Welcome to Nightlife Gay Scene London
Gay Bars, Pubs, Clubs, Restaurants, Café's, Entertainment

Central London (Soho)

  • Admiral Duncan

    54 Old Compton Street, Soho, W1D 4UB

    A traditional gay pub in the heart of Soho, the Admiral Duncan attracts a slightly older, down-to-earth crowd in the heart of boys’ town. Once the target of the most devastating homophobic attack in London’s history, when a nail bomb went off one busy bank holiday evening, killing three people and injuring many more, the pub has bounced back stronger than ever. The decor hasn’t changed much, perhaps in an act of defiance or maybe because that’s just the way the punters like it – the aesthetic is butch, camp and cosy all at once, a bit like the crowd here. Read more

  • BarCode

    Arch 69, Goding Street, SE11 4AD

    This busy men’s cruise bar is laid out over two levels, with the bustling main bar at ground level and a second bar and dancefloor downstairs. Recently refurbished, with air-con and a spanking new sound system, it’s a far cry from the Soho cruise joints of old, where a coat of black paint was deemed all that was necessary to keep the punters happy. The late licence means that most of gay Soho usually ends up here eventually – unless they’ve already copped off, of course. There’s also Comedy Camp on Tuesdays, billed as London’s only gay and straight-friendly comedy club, which attracts some of the biggest names in the business. Read more

  • Box

    Seven Dials, 32-34 Monmouth Street, WC2H 9HA

    For years, the Box was associated with its gregarious owner Geoff Llewellyn. It was he who created the winning formula of cute bar staff, café culture and a clubbier feel at night. When Llewellyn retired to Spain a few years ago, some thought the bar’s popularity would go with him. They couldn’t have been more wrong. The new owners have built on his success and added a few touches of their own. They’ve also splashed out on some major refurbishments. No longer do the downstairs toilets smell of damp. There’s a brighter, cleaner vibe upstairs too, not to mention an improved menu, which makes this a popular place for lunch. As day turns to evening, the muscle boys move in and the atmosphere becomes a whole lot cruisier. In fact, the Box has gained something a reputation as a stronghold for Muscle Marys (there are even leaflets by the toilets warning about the dangers of steroid use). The addition of DJs means it’s a very busy pre-club venue at weekends. Read more

  • Compton's of Soho

    53 Old Compton St, W1V 5PN

    Long before Old Compton Street was rechristened ‘Queer Street’, long before Soho became known as the gay village, long before the Village bar or the Admiral Duncan or Balans or even Clone Zone, there was Compton’s. An old-fashioned gay pub that used to have blacked-out windows and sawdust on the floor, the venue has changed with the times and now has two floors instead of one, clear glass windows and far nicer toilets. The crowd here hasn’t changed all that much. Compton’s is still popular with crowds of beer-drinking, blokey gay men, and is pretty cruisey whatever time you choose to visit. The upstairs lounge is quieter and more traditional, with tables, flock wallpaper and a chandelier – a good place for a date or conversation, with views of the crowds on Old Compton Street below. But the main floor bar is where the action is: it’s louder, darker and more clubby. Bomber jackets are, of course, optional. Read more

  • Duke of Wellington

    94A Crawford Street, W1H 2HQ

    Set in the heart of Soho, this former straight pub is now a popular gay bar attracting a slightly older crowd who shout at each other over a soundtrack of loud pop. It’s a thoroughly mainstream venue whose cheery ambience and clientele are right down the middle of the road. If you crave quiet conversation, try the upstairs lounge. Read more

  • The Edge

    11 Soho Square, Soho, W1D 3QE

    A bustling ‘polysexual’ bar spread over four floors, with great views of Soho Square. Food is served on the ground floor during the day. Upstairs is a lounge bar, above that the alfresco cocktail bar with piano and live entertainment, and above that a club space complete with light-up dancefloor. DJs play either here or down on the ground floor, which gets very busy at the weekends. After years of poor management, owner Andy Jones took the bull by the horns, took on a new manager and spent a small fortune on refurbishing the place. And it shows. The Edge has finally got its edge back. Great for summer drinking. Read more

  • Escape Bar

    10a Brewer St, London, W1F 0SE

    An intimate gay dance bar, with a large video screen that plays music videos, and a mixed crowd who mingle happily. Pam Ann used to perform here, back in the days before she went supernova. These days, there’s less live performance (hardly surprising, given the size of the venue) and the place has become more of a DJ bar. Read more

