Not that many years ago I was in London’s West End, the heart of the capital city and I wanted to visit a gay bar. There were only three then. But now? Well, now there are more bars and clubs, coffee houses and restaurants than ever before and you could probably visit a different one every day of the year and still not see them all. Add to this the number of places that are outside of the West End and you’ll find London a great destination for a gay holiday.
The first thing to do when you hit London is pick up a copy of Timeout (timeout.com) . This is a listings magazine that will give you the name, address and details of every bar (gay and straight) and venue in town. You can also check out theaters, restaurants, events, festivals, museums you name it, they will have it listed. For more specific gay information then pick up a copy of one of the free magazines that you will find in any gay venue; QX is a good free one to look out for. Once you’ve done that head for Leicester Square (pronounced Lester Square) or Piccadilly and start your investigations in the Old Compton Street area: the heart of Londons queer city.
The Gay London on-line directory currently lists 34 gay bars in Central London alone. 79CXR on Charing Cross Road really gets going in the evenings and you’ll find a mixed crowd here on its two floors. Its a long bar with some recesses at the back where you can pose, wait or generally cruise. The ones to look out for when you want to find a younger set would be Bar Code in Archer Street or The Village Soho at the end of Old Compton Street. Along the way you could stop off for some shopping at Clone Zone or call in for coffee at the trendy Kudos Cafe or the equally trendy coffee house, The Box. All of these places get busy in the evening and most are open all day. Watch out for the London prices though as you wont find drinks very cheep. Your best value is to try somewhere like Comptons, which is more of a pub than a bar and which has pump ale and lager as well as the over priced bottles of designer beer. Comptons is one of the older bars and has a mixed crowd. As does Brief Encounter which, when I was last there, was rocking and you were guaranteed a pick up if you cruised hard enough.
There are 16 gay clubs in the centre of town too. G.A.Y. at the Astoria is probably the most popular with guest appearances and live music as well as late night dancing and non-stop cruising. This is the number one place for the 18 to 25 crowd on a Friday and Saturday night. There is also the world famous Heaven, under the arches at Charing Cross railway station. This has been running for more years than I care to remember (as some remember it from as far back as the early 1980s) and is one of THE places to be seen. Again, its not going to be cheep but most of the clubs in London offer rates for Students, so if you have a student I.D. card, dont forget to take it.
Outside of the city centre but only a short underground or bus ride away, youll find loads of other bars and clubs. These tend not to be as pretentious, the bois dont pose as much and the staff tend to be more friendly. If you want to rip your shirt off, show off your pecs and get off on music then try Trade at Turnmills in Clerkenwell Street. Benjys on Mile End Road (Sundays) is packed with hunky and fit East End lads and down at Kings Cross, Central Station has something different on every night. The student folk of the north and east areas tend to hang out at The Duke of Wellington and other Islington area bars and if you want cabaret, cruising and everything in between the good old Black Cap in Camden is the place for you.
These are just some of the better places to visit on your trip to London, if I were you Id check out the links below, pick up a copy of QX for addresses and listings and prepare yourself for a rave. If its happening, its happening in the gay scene in London!