Ruba Khoury Reveals 5 Queer-Friendly Spots to Travel to in France

Ruba Khoury Reveals 5 Queer-Friendly Spots to Travel to in France

Palestinian-native yet French-trained chef Ruba Khoury reveals 5 LGBTQ+-friendly places to go to across France, from restaurants to hair salons.

When Chef Ruba Khoury first opened her Dirty Lemon in Paris’ trendy 11th arrondissement in 2019, the very category of the lesbian bar was on the decline – not just in the French capital, but around the world. It was, in fact, an actual dirty lemon floating in a cocktail served to Khoury at one of the few, dismal choices (and an ensuing bout of food poisoning) that inspired the name of the space that would prove to break from the norm in more ways than one. Her bar boasts creative cocktails and excellent small plates inspired by her Palestinian heritage, French training, and Michelin-starred experience, not to mention an ambiance that seeks to be welcoming to all. 

Cultivating this sort of atmosphere was an essential piece of the puzzle for Khoury after twelve years living in France, where, she says, “the general vibe towards queer communities is that they don’t care, which can be cool but also not cool at the same time, you know?” 

“They don’t care how people live their lives, which is great,” she continues, “but also at the same time, being part of the queer community, you kind of want to have a little bit more… a safer energy. Because we are putting ourselves out there more than hetero people.” 

What queer spaces do exist, she adds, seem tailor-made for men. 

“Even the Marais, which is the queer neighborhood, the queer capital of Paris, it’s only for men.” 


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She has nevertheless uncovered some places across France that are more welcoming than most – and it’s not always the spots you’d expect. On a trip to Biarritz last year, for example, she didn’t face any anti-queer sentiment, but she also didn’t find the queer haven she was expecting. 

“I’ve heard such great things about it, like it’s a hippie town, blah blah blah,” she says, “but it was very straight and not diverse at all.” 

And while she’s understandably skeptical of rainbow-washing, particularly given the way her local Carrefour grocery store changes its logo during Pride Month, she does seek out queer-owned spaces whenever possible. In 2021, she was highlighted in an article by le Fooding about lesbian-owned businesses, something that she found anything but tokenizing. 

“Being a female, lesbian, business owner, Arab, on top of that, for my specific situation… you do feel like there are different obstacles and loopholes that I have to go through,” she says. “So yes, I do think we have to make it a point to showcase people’s identity and stories, because otherwise the masses are just used to following the crowd.” 

With that in mind, she’s rounded up five of her favourite places to frequent across France as a queer woman. Some are overtly queer or queer-owned; others, like her bar, seek above all to make everyone feel at home, no matter their identity. 


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The city of Arles is perhaps best known as the former home of Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh, who some sources claim may have been bisexual. But that’s not the only reason Khoury thinks this town is an unmissable stop for any queer traveller in France. 

“It’s very open, and it’s just very welcoming,” she says, something she attributes to Arles’ rich, long-standing experience as a touristic hub. “I think it’s just a vibe in general,” she says. “Everywhere you go, everyone’s just super nice and friendly, and they’re used to people from all around the world.” 

And she should know. Khoury lived in Arles as a chef-in-residence at Chardon, a restaurant whose kitchen is ever helmed by a rotating guest chef, in 2018. 

“I lived there for four months in the summer, and I got to do my food and my cuisine, and everybody was just super receptive,” she says. “And I think I was their first queer chef in residence. I was definitely their first lesbian.” 

Pétrin Couchette, Marseille 

Despite the multicultural allure of Marseille, for Khoury, this southern French city is far from the most welcoming for queer people, particularly queer women. 

“It’s like one woman for every 50 men!” she says. “It’s crazy. There’s like, no women.” 

But within this greater city, she has found a “pocket” of queer-friendly space at Pétrin Couchette, owned by the same group as Chardon and Mercerie Marseille. 

“The chef there does really fun tartines and sandwiches and things like that,” she says. “And it’s a super chill vibe.” 


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Marché du Lez, Montpellier 

The name of this market in Montpellier may make you think it’s destined for queer women, but it’s actually a happy accident that the event, named after the river Lez, is so queer-friendly. 

“It was amazing,” she says of her first visit. “We were like… why doesn’t something like this exist in Paris?” 

The market’s atmosphere, she says, is less overtly queer than hippie, with stands peddling everything from crystals and dreamcatchers to local food and drink, all surrounded by creative street art installations and twinkle lights. 

“They had old surfer vans that had been turned into like, a taco stand,” she says. “It was very cute, something that you never see in France, you know? Like something in LA.” 

She above all categorized it as a welcoming space where all generations could meet and enjoy the offerings. 

“There were sand pits and pétanque,” she recalls. “You could spend half a day there. It’s huge.” 


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Äponem, Vailhan  

Khoury discovered Michelin-starred Äponem when she and the owners were featured in the same le Fooding article applauding lesbian kitchens. Owners Amélie Darvas and Gaby Benicio are partners in both life and in work, with the French-born Darvas helming the kitchen and Italian-Brazilian Benicio sommelier selecting the wine. The couple, “squeezed us in,” Khoury recalls, and she’s so grateful they did. 

“It’s a super lovely place with incredible view, the restaurant is all made of glass,” she says, “and you’re just looking onto mountains and vineyards, and their potager.” 

The food, she recalls, was excellent, hinging on produce from Darvas’ garden and a delicate hand with spice. But the welcome, Khoury recalls, really sealed the deal. 

“We had our dog with us, and first she was in the car, and when we asked them, ‘Can we bring our dog out?’ They were like, ‘Of course! Why would you leave her in the car?’” she says. “So we had a dog in a Michelin restaurant, literally, with us. That’s unheard of.” 

Les Dada East, Paris 

When Khoury first moved to France, one of her missions was the big chop – but she couldn’t find anyone in Paris she trusted enough to take her long locks to the short, chic haircut she now sports. 

“It was a very big moment for me to cut my hair and all that,” she says. “In the end, I didn’t find a hairdresser that I felt comfortable with, because it was such a huge step, so I was in New York, and I did the huge step of cutting my hair all off there.” 

Once she was back in France, she nevertheless needed to find somewhere to maintain her new crop, and most barber shops turned her away. 

“They don’t do women’s hair, ‘she says. “They only are for men. I’ve gotten rejected.” 

She tried out Base, a men’s barber in the Marais that does allow women, but she felt unwelcome and uncomfortable. 

“I never was really, truly happy with my haircut,” she recalls, “and then I found Les Dada East in 2017, and it was amazing.” 

The creativity and care of the hairdressers there, compounded with a “cool, chill” vibe, made her feel right at home. They have two salons, both in the 11th arrondissement.

“They actually love it when you do crazy things with your hair,” she says, “and they don’t care who you are.” 

Lead photo credit : Colourful Arles in the south of France © Romas_Photo / shutterstock

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