  • First Out

    52 St Giles High St, WC2H 8LH

    London's original gay café-bar (established in 1986) is popular with a truly mixed crowd of men and women of all ages. The main floor is a vegetarian and vegan café with a relaxed community feel and it is usually packed. The basement bar shares the same vibe during the weekdays but hots up on a Friday night when Girl Friday sees it overrun with women. You can catch regular art exhibitions here by queer and queer-friendly artists as well as various ad hoc events. Read more

  • Freedom

    60-66 Wardour St, London, W1F 0TA

    A glitzy cocktail lounge and DJ bar, spread over two floors. Once associated with Marc Almond and entourage, Freedom has been through various incarnations, some more successful than others. Currently managed by Shaun Given, the man who gave the Edge its edge back, things have improved enormously in the past couple of years. The glam ground-floor bar attracts a fashion-conscious crowd, who sip cocktail among chandeliers, zebra-print banquettes and venetian mirrors. A few ‘strays’ and dolled-up gal pals add colour. If the Dynasty decor feels too formal, there’s a large basement club and performance space, suitable for cabaret during the week, and far busier at the weekend when the gay party crowd moves in. Read more

  • Friendly Society

    Basement, 79 Wardour Street, W1D 6QB

    A hip yet friendly basement bar, hosted by the fabulous Maria. Don’t let the seedy alley entrance put you off: inside, the decor is a mix of retro and plastic fantastic, with Barbie dolls and other kitsch paraphernalia. The layout is L-shaped, with a smaller bar tucked around the corner from the main action. Musically, expect to hear everything from Dolly Parton to Diana Ross. Read more

  • G-A-Y Bar

    30 Old Compton Street, W1D 4UR

    Jeremy Joseph’s G-A-Y Bar has everything you’d expect: cheap drinks offers, a young crowd and plenty of Kylie. It’s spread out over three floors, and is always busy. Some love it, others love to hate it, but if you’re the kind of person who adores pink whistles and cowboy hats, and likes to party with their gal pals, this is the place to come. Read more

  • Green Carnation

    5 Greek Street, Soho, W1D 4DD

    Formerly the Element Bar, and before that Sanctuary, this upmarket three-storey venue has changed its name several times, but the vibe remains the same. It’s still a dark, elegant, wood-accented lounge bar, dotted with sofas, tables, nooks and crannies. Under its latest incarnation, however, the decor is dedicated to the spirit of Oscar Wilde, whose quotes adorn the green and gold lacquered walls. It attracts an array of gay and straight punters, depending on which night you go; the crowd is always well heeled, and dotted with smartly dressed gal pals. The ground floor offers the familiar mix of cute Brazilian bar staff and commercial dance music. Upstairs, things get more interesting, with live music, the occasional piano player and a film club on Sundays. Drinks aren’t cheap, though. Read more

  • Halfway To Heaven

    7 Duncannon St, WC2N 4JF

    A traditional gay boozer, situated halfway between gay Soho and Heaven, hence the name. For a change from the central London scene, bone up on your trivia for the Wednesday pub quiz or try your luck at the bingo that takes place later that night. The main floor is cosy and traditional, while the basement is clubbier and cruisier. Read more

  • King's Arms

    23 Poland St, W1F 8QJ

    This busy bears’ pub has been around forever, and attracts a loyal crowd of stocky, hairy, beardy men who like a pint. The aesthetic is traditional and cosy: you could be in a country pub, except it’s crammed with gay men. Now that bears have gone more mainstream, the place is busier than ever. Some nights they really pack them in. There’s a lot less attitude than you’ll find in many Soho venues, though it helps if you have a beard. Read more

  • Ku

    30 Lisle Street, WC2H 7BA

    Voted London’s best central gay bar by the readers of Boyz and Pink Paper, Ku must be doing something right. Formerly known as West Central, it has morphed from a mediocre space into a popular bar and club that offers everything from film nights to comedy. The sheer variety of club nights (held in the basement) is impressive, from Sandra D’s Ruby Tuesdays for lesbians to the poptastic O-Zone on Fridays, hosted by veteran drag DJ Dusty O. The nearest rival to G-A-Y Bar, Ku is the first gay venue you reach after leaving Leicester Square tube, so it benefits from lots of passing trade. In 2010, a new satellite bar opened around the corner in Frith Street. Owned by Gary Henshawe, who kickstarted the gay Soho scene back in the early ’90s with the Village West One, it has three storeys, with a loungey area on top. Afternoon tea is served from noon to five – very civilised. Read more

