LGBTQ+ Guide to London
Bars & clubs
The Royal Vauxhall Tavern
The Royal Vauxhall Tavern is South London’s oldest surviving gay venue. It provides a unique and welcoming environment to a lovely crowd, and the bar works with the best LGBT and Queer Performers in London. It encourages newcomers and beginners with a great attitude and subversive political performances. On Tuesday, the bar hosts Bar Wotever with live music, cabaret, talks, films and spoken words. Wotever abhors rules and boundaries and respects and welcomes all. This includes, but certainly is not exclusive to drag kings, queers, women, mtf, femmes, trans, butches, queerbois, gay, drag queens, dykes, bisexuals, ftm, men, straight… On Saturday, the bar hosts Duckie, a night full of performance art and LGBT heritage.
Cosy bar with ambient lighting, vintage music and a kitsch and quirky decoration. The bar is full of barbies which are stuck to the ceiling, and there is a goldfish swimming around as well. It is a great place to dance, but one can also rest and talk because there are several secluded sofas to relax on. The bar serves delicious cocktails and a wide variety of beers. A great place to start the evening.
Kubar & Little Ku
Kubar is a modern 3-floored bar which is open to all genders and sexualities. The bar is located in Chinatown, but relatively close to other gay bars in Soho. Besides the bar on the ground floor, there is a cocktail bar upstairs and a club in the basement. The bar is known for its attractive bar staff who often serve shirtless. Little Ku is the little brother of Kubar. It is located a bit further to the north in Soho, and more intimate than Kubar.
The Glory is a wonderful queer bar that celebrates cabaret culture, with regular shows and parties, and a cabaret space that becomes a club during the weekend. The performances are diverse, and range from poetry slams and life drawing sessions to drag king shows and lip sync battles. Owned and managed by the famous drag queen Jonny Woo.
Heaven is a gay superclub situated underneath the bridge of Charing Cross railway station in Central London. Heaven is the largest gay club in London, and there is no lack of extravagant gays, lesbians, drag queens and transvestites to dance around with. The highest floor provides a great perspective with a view from behind the DJ booth. If you want to visit the club, it’s best to avoid the queues and arrive before 11.00. Free wristbands for most parties can be obtained at their sister-bar G-A-Y.
She Soho is a modern space for women and their male guests in the heart of Soho. It operates as both an LBTQ+ community hotspot and as an after-hours club. On every second and last Thursday of the month, the bar organizes the drag Drag King Cabaret Show Boibox. This is a party for girls who dress up like boys. You will find young women in men’s clothing who are playbacking, singing or discussing politics.
Gay’s the Word (Bookshop)
Gay’s the Word is a wonderful and independent LGBT book specialist, offering a wide choice of gay books and films that go well beyond the mainstream. With friendly, helpful staff, the shop has a genuine community atmosphere and hosts regular book events and discussion groups. The author Armistead Maupin describes GTW as ‘the fountainhead of queer literature in Britain.’
The rose park in Hyde Park has a lot of benches, quiet spots and hidden bushes which facilitate intimate encounters between men. To visit the rose park, you have to enter through the gate, and then it’s just 100m at your upper left-hand side. The park is mostly visited after dark, and by a good mix of guys. Locals warn to beware of pickpockets, so it’s best to keep your valuables at home when visiting this park for cruising purposes.
Hampstead Heath is one of the busiest and most popular cruising areas in London, if not the world. It is also the safest cruising ground of London. The Police knows what goes on and is happy to close their eyes as long as cruisers don’t annoy the locals too much. The locals also know it and don’t venture on there after dark. The cruising area is located just up the hill from Hampstead Tube Station, which is part of the Northern Line. The Main entrance onto the Gay West Heath is from behind the ‘Jack Straws Castle’.
Cruising in Clapham Common takes place in a large, triangular wooded area situated in the west side of the park. Guys meet each other in the dense bushes during the day, but it can be hard to keep it safe and private. Therefore, most action takes place during the night, especially in the summer when the weather is good. During these times, the Common gets busy and there are always people passing through. The site is visited by lots of younger guys, though ages vary. The police who in the old days used to hassle and raid the place, now monitors the area for safety.
For some people, Sweatbox is a gym with a sauna, but for most, it’s a sauna with a gym. Sweatbox hosts 2 large steam rooms, 2 saunas, a jacuzzi, a chill-out room and a labyrinth of restrooms to cruise and have fun in. The sauna is open 24/7 and the staff provides unlimited towels to their customers. The sauna is most busy in the weekends, and on Monday and Thursday evening when people under 25 years old can visit the sauna for free.
Pleasuredome is a smaller sauna, which is located under a subway bridge in the center of London. The sauna is open continuously 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year. Pleasuredrome’s facilities include London’s largest gay spa pool, two steam rooms, two saunas, plenty of private rooms, encounter areas, and a lounge and cafe-bar serving drinks and snacks. Pleasuredrome also offers massages by qualified masseurs.
