Oscar Wilde once said “if you are bored of London you’re bored of Life ” an observation for the Queers of London that holds as much truth now as it did then. London from its modest Roman beginnings to the modern day global city has always been a haven for LGBT+ peoples. But with so many places to see and things to do, in an increasingly online world it can be hard to find an entrance and easy to miss something truly spectacular. Hi my name is Ethan (He/Him) a gay first year student at Central Film School and this is my guide to the Queer world of London.
London is a city of 9 million people each competing for space, but don’t worry even in this hectic megacity the space for Queer people has remained strong. So let’s start with the basics, finding a place to live in such a big city can be very daunting and can often leave someone in an uncomfortable situation. When I first moved to London my Husband, then Boyfriend, and I shared a small room in an overcrowded house. The place was dirty and we often found ourselves keeping to our room to avoid our housemates. In short it was not ideal. Fortunately, this was a very temporary solution and soon we managed to gather the money for a deposit to rent our own flat. With London pricing being what it is we still needed to split the rent, a friend of ours suggested looking on facebook. Home for Queers London and Surrounding. A fantastic group of likeminded queer individuals looking to group up on new rents or with rooms available. This was how we met our new flatmate, now our good friend, and even when our friend moved on to newer pastures this group helped us get a new flatmate in. It can really help make home life easier when you know your flatmates have some shared interests or experiences. There are also plenty of companies that specialise in Student Accommodation and at Central Film School were lucky enough to have several really close by. Companies like Sanctuary Students and Unite Students can be really helpful for first time students in London.
So your Housed, got your Student Travelcard (a must), and are ace-ing all your studies: now it’s time to have some fun. London is host to countless Gay Bars, Clubs, Cafe’s, Groups and Organisations among other things. So it’s impossible to list them all, but I will try to give you a selection of some of my favourite, most interesting, known and hidden. Let’s start with that capital of Gay nightlife, Soho. If you’re like me then you might shy away from the pop music of G.A.Y or KU Bar, but if you enjoy Taylor Swift, flash discounts and Rihanna then these Soho staples are great fun. Lively and full of mostly young people it’s a great way to start a night out in Soho. Little tip: if you still want your discount entry to Ku Klub but don’t want to wait hours at the bar in KU Bar than the smaller and usually quieter Little Ku on Frith Street can still give you your token for the club and is generally a lot nicer to hang in. Similarly if you’re planning a visit to Heaven, London’s enduring giant Gay Nightclub, then a stop off at the aptly named Halfway to Heaven, is a traditional pilgrimage. SHE remains the only Lesbian bar left in Soho, but also one if its newest hopefully signalling a positive influx in the future.
Keeping in Soho for a minute I want to talk about some of the lesser known Bars and some of my preferred places to go. At the very centre of Soho stands the Admiral Duncan a classic gay pub complete with weekly drag shows. The clientele tend to stray slightly older but everyone is always very nice and the drinks are pretty reasonably priced. During Pride the Admiral Duncan acts as the de facto centre of the celebrations, with shows being performed from its first floor balcony. The pub also holds a vigil every year for the 1999 nail bombing of the premises, the event is very respectful and celebrated by the queer community. If you like show tunes or hanging with west end actors two bars come to mind. The Coach and Horses, an olde world pub on Old Compton Street and Phoenix Arts Club. The former is a small pub famous for its piano and spontaneous sing alongs, the latter a members club attached to the Phoenix Theatre where the cast like to have a drink following a performance, if you’re lucky someone will get on the stage and perform something (usually on a Friday). If you want to go to Phoenix Arts Club using their website you can book a table for pre or post theatre mingling, tickets are a fiver.
Moving out of Soho, Vauxhall and Dalston are two areas of London that give just as much to the Queer world but are slightly lesser known. In Vauxhall, Londons longest running gay bar and a personal favourite of mine, the Royal Vauxhall Tavern (RVT). The RVT is a cornerstone of Queer London, moving away from the glitz and glamour of Soho the RVT embraces our secret, sordid and artsy queer history. Putting on Cabaret, Drag shows and performance art. My favourite of these is the anything goes, Wednesday open mic night Bar Whotever. North of the river in Dalston The Glory stands as an old staple of Queer nightlife, similar to the Admiral Duncan the clientele are a little older and the place embraces Drag like a big sister. Relatively new to the scene is the Dalston Superstore, embracing a new punkey queer scene, this place offers politically driven events. If you want to talk feminism over a boozy brunch this is your place. While also offering somewhere to eat, drink coffee and hang during the day.