  • Kudos

    10 Adelaide St, WC2N 4HZ

    Totally Soho in spirit, if not location, this men’s café/bar is situated close to the Oscar Wilde memorial sculpture and Charing Cross station. The ground floor offers ‘light bites’ during the day, while downstairs is an intimate club space with video screens set into the walls. The music is mainly commercial pop and dance. Kudos attracts a pretty mix of young scene queens, and is particularly popular with the city’s Asian community, having once been the regular meeting place of the Long Yang Club. Read more

  • Profile

    84-86 Wardour St, W1F 0TQ

    Brought to you by the people behind the Gaydar website, Profile is surprisingly sex-free. Originally a three-storey DJ bar on Frith Street, it has got a new address and a brand new image. Instead of a rampant cruise bar, it is done up like a chic American diner, with cosy booths and slick yellow leather banquettes: the vibe is cocktails and camp, rather than cock and cruise. The menu serves salads and burgers; guest DJs add some musical beef. Read more

  • Quebec

    12 Old Quebec St, W1H 7AF

    London’s oldest gay pub is a busy, down-to-earth West End boozer with a quiet, comfortable main area and disco downstairs. The Quebec is sometimes referred to as the ‘elephants’ graveyard’, on account of its older clientele, though it attracts a good mix of ages – though the younger men are often in search of a daddy. Compared to London’s trendier venues, it feels slightly suburban, but this is no bad thing, and it’s nice to visit a bar where you don’t have to shout. It is certainly a refreshing change from the posey Soho scene. Read more

  • Retro Bar

    2 George Court, Trafalgar Square, WC2N 6HH

    Tucked away down a little alley, the Retro is one of gay London’s secret gems, a small mixed indie bar where eccentrics are welcomed. The music mixes ’70s, ’80s, New Romantic, goth and alternative, and is reflected in the decor, which features photos of iconic rock and pop figures, from Bolan to Bowie. There’s a great jukebox – think Grace Jones, Visage, the Associates – and more women than you’ll find in many gay establishments. Manager Wendy knows how to keep her punters happy and they reward her with undying loyalty. If the nostalgic tunes don’t leave you with a warm glow, the cosy decor will: red and gold flock wallpaper, creaky wooden floors and red leather love seats. The quieter upstairs bar is a good date spot, though it’s not open every night. Themed events include board games night (Sunday) and the poptastic music quiz (Tuesday) – sort of a Name That Tune for musos. We once witnessed the entire bar singing the Carpenters’ ‘Yesterday Once More’ Read more

  • Rupert Street

    50 Rupert Street, Soho, W1D 6DR

    If your idea of gay life was shaped by TV’s Queer as Folk, then Rupert Street is the bar for you. It’s a little bit of Manchester’s Canal Street in the heart of London’s Soho. Still trapped in the ’90s, the decor is all industrial, boilerroom chic, with glass wraparound windows and a large mirror at the back. The staff are beefy and brisk and the clientele is more smartly dressed than average. Popular with the after-work crowd, it gets even busier later on – and also very cruisey. It’s quieter during the day, when there’s a decent pub lunch menu available. Read more

  • 79 CXR

    79 Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0NE

    A busy late-night gay men’s booze and cruise bar, also known as ‘Chest X Ray’ or the ‘Last Chance Saloon’. Sooner or later, everybody ends up here. The customers are slightly older – the dark lighting camoflauges the wrinkles – and don’t waste time chatting. The decor is black and nondescript, and a palpable sexual undercurrent hangs in the air. There’s a bird’s-eye view of the meat market from the first-floor balcony. Read more

  • Shadow Lounge

    5-7 Brewer St, W1F 0RF

    The original lounge bar and gay members’ club has had a bit of a facelift; it’s still a hit with bona fide celebrities and gay wannabes alike (Cilla Black once pole-danced here with Paul O’Grady, and don’t you forget it). In fact, now that Shaun Given, the original manager, is back on board, the celeb quotient is higher. The funky decor, hunky waiters, table service and airconditioning all create an atmosphere of urban sophistication, undercut by the suburban antics of some customers who get carried away on the pole. Earlier in the week, you’ll catch live singers and drag acts. The weekends are for dancing.Read more

