London may be a grand old dame of a destination, but don’t be fooled into thinking it has lost one ounce of its spunk or legendary cool with the passage of time. After years of being thought of as one of the world‘s leading gay-friendly destinations, London remains home to more than one queen and with very good reason.
SoHo along with the familiar Old Compton Street and its equally gay-friendly neighboring tributaries might still form the nucleus of LGBT life in London, but these days the city’s gay scene has evolved and is now distinguished by vibrant arteries that extend far beyond the boundaries of its well-established gay heartbeat.
Once upon a time, a trip to London meant perusing the city’s ‘crown jewels’ solely within the confines of clubs and bars like the now-defunct G-A-Y, the rock-steady Admiral Duncan or the mega club Heaven, which is in and of itself a rite of passage in London’s gay nightlife scene. But that was then and this is now.
Nowadays London offers alternatives of the variety that befit its unofficial designation as the ‘gay capital ofEurope.’
Alternative London Nightlife
Perhaps the most buzzworthy gay nightlife area in London at the moment is Vauxhall in South London. In this once run-down area of town now resides super clubs like Fire, one of the biggest and busiest nightspots in the Vauxhall gay village, which is sometimes referred to as “Voho.”
At Fire, the crowd tends toward the young and trendy and the music plays well into the wee hours of the morning. Neighboring hotspots include the equally hipster-filled Barcode and Area as well as the more down-and-dirty leather-oriented The Hoist and The Eagle, which holds the popular “Horse Meat Disco” on Sunday nights.
Meanwhile, across town, bears and those who love to hunt them will feel right at home at XXL London, which promises three times the fun twice a week on Wednesdays from 10 p.m.-3 a.m. and on Saturdays from 10 p.m.-6 a.m. It’s a little out of the way, but XXL definitely delivers the fur on two packed danced floors, so for those so inclined it really can’t be topped.
Another great, more casual gay area in London can be found in Islington where the bars have a laidback, neighborhood-y feel. Because the area is more gay-friendly than anything else, the popular choice is the always-packed The Green which attracts an attractive, low-key crowd. After drinks, you can also always check out the King’s Head Theatre & Pub which regularly has something gay or of gay interest on the marquee.
Off The Beaten Path Dining
Sure London has J. Sheeky, The Ivy, Nobu and Cecconi’s, among a plethora of other fine-dining eateries to choose from, but off the beaten path you’ll find some real gems. For instance, in super trendy Bermondsey, where celebrated Brit designer Zandra Rhodes has staked her headquarters, The Village East is an über-hot dining choice, as much for the well-heeled, artsy crowd that frequents it as for its modern and eclectic menu.
Another great option is Chino Latino restaurant at The Park Plaza Riverbank London hotel, where Pan Asian cuisine gets a modern twist. The drinks are fruity and delicious and the waiters provide mouthwatering eye candy. As an added bonus, this restaurant is also perfectly situated en route to a night out in Vauxhall by taxi, so you can begin the evening with a little dinner and end it with a whole lot of dancing.
Where To Stay
Some of the most gay-friendly accommodations in London are still, not surprisingly, located in close proximity to the better known gay areas in the city, like SoHo. That said, they are also conveniently near tube stops, which provide easy access to areas like Vauxhall and Islington. And for those on a less restrictive budget, these hotels are also a relatively inexpensive cab ride (by London standards) from Londontown’s burgeoning alternative nightlife scene. Here are three great choices and three very different price points:
Renaissance Chancery Court Hotel: Fans of the film Love and Other Disasters, which was one of Brittany Murphy’s last, will recognize this hotel as the place where Matthew Rhys finds true gay love—most appropriate given that the hotel is a stone’s throw from Covent Garden, London’s West End (La Cage Aux Folles anyone?) and Old Compton Street. The breathtaking entryway and genuine pearl-studded Pearl Lounge are worth the price of admission alone. Old world elegance and service at its best.
Montague on the Gardens: Located equally close to gay nightlife in London, the Montague on the Gardens is an ideal choice for those who prefer a more boutique hotel experience. A townhouse hotel, this property has the advantage of having the British Museum as a neighbor, making it a big hit among the culturati. Rooms tend to be on the smaller side, but are impeccably designed. Tip: Request one of the newer Bloomsbury rooms.
The Egerton House Hotel: If it’s the pinnacle of luxury you seek, then the intimate 30-room Egerton House Hotel in Kensington is the place for you. A stay at The Egerton House is more akin to paying a visit to a stately country residence than checking into a traditional hotel. Each room is individually decorated, every service carried out with precision and the martinis made by the steady hand of 40-year hotel veteran barman Antonio Pizzuto are consistently named the best in London. What more could you ask for? The hotel is also walking distance to Harrods, Harvey Nichols and some of the city’s best high-end boutiques, Sweetie darling.
Bottom line—if you thought you knew London, take a look at the city again through a different lens and you just might find that all that is old is indeed new again.
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