It's not only the capital of the United Kingdom but London is also the perfect city for the gay visitor at any time of the year.
London has more than 130 gay venues - an unrivalled mix of bars, clubs, saunas and shops! Daunted? Well you need not be as OutUK's Paul Taylor is here to guide you around some of the gayest and most festive streets on Planet Earth.

I've travelled from San Fran to Berlin, Amsterdam to New York, but I'd have to say that London's gay scene is about as big and cosmopolitan as it gets.

For the last few years the capital's gay epicentre in Soho has very much dominated, but gay life is once again starting to spread out further and now includes areas like Earl's Court, Clapham, Dalston, Vauxhall, Kennington and King's Cross.

We are going to start our tour in the cluster of bars just off The Strand near Trafalgar Square. Nestle into traditional Retro Bar down a tiny stepped alleyway to find your gay bearings and chart a queer course.
Pride in London Parade
Photo: Bikeworldtravel
Just down towards Trafalgar Square, Halfway to Heaven is a very popular gay bar - partcularly during the week in the early evening with guys who've just finished work. Although not the most modern or stylish bar in London it does have a particularly friendly atmosphere.

In Lisle Street just off the Charing Cross Road is Ku Bar, with its young boy-babe crowd. It's a smart venue with good looking and friendly bar staff. Round the corner and cut down Shaftsbury Avenue, past all the theatres, to approach the capital's homo-heart. And don't forget about their sister venue Little Ku in Frith Street, which is a stylish pre-club gay bar on 3 floors with a curved-ceiling basement for DJ sets Wednesdays to Saturdays.

Around the corner, The Yard's outdoor space is brimming with talent in summer and its cosy wooden loft packs them in during winter. Over the way, pose at Rupert Street bar, at Soho's largest street window, so preen and be seen! Also there, next to a row of sex shops, is the basement lair that is Friendly Society with its strange cushioned alcoves and cute bar boys serving pitchers of beer.

On the same block, as you disappoint the (female) prostitutes, you'll find Prowler Soho, the UK's biggest gay shop - packed with clothes and toys, mags and vids - with its notorious XXX inner sanctum. Nearby is also Clonezone, which vies with Prowler for your trolley with the naughty stuff downstairs and they certainly have lots of it!

Over the way is Village Soho, with a cruisy bar around one side and a relaxed, Bohemian nest around the other. Then: Old Compton Street - one of the world's great queer streets. First up, try the cavernous traditional gay pub on two large levels that is Compton's. Pop over the road to two very different versions of Balans - one a bustling bistro with interesting modern cuisine (Balans No.34 the little one), cute waiters and an even cuter crowd and the other (Balans No.60 the big one) which is a club type atmosphere where you can relax and enjoy good food and drink.
A few doors down is the Admiral Duncan which was blasted by a homophobe's nail-bomb in Spring 1999: glance in the door and you can see the twisted-metal light sculpture on the ceiling that commemorates the atrocity. This bar remains one of the most friendly in Soho. For a change of scene, flit along further to the G-A-Y Bar, packed with young disco bunny exhibitionists.
Circa Bar in Frith Street is one of Soho's hottest gay venues with the best of London's DJ Talent, drag hosts and some cute bar staff. It's open 7 days a week. Some what different, Coach and Horses in Old Compton Street is a cosy traditional gay pub, with drag entertainment almost every night.


Outside Buckingham Palace
(c) VisitBritain/Melody Thornton
Down the road in Wardour Street, Freedom Bar Soho is a stylish and sophisticated cocktail bar which has recently been refurbished. It has a signature cocktail list inspired by the movie Moulin Rouge. The bar has fresh flowers, friendly staff, stunning decor, djs, dance poles and 200 disco balls! Also worth a mention is a bar for the beary, hairy, bigger man - the King's Arms, which stages occasional bear shows and events in this popular men's bar.

Out of the immediate Soho area, in Kings Cross, Central Station is a well known, long running gay pub that welcomes both men and women.