  • Star at Night

    22 Great Chapel Street, W1F 8FR

    A characterful Soho haunt, this continental-style bar is mixed, but the emphasis is on the lesbians. Men are welcome as guests on Fridays and Saturdays. Cocktails, wines and food are served in the intimacy of a converted cellar. During the day, it’s the Star Café, an old-school Italian caff.Read more

  • Vault 139

    139b-143 Whitfield Street, W1T 5EN

    Just north of Soho, hidden away on a quiet back street – aren’t all sex bars? – Vault 139 is London’s most central knocking shop. As sex clubs go, Vault 139 is classier than most. The bar area is dark, slick and mellow, with plush sofas, television screens and a DJ booth, and the bartenders seem professional; in short, it doesn’t feel seedy and there are few obvious signs of hanky panky. But start wandering the corridors, with their private rooms and furtive men huddled in little groups, and you’ll soon realise why this new subterranean venue has quickly amassed such a devoted following. Staff ask you to check your belongings behind the bar when you arrive – as well as your clothes, on certain nights. There are naked sessions on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, and underwear- only dress codes on Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons. Read more

  • Village Soho

    81 Wardour St, Soho, W1D 6QD

    A trendy boys’ bar on three floors, the Village was the first venue of its kind to open in Soho, back in 1991. Popular for many years, it fell out of favour and into disrepair at the dawn of the new decade. Now owned by the Soho Bar group, it has been restored to its former glory. The ground-floor café-bar serves food during the day. Downstairs is V Underground, with sleek decor and a DJ booth where you can catch the likes of Dusty O. The upstairs Boudoir offers chaise longues and views of Old Compton Street. Read more

  • Yard

    57 Rupert Street, Soho, W1D 7PL

    A gay men’s bar with a spacious courtyard, a loft bar upstairs and food on the menu. The Yard is popular in the summer, when the courtyard comes into its own; it buzzes with a thirtysomething after-work crowd supping pints beneath the evening sky. Drinking in the open air is the big draw, and the new management have spruced up the previously spartan decor. The loft bar is comfy, cosy and convivial. Happy hours operate Monday to Wednesday. It gets busier from Thursday on, with resident DJs playing disco and commercial dance. Read more

North London

  • The Black Cap

    171 Camden High St, NW1 7JY

    This north London institution is famous for its drag shows, and was once second home to Lily Savage and the late Regina Fong, who performed here for 17 years. Once known as ‘the Palladium of drag’, the Black Cap is keeping the tradition alive with a new generation of show queens, some funnier than others. Lola Lasagne is a regular, as is the legendary Dave Lynn, who actually does his own singing. The upstairs Shufflewick Bar is dedicated to the late, great Mrs Shufflewick, a drag queen who reigned here in the 1970s, while at the back the roof terrace is dubbed Fong Terrace. Never let it be said that the Cap forgets its history. Check the website for a fascinating account of the venue’s colourful life and times. Read more

  • Central Station

    37 Wharfdale Road, King's Cross, N1 9SD

    A gay pub spread over three floors, with male strippers, cabaret, and clubbing and cruising in the basement bar. Name your fetish, they’ve probably got a club night for it: Scally Ladz (trainers, tracksuits and chavvy fashion), City Boyz (suits and ties), Pants, SOP (water sports), Shoot (sports clothes), and Butt Naked (self-explanatory). Be warned, though: the dark rooms smell horrible. Dress codes are enforced for the basement, so phone or check the website for details of fetish nights. If you get lucky, but don’t want to take your new friend home, you can always check into the B&B upstairs.Read more

  • Chapel Bar

    29a Penton St, N1 9PX

    Done up with ecclesiastical decorative touches, this hip DJ bar has plenty of disciples: gays, lesbians and strays alike. It’s not officially gay, but the recent revamp – complete with chandeliers and elaborate flock wallpaper – certainly adds a note of flamboyance. If the volume gets too loud, escape to the roof terrace. Mediterranean food is served during the week. Read more

  • Green (N1 0NY)

    74 Upper Street, N1 0NY

    For lesbians in fashionable Islington, the choice of gay bars has always been limited. Then along came the Green, with its Soho swagger: plush decor, cocktails and a sophisticated crowd. Now part of the Kudos bar group, and part owned by Andy Jones of the Edge, this chic, modern bar has been totally revamped and much improved. Gone is the narrow bottleneck as you approach the bar. Gone too are the cumbersome dining tables and wobbly DJ decks. Food is still served in the front café and middle bar area, but the bar has been widened and the rear of the venue turned into a proper club space with a DJ booth, mirror balls and even a light-up dancefloor. The crowd are mainly locals, and come in all shapes and sizes. This is one of the few genuinely mixed bars in town, and it’s quite friendly too. Tuesday is quiz night. DJs play Thursday to Sunday; on Sunday, the music is mostly pop with very little house and lounge – which makes a perfect accompaniment to a roast dinner. Read more