Entrance: 18£/13£ Concessions
Chariots in Vauxhall is London’s biggest gay sauna. It hosts a wide range of facilities, which are stretched out over a surface of 15,000 sqft. There are 2 large saunas (30 men), 2 steam rooms (20 man), 2 video rooms, private rooms, a hot spa pool and a bar. The place can feel a bit empty during the week, especially because the sauna is so big. However, during the weekend the place gets very crowded, especially after midnight.
Entrance: 18£/13£ Concessions
Pride in London is run by a group of volunteers who are passionate about equality and diversity, and together run the UK’s biggest pride. Their job is to make sure to provide a platform for every part of London’s LGBT+ community. There is a Pride’s Got Talent, an annual Parade through the heart of the West End, and a two-week, city-wide Festival that precedes Pride weekend. Pride in London includes people of every race and faith, whether disabled or able-bodied, and all sexualities and genders, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, asexual, queer, questioning, intersex, trans*, genderqueer, gender variant or non-binary as well as straight and cis allies.
Wotever DIY Film Fest
Wotever DIY Film Fest is part of Wotever World, a queer arts, performance and activism collective based in London. Since their launch in 2012, the festival has grown from a one-evening event to a year-long programme of screenings and workshops, culminating in a 2-day festival. Wotever DIY Film Fest screens the best (and cheapest) films from queer filmmakers, professionals, and enthusiastic amateurs. It shows that you don’t need a gazillion quid to make a cracking film. The festival believes that filmmaking and viewing should be for everyone, regardless of your budget.
BFI Flare, formerly known as the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival (LLGFF), is the biggest LGBT film festival in Europe. Each year, it showcases the best new queer cinema from all over the world. The festival screens a fantastic selection of films, accompanied by vivid talks and discussions on a diverse range of topics. Especially interesting are the talks at the LAGNA archive. The programme is always diverse, and films deal with all different aspects of gender and sexuality.
The Queer Alternative
The Queer Alternative is a non-political organisation that promotes the acceptance, visibility and equality of queer people within goth, metal, punk, and other alternative subcultures. It brings together individuals who identify with those subcultures and helps them find a place within the mainstream LGBT+ community. The organisation supports ‘queer weirdos’ who like dressing up and dancing to strange music. For the purpose of this clause, “alternative subcultures” could include (but are not limited to) heavy metal, goth, punk, industrial, steampunk, cyber, vintage, hippy and cosplay subcultures
Switchboard is an LGBT+ helpline. A place for calm words when you need them most. Volunteers are ready to help you with whatever you want to talk about. Nothing is off limits, and they understand how anxious you might feel before you pick up the phone. The telephone line provides information, support and referral service for lesbians, gay men and bisexual and trans people – and anyone considering issues around their sexuality and/or gender identity.
Established in 1972 London Friend is the UK’s oldest Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans charity. The organisation supports the health and mental well-being of the LGBT community in and around London. It offers counseling and support around issues such as same-sex relationships, sexual and gender identity and promoting personal growth and self-confidence. Their social groups provide a safe space to meet and socialise as an alternative to the bar and club scene.
London’s Gay Men Chorus
In 1991, nine friends came together to sing a few Christmas carols hoping to raise a few pounds for the Terrence Higgins Trust. London was in the midst of the AIDS crisis and the men, who belonged to a social group called London Friend sang together to find a place of support and brotherhood. Little did they know what they had started. Fast-forward 25 years, and this once small band of singers now calls itself the London Gay Men’s Chorus. Boasting over 200 members, the LGMC is the largest gay choir in Europe and regularly plays to sell-out crowds at Southbank Centre, Cadogan Hall and the Roundhouse.
Lesbian Discussion Group
The Lesbian Discussion Group at the Gay’s The Word Book Shop has been going for over 30 years. It is open to all women who wish to either discuss, listen to, or bond over topics that deal with anything from love, life and dating to politics, philosophies and coming outs. The group takes place every Wednesday from 8pm-9pm inside the book shop. There is a steady stream of newcomers and everybody is more than welcome to come along. Their informal socials tend to happen right after the discussion has taken place (they usually go to a bar or pub in the area).
Sex Worker Advocacy and Resistance Movement
Swarm is a collective that aims to give a voice to sex workers, whose lives are too often stereotyped, and voices too often silenced. It wants to challenge media sensationalism, which, hand in hand with the UK government, often represents sex workers as victims or criminals. A society that recognises, accepts, respects and values sex workers is a fairer and more mature society. The first Sex Worker Open University event, which took place in London in April 2009, was a great success bringing together more than 200 sex workers, sex workers’ rights activists, allies and visitors from the UK and abroad.
The KOC Initiative
The KOC Initiative has been storming the UK cabaret scene with their sell-out hit shows. Set up by rising star Zayn Phallic to address the lack of diversity on the drag king scene, their aim is to celebrate and nourish performers of colour by not only showcasing their talent in their own exclusive night, but by providing mentoring and support to new kings of color keen to take to the stage. Through their all POC drag king super shows, they are bringing some much-needed color to the drag king scene.
Documentary: KOC Initiative