The City of Quebec out towards Marble Arch is a very busy bar and probably best known as one of the oldest gay pubs in the UK as it opened in 1936. Just how gay it was more than 80 years ago when it opened is unclear.

Back near the bars on The Strand where we started, try the world-famous Heaven night-club under the railway arches. Back in the 70's Heaven was the closest London had to Studio 54 in New York and it quickly became the focal point for a fairly understated gay scene at the time. When Heaven opened its doors in 1979 only 12 years had elapsed since the decriminalisation of homosexuality and in those days there was still a lot of overt prejudice against gay men & lesbians. It's still a venue that you really must experience if you are gay, although nowadays admission can be denied to those who are not G-A-Y members or regulars at the club.

Princess Diana was once smuggled into the most famous gay venue in Vauxhall - The Royal Vauxhall Tavern. Diana was disguised as a man by none other than Freddie Mercury. Decades on, the bar is still a highlight of the Vauxhall gay scene, and a particular favourite for live theatre, pantomime and drag shows. It's more like a pub during the day, but it has pumping nighttime raves and Sunday daytime parties for a sophisticated clubbing experience.

Bootylicious London is the longest running club night for QTPOC. Founded back in 2001, it was one of the earliest clubs in the capital to strive for diversity on the DJ line up and dance-floor and continues to do so today by providing a safe space for queer and trans people of colour and their allies. It's all about RnB Hiphop, Dancehall, Afrobeat, Trap to Disco and House, and a mainly LGBTQ crowd in Union, the unpretentious railway arch venue on the last Saturday of each month.

Also in Vauxhall, Eagle London is very popular. It used to be a venue with a sex license, but not any more due to a trendy new refurbishment. Eagle now has a new sleek and modernised look and as a result has very much attracted a younger, party-going crowd. The Union nightclub claim that they are the only club in Vauxhall, where you can party every night of the week and well into the following morning. Well it is known to have the longest opening hours in London. Union frequently stays open until 11am in the morning and features eclectic line-ups from the dance music scene, and attracts largely attracts gay men, along with house and techno music fans. For something more authentic, especially if you're into older, hairy bears, don't forget XXL for good trancy music and one of London's biggest darkrooms.
Pride Parade in London
(c) VisitBritain/ Nicolas Chinardet
Heading off to South London, on Kennington Rd, The Cock Tavern is a popular gay bar with a Georgian Tiki vibe, dim lighting, eclectic decor & framed art on the ceiling. There's also The Bridge which can be found in Voltaire Rd in Brixton. It's a snug gay bar in a railway arch, offering cocktails & wines, plus outdoor seating. They offer Quiz nights on a Tuesday, some drag shows and some Top London DJs.

In the opposite direction, with reliably late opening hours, until 2am Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and until 4am Friday and Saturday is The White Swan in Limehouse. The crowd are often theatrical, and high fashion and drag are commonplace for the nights, which often have glamorous, or faux-glamorous, themes. Former stars of RuPaul's Drag Race have been known to tread the boards on stage in front of the clubbing crowds.

As you head more north to Dalston, stop off at The Glory, a convivial gay bar offering an array of cocktails & performances, plus late-night weekend hours. Dalston is London's alternative nightlife district, and the biggest attraction here for nightlife is Dalston Superstore. There are live drag shows almost every night in the upstairs bar, and on weekends the club downstairs suits dancers keen on partying until 3am. Dalston Superstore gets rammed at peak times at weekends and sometimes getting to the bar is a bit of a challenge in itself.

Not far away in City Road there's MA1: The Bunker who host a range of nights including Boys & Sirs, Detention, Bearbait Hot, Sports Buff, Rimpack, Barcode and Disco Disrobed. There's a J/O club, and CP club and many other events that suit all tastes.


Image by Clem Onojeghuo
for rawpixel.com
One of London's best saunas, Pleasuredrome, can also be found just close to Waterloo - it's large, busy, clean and modern but also atmospheric.