  • King Edward VI

    25 Bromfield Street, N1 0PZ

    Known as ‘the Eddy’ to regulars, this is Islington’s longestrunning gay bar. Tucked away on a backstreet, its secretive location calls to mind the days of the gay underground. It attracts a mixed crowd of locals, some of whom tend to stick together; the ladies usually hang out upstairs. The Eddy is compact, but there’s also a lovely beer garden. It gets very busy at the weekend.

  • KW4 (King William IV)

    77 Hampstead High Street, NW3 1RE

    This traditional gay local has had a bit of a facelift and, rather like the RVT, or Royal Vauxhall Tavern, has shortened its name to the hipper-sounding KW4. Name change notwithstanding, it’s still faintly old-fashioned, though, and relies a lot on drag to draw in the punters. Set in a posh north London neighbourhood, it attracts a more affluent crowd than many gay pubs. In the summer, people spill out into a lovely beer garden. Cruisers stock up on Dutch courage here on their way to Hampstead Heath or come in afterwards for a post-coital drink. Indeed, the pub has attracted a gay crowd since the 1930s (the Heath was a cruising ground even back then). It has even hosted a real queen – Queen Adelaide and King William IV stopped by here in 1835 on their way to Kenwood House, hence the name. Read more

  • Oak Bar

    79 Green Lanes, Newington Green, N16 9BU

    A mixed gay local on the western edge of Stoke Newington, the Oak plays host to club nights aimed predominantly at women and attracting all ages and races. Of the mixed nights, Lower the Tone (see p43) offers nostalgic fun as DJs Sadie Lee, Lea Andrews and Dr Kemp play their favourite songs of yesteryear. The Turkish night (second Saturday of the month) attracts plenty of gay Arabic men. Read more

  • Play Pit

    357 Caledonian Rd, N7 9DQ

    Inspired by San Francisco’s famous sex clubs like Folsom Prison and Blow Buddies, Play Pit is a North London sleaze pit where no fantasy is too wild. Sunday afternoons are called Glory Hole, Sunday evenings are for briefs and boxers. You’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. Read more

South London

  • Barcode Vauxhall

    Arch 69, Goding Street, SE11 4AD

    Vauxhall’s newest and smartest gay bar boasts sleek pink design and air-conditioning – a luxury for Vauxhall. With its giant BC logo, the front entrance is quite something to behold. Needless to say, the venue attracts a steady stream of punters of all shapes and sizes, with an emphasis on pecs and tight T-shirts. The front DJ bar gets pretty busy most nights of the week, while the rear club space really comes into its own at the weekend. There’s also an upstairs lounge area with comfy seating. The terrace at the front gets busy in good weather. Read more

  • Eagle London

    349 Kennington Lane, SE11 5QY

    What was once a friendly local known as South Central, much loved by the bears brigade, is now a cruise club in the world-famous Eagle tradition. Themed nights include gay wrestling night Grapple 101 on Wednesday and 1980s nostalgia fest Carpet Burn on Saturday. Sunday is the legendary Horse Meat Disco (see p40), with its hip soundtrack and heady mix of skinny club kids, scally lads and bears. The venue itself is a traditional boozer, with a pool table, beer garden and barbecues some weekends. Read more

  • Fort

    131 Grange Road, SE1 3AL

    Billed as ‘the bar no one admits they visit’. You can say that again. The Fort, an underground cruise bar, is the height – or nadir – of sleaziness and debauchery. Be careful when you go, as there are different themes for different days (these change, so check the website). Currently, customers must wear only boots or shoes – and nothing else – on Monday, Thursday and Saturday, as well as Sunday afternoons (there are lockers available). On Tuesday and Sunday evenings, however, you can wear what you like, so you can cruise away in the dark without fear of baring your bodily flaws. On Wednesday, it’s underwear – or less – all day. There are also rubber nights. But whatever you do, don’t drop by unprepared on a Friday night, or you might find yourself the recipient of a surprise golden shower. Who said romance was dead? Read more

