Who the daddy? Well sadly, all is not what it seems...

The best known Bear club in London, XXL, closed its doors in September 2019 after 19 successful years of operation. DJ Fat Tony, a close friend of Elton John, regularly performed to 2,000 people a night. The owners of the club from Malaysia and Singapore gave the club three months to wind up after they lost lost a court appeal to stop demolition and the eventual construction of a £1.3bn apartment, hotel and office development on the site.

OutUK’s little cub-cum-chubby-chaser Adrian Gillan caught up with XXL's Mark Ames - the guy behind the UK's big bear clubbing revolution.

“Most first-timers came here thinking this was a fetish club. They were wrong,” growls short, stocky yet cherubic Mark Ames, the young Phil Mitchell look-alike owner-promoter-DJ who launched XXL nearly twenty years ago - for bears, their admirers and the curious - so kick-starting a chubby clubbing revolt that’s swept across the nation.

Looking around, there were as many bears as there were men, it seems: the XXL crowd being simply a cross-section of the gay community - just a bit older, and with a few more hairs. Moreover, many big and hairy guys were with younger, smoother fry; and vice versa. And why describe such attractions as fetish rather than mere sexual preference, just like any other?

“What is a bear?” muses our hairy host. “The idea of a ‘cloned bear’ exists only to the people who don’t come on the bear scene. The gay scene whinges endlessly about how straights treat us, but we are the world’s worst at ghettoising our own.”
Ames considers himself more a cub than a bear anyway. Apparently - in the UK - being a ‘bear’ is essentially about being hairy, probably over thirty and slightly portly. If you’re skinny but hairy, you’re an ‘otter’; if you’re young and chunky and a bit overweight, with hair, you’re probably a ‘cub’; and if you grow big but not too hairy, you’re dubbed a ‘chub’ - there’s even a social group called Gainers for those chub-wannabe wimps keen to pile on the pounds.

Contends our furry friend: “Being a bear is in many ways simply the natural progression of getting older. Bears haven’t come from outer space! We attracted the same guys who were there at the start of Trade and DTPM. They’ve just grown up and the hours they’ve got are too important to waste down the gym. We’ve shown there’s gay life after being young.”

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“I used to be a 30 inch waist when younger,” bristles Ames with emotion. “I could stop the traffic and get into any club in London. That doesn’t last for ever. This is about not growing older whilst still trying to look and act sixteen. We all know some sad old fifty year old dressed in Versace’s latest with their hair gelled and dyed to death and looking a bit of an issue.”

“And I do have a problem,” he expands, “when I go into some gay place and there’s some arsehole trying their hardest to look like they’re Mister Mean Man, scowling at you and thinking they’re sexy! You do get younger guys and foreigners who walk in with an attitude but the whole club has such a buzzy, happy, friendly feel, they soon lose it. Being a bear is about coming to terms with who and what you are. I wouldn’t call it spiritual - it’s nothing that deep - but it’s about broadening us as gay people and stopping us being so self-judgmental.”

The following statements are largely FALSE!

They’re all hung like horses
They’re all butch and work on building sites
They’re all fat, ugly bastards
They’re all either into SM in leather or line-dancing in check shirts
They’re all clones or come from outer space
They only fancy each other’s tubby, furry frames
They’re all older gay guys smiling wistfully up at some lame drag act, raising money for charity
It’s all just a fetish
Older, means been around a bit, means got HIV
Older, means still here, means not got HIV, means must be a safe fuck

The bear movement may have begun in America; but it has remained a scattered scene of small bars and very few clubs stateside. London is now widely considered the bear capital of the world; and where bears prowl - like London, Brighton and Birmingham - others tend to follow.

“When I started all this,” Ames grunts, “everyone - gay media and bear community - told me it’d never work. But people grow up. More and more guys are becoming bears every day. And bears were so un-trendy that they’re now becoming cool. That's borne out by the ever increasing number of bear nights that are now being staged throughout the UK, but in particular in London. As Mark says, "Bears may have been taking a nap, but now they're back and ready to growl again!".

Eagle London (349 Kennington Lane, SE11 5QY; T: +44 20 7793 0903; Website)
A well liked leather pub and a bear venue which holds Horse Meat Discos on Sundays and many other events popular with the bear crowd.

Electrowerkz (7 Torrens St, EC1V 1NQ; T: +44 20 3976 6669; Website)
Electrowerkz is an old tube carriage and cobblestone courtyard in a spacious warehouse where they hold club nights and live acts. Roast is their club for Bears, cubs, chubs, chasers, muscle bears, trans men, muscle men, and admirers. They have DJ's, 5 rooms, 1 big darkroom and it's strictly Men only.

Kings Arms London (23 Poland St, W1F 8QJ; T: +44 20 7734 5907; Website)
Soho's oldest gay bar. As firm favourite to the Bear community over the years, they affectionately call them 'The KA', and refer to them as 'London's Favourite Bear Bar'. At weekends they have Guest & Resident DJ's playing disco, house and electro beats - not forgetting their Legendary Bearaoke which has been going for over 25 years! There's also Beers, Bears and Beats on Fridays and Saturdays and Big Bear Quiz event Tuesdays, that's £3 per player to play with a maximum of 6 in a team!

London Bears Movie Club Website)
The London Bears Movie Club are a group of bears and their admirers who meet up in Central London to see a movie or a play together, usually once a month and often on a Saturday. Some months they may have more than one event and other months they may have no events, it all depends on what's on. Visiting bears from all over the world are, of course, more than welcome to join in.

MA1: The Bunker (217-221 City Rd, EC1V 1JN; Website)
Bearbait first Thursday of each month 6pm-10pm If you're into lads or men into bears/cubs, Dilfs, Dads-n-Lads, blokes, geezers, men with beards or fuzz plus those hunky Silver Foxes this is the night for you! Entry is £10.00 which includes the coatcheck. No dresscode but feel free to make the effort or just get your kit off! Men Only/18+ Save £1.00 per visit by paying cash!

Royal Vauxhall Tavern (372 Kennington Lane, SE11 5HY; T: +44 20 7820 1222; Website)
Beefmince has been attracting hundreds of bears, cubs and everything in between and has fast become one of The RVT's biggest and most loved club nights. Expect a welcoming crowd full of hotties, beards, cubs, bears, chubs and ALL lovers of a good party, regardless of age, gender and sexuality! Beefmince champions an 'everyone welcome' policy as part of their Mince Mission that creates an attitude-free atmosphere. https://beefmince.com/

The Lord Clyde (9 Wotton Rd, SE8 5TQ; T: +44 7306 882555; Website)
Come2Daddy is held on Thursdays 9pm-1am, Tickets £7. Bears Social is a monthly event for the big and hairy at this South London cruise bar for bears to chill out at, in discrete dark corners.

Sailors Sauna (570-574 Commercial Rd, E14 7JD; T: +44 20 7791 2808; Website)
Sailors is a male only spa and sauna close to Limehouse DLR station. They hold an event called Big and Cuddly every Monday which attracts Bears and their admirers.

Information as at June 2023.


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