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 streets on Planet Earth.

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

The capital's gay epicentre in Soho used to dominate, but gay life has once again spread out further across London and now includes areas like Earl's Court, Clapham, Dalston, Vauxhall, Kennington & 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 atmosphere.

Pride in London Parade
Photo: Bikeworldtravel
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. They have a late licence and will be playing 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 company 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!

The Duke Of Wellington is a spacious, gay-friendly corner pub with busy downstairs bar, music videos and quieter upstairs area. They have dancing and live performances, weekly drag bingo and a quiz. They have been serving the LGBTQIA+ community in Soho for over 20 years. 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.

SweatBox Soho has 21 gay bars just a short walk away, so it's known for being London's busiest gay sauna. Their busiest hours are after work, after pubs close and during the weekend, but they are open 24 hours. Staff are visibly cleaning the areas regularly and they are efficient and polite. The guys are pretty varied and random. You get the whole cross section of London with lots of visitors and some locals.

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 and spirits.

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. Their downstairs basement is known as The Underground and it hosts a range of men-only cruise nights. There are Horse Fairs (for Stabhle Lads, Marfes and Stallions), Club S.O.P. (Streams Of Pleasure), The Bi Fun Club, Sweet Wednesday (For all Transgender, Cross-Dressers, their Friends and Admirers), Rubber Underground and Club Collared.

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.

We go back to Trafalgar Square to see Nelson's Column, and then it's off down The Strand where you'll find one of London's most famous night clubs under the railway arches. It is of course Heaven, and back in the 70's it was the closest London had to New York's Studio 54. Heaven evolved as the focal point for a fairly understated gay scene at the time, and then in the 80's and 90's it became London's Premiere nightclub.
Trafalgar Square - Photo: DomWestcliff
CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
It's worth remembering that 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. Although it's now way more commercial, 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 happening 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 The Locker Room can be found in the heart of Kennington towards the South East of London. They welcome locals and travellers who wish to add a little flavour to their evenings in a safe and relaxed environment, without fear of rejection or abuse. We welcome men who want to connect with men without inhibition in an attitude-free zone which has some high-quality facilities.

Nearby 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.

Further East, The Lord Clyde can be found in Wotton Road in Deptford. This popular cruise bar has a Comfy and cozy upstairs, dark, sleazy and sexy downstairs but all of it spotlessly clean. Nude nights, Punishment Block, Come to Daddy, Bears Social and Paunchy are just a few of their themed nights.

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.

Now you should head North. 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
Naacho Night Club is London's first Adult Bollywood Gay Club with dark rooms, glory holes and private cubicles. The name Naacho is a versatile South Asian word which means Dance and they can also be found some nights at the Bunker. They attract Men, Women, Transgender people and Cross-Dressers and the nights includes includes use of private booths, sling rooms, TV rooms and a Glory hole.

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+.

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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)
Duke Of Wellington (77 Wardour St, W1; T: +44 20 7439 1274; 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 Lord Clyde (9 Wotton Rd, SE8; T: +44 7306 882555 Instagram)
The White Swan (556 Commercial Rd, Limehouse; T: +44 (0) 20 7780 9870; Instagram)
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)
Heaven (The Arches, Villiers Street, WC2; Website)
MA1: The Bunker (217-221 City Rd; Website)
Naacho Night Club (Bunker Club, 217 City Rd, London EC1; T: +44 843 707 5010; Website)
The Underground (37 Wharfdale Road, Kings Cross, N1; T: +44 (0) 20 7278 3294; Website)
Union Nightclub (66 Albert Embankment, Lambeth; facebook)

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)
SweatBox Soho (Ramillies House, 1-2 Ramillies St, W1; T: +44 20 4519 6044 Website)
The Locker Room (6 Cleaver St, SE11; Website)

Photography © Out Europe Ltd and Fred Pieau. All Rights Reserved. Revised February 2024.

OutUK has a feature on London's Bars and Clubs and their ongoing struggle to survive.


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