  • George & Dragon

    2 Blackheath Hill, SE10 8DE

    Not to be confused with the George & Dragon in Shoreditch (see p30), which is known for its shabby chic, this place is just plain shabby. Though located in Greenwich, it has nothing of the gentility of its neighbour, the Rose & Crown (see below). Its selling point is the late opening hours and, if you like a bit of rough, the raffish air. The staff are friendly, as are most of the punters, including a smattering of lesbians. Despite the bleak surroundings, Kylie et al still get an airing, and drag queens brave the stage on weekends. Dive bars always come with a colourful cast of local characters, but this cast includes a few drunken bores: be careful who you get stuck playing pool with.Read more

  • Hoist

    Arches 47B & 47C South Lambeth Road, SW8 1RH

    A popular men’s dress-code bar: leather, rubber, uniform and so on. Doormen enforce the dress code, so don’t think you can get away with half measures – your suede jacket from Gap just won’t cut it. In an emergency, Fetish Freak (see p110 Buy sexual), the shop next door, is open late on weekends. Set in an old railway arch, the decor strikes just the right industrial note for the tough love that occurs here. Read more

  • Kazbar

    50 Clapham High St, SW4 7UL

    Part of the Kudos bar chain, this venue brings a touch of Soho to south London. Refurbished with wraparound glass windows, it’s a lot lighter than it used to be, and slick, if slightly sterile. There’s a cosy balcony upstairs with comfy chairs. In the main bar, punters dance in time to the giant video screen, usually blaring with manufactured pop. Warmer weather brings the outdoor tables into demand. Read more

  • Little Apple

    98 Kennington Lane, SE11 4XD

    Hidden off the main drag in leafy Kennington, the Little Apple is a cosy, if shabby, local pub. There’s something slightly shambolic about the whole operation, from the dowdy decor to the sprinkling of local drunks eager to engage in banter. But bar staff are friendly and it’s a good place to catch up with friends for a chat or a game of pool (there are a few lesbian regulars too). That said, lately they’ve been trying to jazz things up by bringing in DJs on weekend evenings, which completely ruins the ambience. People come here for conversation, not hard house.

  • Rose & Crown

    1 Crooms Hill, SE10 8ER

    Leafy and genteel Greenwich seems worlds away from London, and so does this elegant Victorian pub. In fact, you feel as if you’ve walked into a very civilised pub in Bath. The decor is tall, dark and handsome: high ceilings, a sturdy oak bar and tables, with period details such as etched glass, huge picture windows and chandelier. The brown and beige flock wallpaper is tasteful rather than garish, as is the dark green floral carpet. The music is kept at a respectable volume, in keeping with the respectable crowd, who drop in for a chat rather than a drunken Kylie sing-a-long. If it all starts to feel too polite, lower the tone by moving on to the George & Dragon (see p33) down the road.

  • The RVT

    372 Kennington Lane, SE11 5HY

    The venue formerly known as the Royal Vauxhall Tavern is a shabby gay legend. Having survived the Blitz and attempts to bulldoze the place to make way for a shopping centre, the Vauxhall is held in great affection by many gay men and women. Known as the ‘Royal Vauxhall Academy of Arts’ by those who attend Saturday night’s pop and performance club Duckie, it attracts an alternative crowd who wouldn’t be caught dead in G-A-Y. They come to watch avant-garde cabaret and mosh to a soundtrack of punk, pop, thrash and trash. Other club nights include Sunday’s S.L.A.G.S and Vauxhall Chill-Out, in which the house tunes come on and the men’s tops come off. Weeknights are given over to live entertainment: bingo on Monday, Bar Wotever on Tuesday, cabaret on Thursday, featuring the likes of David Hoyle and Scott Capurro. Read more

  • SW9

    11 Dorrell Place, SW9 8EG

    After the closure of legendary gay superclub the Fridge and the seedy Substation, SW9 is the last gay(ish) stronghold in Brixton. Though hidden down a back alley, this gay-friendly café-bar is far from sleazy. On the contrary, it has a trendy vibe, with gastropubby fare and a unisex bathroom – how Ally McBeal. Read more

  • Two Brewers

    114 Clapham High St, SW4 7UJ

    Though affectionately nicknamed the ‘Two Sewers’, this long-established gay pub and club is the opposite of grotty. Indeed, it has had more facelifts than Joan Rivers. Like her, it has been serving the gay community for yonks – 26 years, in fact. Still enormously popular, it’s a crowd-pleasing mix of commercial dance music and drag shows (regular performers include Dolly Diamond, Titti La Camp and the ubiquitous Sandra; Dave Lynn, a seasoned veteran who does his own singing, is the best of the bunch). There’s lots of local totty on parade too, all in a polished, suburban setting. DJs in the main bar spin pure cheese, while the dark and cavernous back room morphs into a proper club. They do a decent pub lunch too. Very busy at the weekends.Read more

  • Vauxhall Griffin

    8 Wyvil Rd, SW8 2TH

    A bit like gay people who take pride in passing for straight, the Griffin is a ‘straight’ pub that’s very gay-friendly. If the other Vauxhall venues are too in-your-face gay, then this comfortable pub is a refuge from all the high- NRG tunes and relentless cruising. They do a nice burger, and the pub quiz on Tuesday nights (8pm) is a laugh. Read more

East London

  • Backstreet

    Wentworth Mews, E3 4UA

    Yes, it really is down a backstreet, and how appropriate: this is a hardcore, underground gay bar. Don’t come if you’re hoping for Kylie and cosmos. Instead, expect latenight cruising for the dress-code brigade. Don your best leather or rubber gear – and then take it all off again. Read more

  • BJ's White Swan

    556 Commercial Rd, E14 7JD

    Something of a local legend, the White Swan is the East End’s most famous gay boozer. The comedian Michael Barrymore famously came out on stage here. Sir Ian McKellen used to drop in after he came out. And the Sunday Tea Dances are an institution with an older crowd, who waltz and tango the night away. But despite its illustrious history, the pub’s decor is not quaint or cosy: on the contrary, it’s a rough and soulless space, with a dark warehouse-style aesthetic, enlivened only by the soft-porn videos broadcast from TV screens above the bar (usually naked French rugby players). The crowd, by contrast, is cheerful and rowdy; many Essex lads make the trek here in on the weekend. It is notorious for its amateur strip contests – held on Wednesdays around midnight – in which the young and shameless bare all for cash. On Friday and Saturday nights, there are often strippers or drag queens, who warm up the crowd for a night of dancing to chart tunes and commercial house. Read more

  • Dalston Superstore

    177 Kingsland High St, E8 2PB

    The hippest new venue on the scene is not officially gay, more like post-gay. Situated in Dalston, north-east London’s most über-arty district, it is suited to its surroundings: a confidently cool and slightly camp New York-style dive bar split between two floors, clad in cement, brick and steel vents. It’s enlivened with fluoro flashes, tables for couples, graffiti, art installations and in-the-know aural offerings. The long, wooden bar, manned by approachable and beautiful bar-staff, is top and tailed by a DJ booth and an open-plan kitchen. Downstairs is where things get louder and larger with regular visits to boogie-town and where the unisex toilets add some extraordinary chat. The drinks are as stripped-back as the decor. With nothing on tap, beer is just bottles courtesy of Asahi and Corona. There’s Swedish cider and a cocktail list that doffs its trilby to retro classics. In terms of food, as well as substantially sized, modestly priced sandwiches, burgers and salads, there’s also a daily selection of own-made cakes. Entertainment-wise, there are plenty of ants in these pants with regular DJ showcases, exhibitions, launch parties, barn dances and music nights. While tight denim shorts and pencil moustaches divulge a gay crowd, there’s no shortage of daft millinery sported by Dalston dandies and arty locals. Read more

  • George & Dragon

    2 Hackney Road , E2 7NS

    This old-fashioned, gay-friendly boozer is the hub of the trendy Shoreditch and Hoxton scene. So naturally it gets busy at the weekends, when 24-hour clubbers pop in for a pint between dance sessions. Much of the clientele comprises budding fashion designers and art students. On some evenings, it’s a sea of kids in skinny jeans, black eyeliner and vintage jackets; like them, the bar is scruffy but stylish. It’s cosy too. For one thing, it’s often crammed. And the crimson walls create a womb-like interior, enlivened by kitsch touches: twinkly lights (it always looks like Christmas here) and knick-knacks galore (pink flamingos, a rhinestone-studded cowboy hat, a stuffed weasel). A cardboard cut-out of Kim Wilde surveys the knowing crowd, who plant tongues firmly in cheek on Saturday nights as they dance to cheesy pop (Kylie, Girls Aloud), vintage gems (Kate Bush, Pulp) and forgotten oddities (Culture Club’s Time Out | Gay & Lesbian London 33 ‘The Medal Song’). Most punters drink pints from plastic cups. Arrive early at the weekend if you want to snag a table, otherwise it’s standing room only. Read more

