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 50 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 the world 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.
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
Pride in London Parade |
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.
The Light Lounge is a stylish gay-popular cocktail lounge bar from the KU group which serves a great selection of beers, wines and cocktails. It attracts
a Mixed/LGBT crowd and is located directly above KU Bar.
Their sister venue Little Ku can be found in Frith Street. It's in the heart of London's gay district
which is just around the corner and a cut down Shaftsbury Avenue past all the theatres.
Little Ku a stylish pre-club gay bar on 3 floors with a curved-ceiling basement for DJ sets Wednesdays to Saturdays.
So here we are in the capital's homo-heart. Let's start by going off to Rupert Street. 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.
For a change of scene,
flit along further to the G-A-Y Bar, packed with young disco bunny exhibitionists.
G-A-Y Late a few streets away in Goslett Yard is the late night club run by the G-A-Y group. This gay and lesbian bar and club has a late licence and plays pop tunes until
the early hours.
Some what different, Coach and Horses also in Old Compton Street is a cosy traditional
gay pub, with drag entertainment almost every night.
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.
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.
The commpany has two other venues, Circa Embankment is a Gay nightclub with a dark, decadent vibe draws an LGBTQ crowd for cocktails and dancing. It's housed on the lower level
of the Hungerford House building on Victoria Embankment and is their largest event and hire space. Hungerford House is a riverside
cocktail venue in the same building attracting some LGBT customers as well as tourists, office workers and London sightseers.
Back 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.
Outside Buckingham Palace
(c) VisitBritain/Melody Thornton
Just off Picadilly Circus, with its famous statue of Eros, the God of love and sex, you'll find Ziggy's. It's a cocktail bar
within the luxurious Hotel Café Royal on Regent Street and it pays homage to the late great David Bowie who famously retired
his alter ego Ziggy Stardust with a star-studded bash at this quite stunning London landmark back in 1973. |
Expect a mix of inventive cocktails inspired by Bowie
using some of his favoured tipples. You can order a "Tigers on Vaseline" – make mine a "Lady Grinning Soul". Sit amongst a private collection of Bowie
photography by rock photographer Mick Rock whom Bowie worked with extensively during the Seventies. They serve small dishes as well as quality wines
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. It's evolved over the years into a bar, restaurant, boutique bed & breakfast establishment in this
regenerated bustling area of the capital.
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.
Vault 139 is a appening gay bar featuring a strict dress code & themed nights. CRUISE nights you are fully dressed, UNDERWEAR nights means Boxers,
Speedos, Jock Straps, Y-Fronts or a G-string and NKD nights means strictly Naked!
Going further north Zodiac Bar & Club in Hampstead Rd, is a Queer owned and managed venue situated between Soho and Camden. It offers
a safe space without the hustle bustle of tourists and hen parties. Zodiac Bar is a performance-centred bar and club over two floors with a capacity
of 250 people. They host everything from karaoke or open mic to comedy and cabaret as well as regular DJs.
With community at its heart, they make it a welcoming place for all the rainbow family.
Ethan Doyle White, CC BY-SA 4.0
via Wikimedia Commons
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 sophisticated Sunday evening cabaret.
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 the venue has very much attracted a much 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.
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.
ARCH Clapham can be found in Voltaire Road and offers a variety of differnt nights including a quiz night Tuesday, Karaoke on Wednesday and
Drag Bingo on Thursday. There are plenty of coktails and DJs on other nights of the week.
Two Brewers is very well established Gay friendly cabaret bar and weekend-only dance club open until the early hours. It is a stalwart of the
London gay scene, especially if you don’t wish to travel into central London. It's been proudly serving the LGBTQIA+ community since 1981 and is
one of the capital’s most famous drag cabaret venues, with an iconic show bar and club which hosts fabulous, glitter-filled cabaret extravaganzas seven
nights a week. If you love lip-sync, can’t wait for the quiz, kill it at karaoke or want to dance ’til dawn, there’ll certainly be a welcome for you.
Ted's Place is a ong-running gay venue hosting men-only nights & nights for TV/TS, gay men & their admirers. A very friendly and relaxed
environment attracting a wide range of people. Endearingly refered to as “A Fulham institution”, Ted’s Place has been a cornerstone of the gay scene
in West London for the residents of Hammersmith, Fulham, Shepherd’s Bush and Earls Court.
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.
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. Each week there's a J/O club, and CP club and many other events
that will suit almost all tastes.
Indeed the Club CP is the longest established corporal punishment club for men in the UK. They’ve been going for well
over eighteen years in one guise or another at various venues throughout London. They welcome men from the age of 18 upwards and no matter level you are at
- whether you’re a beginner/novice or a old hand at swishing that cane or using that hand. They have plenty of equipment to use, various things to bend over
and there are darker areas for the more adventurous person!
Image by Clem Onojeghuo
Siorai Bar at Junction Rd, Archway is a vibrant LGBTQ+ cocktail bar located in the heart of North London. It offers a safe and inclusive
space for the LGBTQ+ community with its trendy and welcoming atmosphere and serves a delicious range of expertly crafted cocktails, accompanied by
drag performances and themed events.
Village 512 is also out of town in Kingsland Rd, Hackney. They have great music, some fabulous people to be around and two bars with plenty
of space to sit down.
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 50 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
Admiral Duncan (54 Old Compton Street, W1; T: +44 (0) 20 7437 5300; Website)
ARCH Clapham (Arch 642, Voltaire Rd; T: +44 20 7498 6531; 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)
Club CP (217 City Rd; 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)
Hungerford House (Hungerford House, Victoria Embankment; 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)
The Light Lounge (1 Newport Place; T: +44 20 7734 8329; Website)
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)
Siorai Bar (114 Junction Rd, Archway; T: +44 7494 953078; Website)
Ted's Place (305a North End Rd; T: +44 20 7385 9359; 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)
Two Brewers (114 Clapham High St; T: +44 20 7819 9539; Website)
Village 512 (512 Kingsland Rd; facebook)
Village Soho (81 Wardour Street, W1; T: +44 (0) 20 7436 2468; Website)
Vault 139 (139-143 Whitfield St; T: +44 20 7388 5500; Website)
Ziggy's (68 Regent Street; T; +44 20 7406 3310; Website)
Zodiac Bar & Club (119 Hampstead Rd; Website)
Circa Embankment (Hungerford House, Victoria Embankment; Website)
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)
G-A-Y Late (5 Goslett Yard; T: +44 20 7437 0479 Website)
Heaven (The Arches, Villiers Street, WC2; Website)
MA1: The Bunker (217-221 City Rd; Website)
Union Nightclub (66 Albert Embankment, Lambeth; facebook)
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 2023.