It's not only the capital of the UK but London is the perfect city for the gay visitor, with more than 130 gay venues! Daunted? Well, don't be ... OutUK is here to guide you around some of the gayest streets on Planet Earth.

I've travelled from San Fran to Gran Can, from Moscow to Glasgow, but I'd have to say that London's gay scene is about as big and cosmopolitan as it gets.

However, I should also add that I've seen the capital's gay epicentre increasingly focus on Soho over the last decade, to the detriment of other previously thriving satellite gay villages in areas like Earl's Court, Clapham, Vauxhall, Brixton and King's Cross.

Our tour begins 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 friendly and welcoming atmosphere.

If you head up Charing Cross Road towards Soho then stop off en route at the ambient, candle-lit and galleried Ku Bar, with its young boy-babe crowd. Round the corner and cut down Shaftsbury Avenue, past all the theatres, to approach the capital's homo-heart. The Yard's outdoor space is brimming with talent in summer and its cosy wooden loft packs them in above during winter. Over the way, pose at Rupert Street bar, at Soho's largest street window - preen and be seen!

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. Over the way the Escape bar draws you in, perhaps the best pre-club venue, where even the doormen are dancing. Back past Rupert Street, 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 up giant pitchers of beer.

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 Balans - a bustling bistro with interesting modern cuisine, cute waiters and an even cuter crowd. Next door is Clonezone, which vies with Prowler for your trolley with the naughty stuff downstairs and they certainly have lots of it!
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. 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, Molly Mogs 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 more than 200 disco balls! Greek Street also has a stylish gay cocktail bar, it's called The Green Carnation and it's theme is based around Oscar Wilde. Both are worth a visit if you want something different.

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. Their downstairs basement is known as "The Underground" and it hosts a range of men-only cruise nights.

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. Also worth a mention is a bar for the beary, hairy, bigger man can be found in Poland Street. The King's Arms occasionally stages bear shows and events and is open every day.

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.

Hard On @ Union on Albert Embankment is a popular fetish night at the purpose built cruise and dance club. You do have to have membership but can apply online. HARD ON enforces a very strict dress code of rubber, leather, uniform, skin gear, sports kit or just naked in your boots!

For something more authentic, especially if you're into older, hairy bears, cross the Thames to XXL for good trancy music and one of London's biggest darkrooms. Also South of the river, you'll find a resurging clubbing scene under the arches around Vauxhall, notably The Eagle in Kennington Lane, Vauxhall is a popular and friendly pub especially for bears. Every day they have a special party and on Sundays it's the Horse Meat Disco.

Fire Club under the Arches in Vauxhall has eight diffrent club nights for gay men. Fire has a multi roomed programme of local and international bespoke events, covering cutting edge house, techno, bass and more. Outdoor terrace and bars, covered queuing, and late licenses.


Pride Parade in London
(c) VisitBritain/ Nicolas Chinardet
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. The largest of the bathhouse brands in London are under the Chariots name. They have Saunas and Baths at Shoreditch, Streatham, Vauxhall and Waterloo and they all offer Steam Rooms, Solariums, Dry Sauna, Whirlpools and a much enjoyed Darkroom.

Naturally, that's only the tip of the iceberg - London has over 130 gay venues all said - and so much more to enjoy throughout the city. We've focussed on gaylife in the area around Soho, but there's so many other wonderful venues to enjoy throughout London - particularly in areas like Earl's Court, Clapham, Vauxhall, Brixton and King's Cross.

Photography © Out Europe Ltd and Fred Pieau. All Rights Reserved. Revised January 2017.

THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK

BARS
Retro Bar (2 George Court, off Strand, WC2; T: +44 (0)207 321 2811)
Halfway to Heaven (7 Duncannon Street, Charing Cross WC2 4JF; T: +44 (0)20 7484 0736)
Ku Bar (75 Charing Cross Road, W1; T: +44 (0)207 437 4303)
The Yard (57 Rupert Street, W1; T: +44 (0)207 437 2652)
Rupert Street (50 Rupert Street, W1; T: +44 (0)207 734 5614)
Escape (8 Brewer Street, W1; T: +44 (0)207 734 2626)
Friendly Society (basement 79 Wardour Street, W1, enter Tisbury Court; T: +44 (0)207 434 3805)
Village Soho (81 Wardour Street, W1; T: +44 (0)207 436 2468)
Compton's (53-55 Old Compton Street, W1; T: +44 (0)207 479 7961)
Balans (60 & 34 Old Compton Street, W1; T: +44 (0)207 439 3309)
Admiral Duncan (54 Old Compton Street, W1; T: +44 (0)207 437 5300)
G-A-Y Bar (30 Old Compton Street, W1; T: no phone)
Circa (62 Frith Street, Soho W1D 3JN)
Molly Mogs (2 Old Compton Street, Soho W1D 4TA)
Freedom Bar Soho (National House, 60-66 Wardour St, Soho W1F 0TA; T: +44 (0)20 7734 0071)
The Green Carnation (5 Greek St, Soho W1D 4DD; T: +44 (0)20 8616 8087)
Central Station (37 Wharfdale Road, Kings Cross, N1 9SD; T: +44 (0)20 7278 3294)
The City of Quebec (12 Old Quebec St, Marble Arch W1H 4AF; T: +44 (0)20 7629 6159)

CLUBBING
Heaven (The Arches, Villiers Street, WC2; Website)
XXL (51-53 Southwark Street; Website)
Hard On @ Union (66 Albert Embankment, SE11 7TP; T: +44 (0)20 7636 7630) The Eagle (349 Kennington Lane, Vauxhall SE11 5QY; T: +44 (0)20 7793 0903) Fire Club (Arch 39-43 Parry Street, Vauxhall SW18 1RT; T: +44 (0)20 3242 0040

SAUNAS & GAY SHOPPING
Prowler Soho (3 - 7 Brewer Street, W1; +44 (0)207 734 4031 Website)
Clonezone (64 Old Compton Street, W1; Website)
Pleasuredrome (Arch 124 Cornwall Rd, SE1; T: +44 (0)207 633 9194; Website)
Chariots Shoreditch (1 Fairchild St, EC2A 3NS; (0)207 247 5333)
Chariots Streatham (292 Streatham High Rd, SW16; (0)207 247 5333)
Chariots Vauxhall (Rail Arches 63-64, Albert Embankment, SE1; (0)207 247 5333)
Chariots Waterloo (101 Lower March, SE1 7AB; (0)207 247 5333)

 

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