London is a cracking city. It is also huge – so huge that when you first arrive it can be hard to find your place. If you are a gay tourist/traveller/nomad type visiting London Town for the first time, you won’t want to waste any time in finding the right Gaybourhood for you.
Whether you’re an art-school hipster, a gym-head, or a pop music freak, there is a scene for virtually every kind of gay person in London, and you shouldn’t have a hard time finding a party full of other homo-types just like you. You just have to make sure you make your way to the right Gaybourhood.
Obvs, Soho has a massive gay scene. Old Compton Street is Soho’s gay heartland, full to bursting with gay bars, gay pubs, gay eateries, gay shops, and of course, gay people.
The scene: Because it’s the most obvious gay destination in London, you’ll find more tourists in Soho than you will find London locals. But that’s no bad thing in my opinion. And if you fancy a cheap drink and a dance to some frighteningly loud pop music, you’ll feel right at home at G-A-Y bar. After a while, you’ll even get used to its barnyard stench. Some other Soho bars and pubs that you might want to try out include The Village, The Yard (nice outdoor area), Ku Bar, Rupert St, and Friendly Society (very kitsch with Barbie dolls suck to the ceiling). If you want to party late into the night, there are a decent handful of options. Pop lovers can’t do much better than heading to G-A-Y Late or Heaven, and if you’re a tranny chaser be sure to check out Madame Jojo’s Trannyshack club/cabaret night every Wednesday.
The boys: The boys in Soho all look like they’ve come straight from a day of shopping in Topman and H&M, only 5 years ago. Not a judgment, just an observation haterz. If you’re into twinks, you’ll have your tongue hanging out of your mouth in Soho’s gay bars as this area is swarming with them, and they are quite a bit harder to locate in London’s other gay areas. If you like ‘em young, cute, blond, foreign – come to Soho.
Getting there: Londoners are fond of moaning about their transport system, but expensive as it is, I think that British transport is really pretty decent. Your nearest stations to London’s gay centre are Tottenham Court Road (on the Central and Northern Line) and Leicester Square (on the Northern and Piccadilly Line). There are also a tonne of buses heading to this area. Just remember that the Tube closes at around 12 – 12.30, so know which night bus takes you home. Or better yet, stay at someone else’s.
Vauxhall tends not to be on the tourist map. Why? It’s a dump. But it is worth a visit for the gay nightlife.
The scene: Vauxhall is a late night place. It has a reputation as being a little seedy, but that’s not always a bad thing. For a pop music lover like me, a trip south of the river is not quite so appealing. You are much more likely to find muscle clad men with their shirts off dancing to thumping music than you are to see bright young things bopping to the latest chart hits. If muscles are your thing head to Fire and Area, you’ll love it there. If you’re a bear or bear admirer, get yourself over to XXL pronto. I haven’t been because I way about 50kg and I would look more out of place than Sarah Palin on a Gay Pride march. But between the Muscle Marys and the furry bears, there is even room for a sprinkling of arty gays in Vauxhall. One of my very favourite places, the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, puts on a night every Saturday called Duckie. At Duckie you can listen to smart danceable pop music, and you’ll also be treated to live performance art every weekend. One time, a delightful lady popped a cherry out of her vagina and it hit me in the face. It’s art, people!
The boys: In the muscle clubs, you’ll find muscly boys. In the bear clubs, you’ll find bears. And in the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, you’ll find a nice mix of gays – even some *gasp* girls.
Getting there: You’re in luck as Vauxhall has its own tube station (on the Victoria line), and there is even a mainline train station in Vauxhall so if you are travelling from out of town, it should still be easy to get to. Like most places in London, Vauxhall is also very well connected by buses and night buses.
And now on to my very favourite London gaybourhood, the incomparable Hackney. If you don’t quite fit in, you can find your place in Hackney. I mean, unless you don’t have a beard. All the boys have beards here.
The scene: Here’s the thing. Hackney doesn’t really have gay pubs or bars, but the population of Hackney is so overwhelmingly homo that every encounter you have, in the post office or the local boozer, is textured with 50 shades of gay. Shoreditch is the obvious place to start your Hackney night out. Begin at the George and Dragon (2 Hackney Road) – it’s sweaty and the beer ain’t cheap, but I love it – and follow the crowd at closing time. The Joiners Arms is somewhere to head to on the weekend if you want a late one, but in the last year or so it’s lost it’s way a little – a shame, because some of my best memories from 2008/2009 are from this dingy late night gay pub. Head up into Dalston and there are two main places where the gays hang out at night – Dalston Superstore, and Vogue Fabrics. Vogue is great for an alternative gay night out and hosts awesome performance art nights as well as big danceathons. Just make sure you keep your eyes open for a queue of gays – Vogue Fabrics is in a basement and it’s easy to miss.
The boys: Much like London Fields, in the gay bars of Hackney you will find skinny art students, hipster gays, as well as bearded and bespectacled bears. Well, bearded and bespectacled everyone actually. And of course you will find gays of every nationality – that’s what’s so awesome about Gay London.
Getting there: In the past, tourists have tended not to venture into Hackney as it’s a little more difficult to get to than other parts of the city. But with the Olympics, the new focus on East London, and the launch of the East London Line, all of that has changed. The East London Line will be your best friend – key stops are Shoreditch High Street and Dalston Junction.
So there you go – London’s three greatest Gaybourhoods. Which one takes your fancy?