave. Or if there’s someone who really enjoys that, they can stay,” says Hosking.
“Historically gay bars have been places where the queer community has come together and started things like Stonewall – these huge things that happened in queer history started in bars and clubs – and we want to continue that legacy,” says Toone. “While also moving away from that compulsory drinking culture.”
My Lover Cindi is at 223 Flinders Street, Adelaide.