- Life In London Magazine
- Gay and Lesbian London
Gay and Lesbian London
London's Gay and Lesbian scene and where to find the best places to go..
For a long time male homosexuality was illegal in the UK, something which was only legalised by the 1967 Sexual Offences Act. Not so long afterwards the Gay Liberation Front organised the first openly gay social event in 1971, at Kensington’s Town Hall. Prior to this, lesbian and gay communities have only existed as underground-cultures, and therefore records are limited in the main to court reports, newspaper articles and even documentation of executions! The capital’s lesbian and gay relationships took place behind closed doors or in connection with prostitution. So called 'Molly Houses' (18th century brothels where cross dressing and gay sex would take place) were not uncommon.
London's most famous gay scandal resulted in the trial and eventual imprisonment of author and poet Oscar Wilde. Wilde's love–affair with the son of the Marquis of Queensberry, Alfred Douglas (Bosie) led to his prosecution under the 'Labouchere Amendment' of the 1885 Criminal Law Act, but much has changed since that time. With over 200 dedicated gay and lesbian bars and clubs, London really is a place where you can feel relaxed and at home now whatever your sexuality.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, the heart of the city’s gay and lesbian scene remains in the central region of Soho, but other areas most notably Vauxhall and Clapham, in the south have also become centres for the gay and lesbian community. Going a little further, check out Islington and Hoxton, Earl's Court, Hackney and Stoke Newington for other gay-friendly areas that offer a great variety of gay & lesbian pubs, bars and restaurants.
Today’s Soho and its busy streets such as Old Compton Street attract Londoners and tourists of every age, colour, class and sexual orientation who simply want to have a great night out; it’s not a gay ghetto, but an area for everyone. The lesbian and gay community there and beyond has grown and developed to the extent that a whole industry has sprouted up around it’s wants and needs; shops, bars, clubs and restaurants with a gay twist are readily available. Check out the following for some ideas:Gay-friendly Shops
London is home to a large gay community and as such gays and lesbians are well catered for in terms of shops, bars, clubs and other services. Much of this is centred around Soho so this is the most obvious place to start for LGBT items. We’ve listed a few of the best that are on offer here, but this certainly isn’t an exhaustive list!
Selling T- shirts, magazines and videos in the ground floor shop as well as leather-ware and S&M gear in the downstairs area, this gay-led shop has been around for years and continues to attract a healthy trade.
Gay’s The Word
This is Britain’s only bookshop dedicated to LGBT literature and summarises its place as “purveyors of fine homosexual literature since 1979”. It has acted as a source of information, literature and advice for nearly 30 years and needs support from those who value it to stay open as it continues to struggle as other independent book shops have been in recent years.
The Crusaid Shop
This is often described as London’s favourite charity shop and has a reputation for being a bit special in the charity shop world! Its aim is to raise money through selling donated items to support people living with HIV and AIDS. Well known designers such as Nicole Farhi and Ralph Lauren as well as members of the public donate generously making it an Aladdin’s cave for a bargain-hunter!
The Prowler Store
This is a small shop in the heard of Camden which sells a large range of clothing, cards, books, toys and accessories. The previously The Zipperstore, this was one of the first gay shops in the area. It’ open Monday - Saturday 10.00 – 18.30
The Sports Locker
The Sport’s Locker is a haven for the super-fit lycra fan. Only if you have a body that really is worthy of showing off should you set foot in here! It primarily sells underwear, swimwear and gym clothing as well as articles of clubbing clothing. All items are of high-quality and are usually specially selected import articles designed to show off the cream of gayland’s sixpacks!
Gay Restaurants & cafes
If you’re in a rush and just want to find somewhere fast, head for Old Compton Street in Soho. You’ll be dazzled by the choice of great, gay-friendly restaurants, bars and cafes.
A real institution right in the middle of Old Compton Street, the Soho branch of Balans offers a relaxed and friendly atmosphere and great, reasonably priced the food. There are other branches of Balans in Kensington, in Chiswick and Earl's Court and even just further down the road at 34 Old Compton Street!
Though not specifically targeted at the gay market, Cafe Boheme is also a favourite amongst the community. It’s relaxed and informal bistro-style surroundings lend themselves well to lunchtime and evening bites to eat as well as afternoon weekends with the papers!
The Philbeach Hotel
The Philbeach hotel serves the LGBT community in London’s Earls Court. The restaurant there serves great Thai food.
First Out Cafe
This is a cosy little restaurant that claims to be the West End’s first gay café. The First Out Cafe serves vegetarian, organic and fair-trade food, host exhibitions and organizes party nights.
The Shadow Lounge
This is London’s most famous gay, private members bar and is a place that just oozes exclusivity and lavish style. Expect amazing service and delicious food and cocktails in ultra-swanky surroundings. Gay & lesbian bars & pubs
As with the shops and restaurants, a huge number of the capital’s gay and lesbian bars are centred around Soho and Covent Garden. Old Compton Street is often referred to as Europe’s gayest street because of the incredibly density of gay-venues there.
The Admiral Duncan
This is one of the focal points for London’s gay scene and the sense of pride and community there was strengthened further through the bombing of the pub in 1999 by a homophobic BNP member. Though there were tragic consequences with the loss of 4 lives, the pub and community have proved resilient and are still going strong there today.
Serving a largely under-30 clientele, this bar has a stylish unique interior and has recently being awarded the 'Best Gay Bar London and South East 2008', The KU Bar is open daily for it’s largely gay customers serving a selection of beers, wines and cocktails.
Candy Bar in Soho is the UK's first lesbian club venue with pole-dancers in the basement and featuring an all-girl team of DJs, hostesses and bar staff. It opened in 1996 as its flagship venue and has gone from strength to strength since the providing some of the capital’s best entertainment to London’s lesbians and their friends.
Comptons of Soho
Compton’s of Soho is located in what used to be a Swiss Tavern 200 years ago but has now become one of the capital’s most famous gay venues and for 20 years has been an established part of the London gay scene. The pub downstairs is friendly and relaxed though still stylishly decorated whilst upstairs there is a smart lounge bar.
As with so many other gay venues, Barcode is located in Soho although there is also another one in Vauxhall too. It primarily attracts over 30s gay men, although is open to anyone. There is a great dancefloor downstairs where the clientele normally dance to funk, house and garage music. On Tuesdays the popular ‘Comedy Camp’ takes place.. Barcode is open Mon-Sat, 4pm-1am and Sun, 4pm-10.30pm
One of London’s smaller gay bars, this has become a firm favourite on the scene. The management are great at keeping things fresh; organising events and themed nights as well as hosting chilled video evenings too. Well worth a visit for all gay guys but also welcomes girls too.
Fans of Kylie, S Club 7, Madonna and similar will love this place as a popular pre-clubbing venue before the ever-popular G-A-Y clubbing events on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. This place is sleek and airy and is popular amongst gay and straight alike for a good night out. It’s open Mon-Sat, noon-midnight and Sun, noon-10.30pm.
Halfway to Heaven
This is a popular gay/lesbian bar just 2 minutes from Charing Cross station serving good value drinks across two bars. Straight people also go in (often to benefit from the cheap drinks!) to enjoy the laid-back and friendly atmosphere.
A popular and trendy, straight-friendly gay bar based in Greek Street, Soho, the Green Carnation was named after the novel based on the relationship between Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas.