Despite a considerable body of lesbian oral history collections having testified to the existence of a lesbian bar culture in Britain for much of the twentieth century, the significance of commercial subcultures in histories of female homosexuality has received little scholarly attention in the UK. This article suggests that the reasons for this omission can be located in historical tensions within the lesbian bar community itself, centring on conflicting political agendas in the 1960s and early 1970s. The lesbian bar community of the immediate post-war decades remained largely enclosed and introspective, but, by the late 1960s and early 1970s, it was coming into conflict with a feminist and lesbian and gay political agenda, which began to lay claim to broader rights of citizenship in the public sphere and increasingly regarded the early subculture as the apolitical and passive victim of oppression. Drawing on lesbian oral history sources, this article traces the lesbian bar culture through three broad stages of development, beginning with the presence of lesbians as part of a wider metropolitan social scene in the interwar years. The second stage was marked by the gradual emergence, in the decade immediately after the Second World War, of a distinct lesbian subculture centring on a small number of bars and clubs, which, in a third stage, opened up to broader cultural influences in the late 1960s.