The importance of London as a global destination cannot be overstated. But how does the city stand-up as a gay destination? I stepped out of Kings Cross St. Pancras tube station just before noon ready for a week of gay exploration. For the savvy gay traveler, exploring gay nightlife in London begins in Soho: a bustling district of theatres and restaurants, where camera-toting tourists and hurried locals rush past through the busy streets.
The area is reminiscent of New York’s midtown and packs a lot into its relatively small boundaries; here you’ll find the famed Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus; and a few blocks over, a few charming blocks of Chinatown. But come nightfall, the areas bar strewn streets come alive and nowhere in the city can the sheer volume of gay bars be matched. Perhaps the most well-known of all the gay bars is the appropriately titled G-A-Y Bar, a low-key bar with a friendly demeanor. This is a must-stop on the gay London itinerary. Compton’s remains London’s “Grand Dame of Queer Street,” one of London’s oldest gay pubs. Built-in 1890 as a Swiss Hotel, the space evolved through the years into the gay bar it is today.
The legendary, Victorian-style relic hosts a friendly crowd of diverse ages. We love the Yard with its charming courtyard and international vibe. On the few nights we attended we met people from London, Sweden, and Venice. It’s the perfect place to start your night before a bite out on Old Compton Street and some club hopping. And then there’s The Admiral Duncan, a beloved favorite that still stands as one of Old Compton Street’s best gay bars. While not specifically gay-centric, Loungelover over in Shoreditch caught our eye for its sophisticated style and its hospitable staff. The site of Madonna’s birthday bash some years ago, the space is loaded with local street art and makes for the perfect pre-dinner drinks spot. We especially love it for a first date.
Head south to Vauxhall for a rapidly changing area and a new dense cluster of gay bars and clubs. Our first stop was one of our favorites: Barcode, a sister bar of the original in Soho, which won’t appeal to everyone but charms with an industrial chic décor and a more mature crowd. The dance floor rages here until 4am. Eagle and Fire are both standouts, both fun – one a gritty pub with a cool, diverse crowd, the other a raucous dance party. Gay nightlife in London is as vibrant as any city we’ve been to; from The East End’s posh clubs to Vauxhall’s mix of vibes and Soho’s mainstream club scene, the breadth of gay nightlife is impressive and complete.
Kenny Porpora has been a writer for The New York Times, New York Daily News, Newsday, and has been an editor for The Huffington Post. He joined Man About World as an editor in 2012