Finally, for all your shopping needs there's Regulation in the heart of Soho in Bateman Street. They sell Fetish wear for every taste and specialise in bondage, pain & punishment, watersports, chastity, C&BT, pup play, master & slave, sex toys and most other popular kinks. There's certainly a wide range to choose from in the store.

Naturally, this is only the tip of the iceberg as London has over 130 gay venues and all of them are an experience of their own. There are all aspects of gay life available in the capital and it's not to be missed if you're LGBT+.

THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK

BARS
Admiral Duncan (54 Old Compton Street, W1; T: +44 (0) 20 7437 5300; Website)
Balans No.34 the little one (34 Old Compton Street, W1; T: +44 (0) 20 7439 3309; Website)
Balans No.60 the big one (60-62 Old Compton Street, W1; T: +44 (0) 20 7439 2183; Website)
Bootylicious London (Club Union, 66 Albert Embankment, SE1; T: +44 7446 297080; Website)
Central Station (37 Wharfdale Road, Kings Cross, N1; T: +44 (0) 20 7278 3294; Website)
Circa (62 Frith Street, Soho W1; Website)
Coach and Horses (2 Old Compton Street, Soho W1; T: +44 (0) 20 7734 4986; Website)
Compton's (53-55 Old Compton Street, W1; T: +44 (0) 20 7479 7961; Website)
Freedom Bar Soho (National House, 60-66 Wardour St, W1; T: +44 (0) 20 7734 0071; Website)
Friendly Society (basement 79 Wardour Street, W1; T: +44 (0) 20 7434 3805; facebook)
G-A-Y Bar (30 Old Compton Street, W1; Website)
Halfway to Heaven (7 Duncannon Street, WC2; T: +44 (0) 20 7484 0736; Website)
Kings Arms London (23 Poland St, Soho W1; T: +44 (0) 20 7734 5907; Website)
Ku Bar (30 Lisle Street, W1; T: +44 (0) 20 7437 4303; facebook)
Little Ku (25 Frith St, W1; T: +44 (0) 20 7437 4303; Website)
Retro Bar (2 George Court, off Strand, WC2; T: +44 (0) 20 7321 2811; Website)
Royal Vauxhall Tavern (372 Kennington Ln, Lambeth; T: +44 (0) 20 7820 1222; Website)
Rupert Street (50 Rupert Street, W1; T: +44 (0) 20 7734 5614; Website)
The Bridge (8 Voltaire Rd, SW4; T: +44 20 7720 1959; Website)
The City of Quebec (12 Old Quebec St, Marble Arch W1; T: +44 (0) 20 7629 6159; Website)
The Cock Tavern (340 Kennington Rd, SE11; Website)
The Glory (281 Kingsland Rd, E2; T: +44 20 7684 0794; Website)
The White Swan (556 Commercial Rd, Limehouse; T: +44 (0) 20 7780 9870; Website)
The Yard (57 Rupert Street, W1; T: +44 (0) 20 7437 2652; Website)
Village Soho (81 Wardour Street, W1; T: +44 (0) 20 7436 2468; Website)

CLUBBING
Dalston Superstore (117 Kingsland High St, Dalston; T: +44 (0) 20 7254 2273; Website)
Eagle London (349 Kennington Ln, Vauxhall; T: +44 (0) 20 7793 0903; Website)
Heaven (The Arches, Villiers Street, WC2; Website)
MA1: The Bunker (217-221 City Rd; Website)
Union Nightclub (66 Albert Embankment, Lambeth; facebook)
XXL (51-53 Southwark Street; Website)

SAUNAS & GAY SHOPPING
Clonezone (64 Old Compton Street, W1; facebook)
Regulation (13A Bateman St; T: +44 20 7226 0665; Website)
Prowler Soho (3 - 7 Brewer Street, W1; +44 (0) 20 7734 4031 Website)
Pleasuredrome (Arch 124 Cornwall Rd, SE1; T: +44 (0) 20 7633 9194; Website)

Photography © Out Europe Ltd and Fred Pieau. All Rights Reserved. Revised June 2022.

 

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