Now that we have embraced the Queer scene probably a little too much it’s time to start looking after ourselves. Finding health services that cater and have the understanding for LGBT+ peoples can be difficult and having a GP that doesn’t quite understand can often leave you feeling like not wanting to see the doctor. That’s why I have been registered with 56 Dean Street for the past 5 years. Dean Street offers a host of services, primarily a sexual health clinic, with a drop in testing centre. But they also have open counselling sessions every week; focusing naturally on Queer issues. Recently they have opened their dedicated Trans Clinic. I cannot recommend their services enough, the judge free zone it gives has helped myself and many of my Queer friends through some trying times.
On a slightly more positive note let’s talk about hair and beauty. If, like me, you tire of being offered the same 5 cuts by the high street barber or want to go to a place where you can ask for whatever style you want without the peering eyes of judgment then I have a couple of great recommendations. Barberette is a wonderful Queer run little barbers in Hackney. The evanescent Lauren and Cayden offer haircuts and colouring free from Gender binary and Gendered pricing, with the added bonus of their own adjoining micro-brewery. If you are looking for a cheap cut then Open Barbers, near Old street, is perfect. Also Queer run with slots especially put aside for Trans clients, Open Barbers offers an anonymous “pay what you can” system where cuts can cost anywhere from 10 to 30 pounds. Open Barbers also runs community events and supports homeless people by offering free cuts one day of the week, they are a real inspiration. Fair warning: both places are very popular and booking early is recommended.
Now things don’t always go to plan and sometimes we all need a little extra help. Central film school has a dedicated Student wellness centre for academic and general support, but here I would like to talk a little about some of the dedicated LGBT+ support charities based in London. You probably have heard of Stonewall the largest dedicated Queer charity both here in Britain and the US, well there is a menagerie of services and support that they can offer you if you find yourself, homeless, a victim of abuse, being treated unfairly at work or with criminal law. I recommend checking their website for more information, as well as the opportunity to be involved in events, workshops or classes in and around London. Two charities specific to the UK and London are The Outside Project and The Albert Kennedy Trust. Both these charities specialise in helping Queer Homelessness, Hidden homelessness and Victims of domestic abuse. Last year during the height of the pandemic The Outside Project opened Star Refugee in Soho for victims of domestic abuse stuck at home. It is important to remember that at any time you feel unsafe in your housing situation these charities as well as the school are here to help.
Unfortunately due to the pandemic London Pride last year was cancelled in its traditional setting, but fortunately the parade and protest is going to go ahead this year, with a slightly moved date to the 11th of September. Pride is the hight of the Queer calendar and in my 6 years of going I have never had a bad one. A few tips for if you plan on attending; bring a water bottle, although it will be September the number of people can still make it very hot and queuing at the local shop can take a while, this is especially important if you plan on marching. Although most cafes or pubs can be very accommodating for use of their Loo there are usually portaloos by Cavendish Square and Soho Square. Although the Parade is the highlight of the event it’s by no means all of it, as i mentioned earlier, performances in bars and on temporary stages happen throughout Soho and sometimes it’s just as fun to hang in Soho Square taking in the atmosphere. Make sure you stick with a friend, even when going to the Loos, it’s a very big party and it’s easy to lose people so it’s always safer with a mate around. There is no pressure to drink, plenty of people won’t be. Sometimes Pride can just seem like one big drunken party, but it’s a long day and if you start too early you might just end up ruining it for yourself. Get some food! No seriously, go find a vendor and take a break from the festivities for a meal, especially if you’re planning on heading to a party straight after the parade. Don’t accept anything from someone you don’t know, it’s a shockingly unfortunate truth that some people use Pride as a way to take advantage of others, and if you think yourself or a friend has been drugged in any way there are dedicated stewards around and they should be informed straight away.
Although London Pride has been postponed to September, World Black Pride is moving ahead with their normal dates. Taking place between the 2nd and 4th of July Black Pride is bringing together a collection of pre-recorded and Live events that can be accessed through their website. Celebrating the powerful and astonishing Black Queer history. As a note, Black Pride usually occurs on the Sunday of Pride Weekend.
Well that’s about it. My guide to Queer London, it is by far not the complete picture and just a window into what I see as Queer London. I hope you find it interesting and I hope if you are moving to London or want to know a little more about this great city, then this has helped. Below I have put a list of links to some of the organisations I have talked about. To finish I want to end with another Oscar Wilde quote: “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.”
Homes for Queers London and Surrounding: https://www.facebook.com/groups/126499953021
Albert Kennedy Trust