  • Joiners Arms

    116-118 Hackney Rd, E2 7QL

    Some of the time, the Joiners Arms is a friendly gay local with regular entertainment and happy hours. On the weekends, however, it pulls a clubby crowd. At times, the atmosphere can get a bit frenetic – in fact, after hours on Saturday night it feels more club than pub, with blaring house beats, wall-to-wall bodies and a hedonistic air. And there’s often a queue for the grotty toilets. Though some of the art school crowd from the George & Dragon (see p30) end up here, they’re mixed in with Muscle Marys, hardcore scenesters and rough boys – the latter are a fixture around the pool table. The vibe is generally friendly, but a few unsavoury characters can spoil the mood. Read more

  • Nelson's Head

    32 Horatio Street, E2 7EH

    Formerly an East End geezer pub, the Nelson’s Head has been tarted up, with rich, dark blue walls, a cosy new carpet, and assorted objets d’art. It’s comfortable, a bit eccentric, and attracts an in-the-know Shoreditch crowd: we spotted Dan Gillespie Sells of the Feeling there one night. Not officially gay, it has a loyal queer following. Those with a camp sensibility are attracted to kitsch events like the fancy dress parties, Jaws theme nights and the annual dog fancy dress competition, in which owners dress up their pets (held on a Saturday in mid-October). On busy nights, the ratio of gay to straight might be 50:50: the fun part is figuring out which is which. A good pre-drinking venue before hitting the Shoreditch scene, and a good postclubbing venue: it opens at 7am on Sunday morning. Read more

  • Old Ship

    17 Barnes Street, E14 7NW

    A cosy pub on a classic East End square, the Old Ship attracts a mix of geezers and queens. It’s full of local characters who tend to know each other. Sometimes heads turn when a stranger walks in, and the regulars like to engage in bouts of bitchy banter around the bar. It’s all harmless enough, though, and generally friendly. And on weekends the drag queens break the ice – and lower the tone. Read more

  • Star Of Bethnal Green

    359 Bethnal Green Rd, E2 6LG

    This trendy East End pub is not officially gay, but the hip crowd is polysexual, and there are occasional gay indie nights here like Dick and Fanny and Unskinny Bop, usually on the third Saturday of the month, where kids in skinny jeans who are far too young to remember the 1980s sing along to Echo and the Bunnymen. Read more

West London

  • The Queen's Head

    25 Tryon St, SW3 3LG

    This traditional boozer is refreshingly down to earth: steps away from the upmarket King’s Road, but miles away in spirit. It’s frequented by an older crowd, some of whom have been drinking here for a long time. Split into three rooms, it attracts a lot of straight locals to the front area, and is not particularly cruisy. Read more

  • The Richmond Arms

    20 The Square, Surrey, TW9 1DZ

    A friendly local pub, popular with a wide constituency, from students to theatrical types, with the odd straight thrown in. Theme nights range from karaoke to cabaret. There are picnic tables outside for fair-weather drinking.Read more

  • The Stag

    16 Bressenden Place, SW1E 5DD

    Down a backstreet near Victoria, the Stag is popular with gay civil servants, whose offices are nearby. So there are always a few men in suits. The atmosphere is a curious mix of discreet – it is hidden away and the doormen remind punters they are entering a gay establishment – and positively mainstream, with its karaoke, cabaret and chart DJs getting jiggy at the weekends. The horseshoe-shaped layout ensures you never feel claustrophobic; the tables and banquettes are good for cosy chats. The pub theatre upstairs shows gay plays, old and new. Read more

  • Ted's Place

    305a North End Road, W14 9NS

    Descending the stairs into this cavernous basement bar is like stepping back in time – you half expect to see Quentin Crisp sitting in the corner. Most nights are given over to good old-fashioned cruising. Sunday and Thursday are trannie nights, and Wednesday is underwear night. Curiously, it is closed on Saturday nights. Read more

  • West 5

    Popes Lane, W5 4NB

    Way out in west London, this venue is a large mixed gay pub/club with a piano bar and a comfortably suburban feel – think Two Brewers but transported to a more leafy setting. Entertainment includes drag, karaoke and quizzes. The young crowd comprises flight attendants (Heathrow is not far) and lesbians from nearby Acton (whose presence is harder to explain).Read more