Located in central London, Soho is the home of the majority of London’s gay bars and pubs. To get there, jump on the tube and head for Leicester Square, walk up Charing Cross Road and before you know it, you’ll be in the heart of Soho - the rainbow flags will welcome you in style.
Like many gayborhoods before it, Soho once was a village in decline, a hangout for disreputable sorts, music and misfits. In the 1950s, bohemians, beatniks and other rejecters of mainstream culture moved in, eventually leading the way for gays and lesbians - most notably in the 1980s. Evidence of Soho’s gayness is everywhere on Old Compton Street, the main drag. Sex shops, gay and lesbian bars, restaurants, cafes and clubs line the narrow streets, which are often overcrowded. Don’t be surprised if you see public displays of affection here, often verging on indecency. Soho is the ideal village to hang your hat while visiting London because it’s convenient to other London attractions, including Covent Garden, Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square.
Just 15 minutes north of Soho is Camden Lock. This part of London closely resembles New York’s East Village - punk, grunge and out-alternative. Every weekend in Camden you’ll find young, gay emo-esque scenesters shopping at vintage clothing stores and hanging out just to see and be seen.
Much like its name, Hampstead’s gay scene is subdued, a little stuffier than nearby Camden. Hampstead is home to one of London’s oldest gay bars - William IV. It’s also in Hampstead where gay men and lesbians come to swim in the men and women’s pond and trek the heath, London’s largest park and highest point.
Small in size, this Northeast London village is jam-packed with gay clubs and bars, rivaling Soho in sheer numbers. Most businesses are centered along Upper Street and Essex Road. You will find more gay men than lesbians in Islington, but more and more attractions for chicks are popping up, including Y Bar on Thursday nights. The arts scene is thriving here. Check out the Chickens Theatre at Highbury Corner, a pub-slash-venue for live music, comedy and live theater. Islington is also home to London’s very first farmers market, which is bustling every Sunday.
Commonly referred to as Stokey, Stoke Newington is situated in Northeast London adjacent to Islington. Stokey is more of a destination than a place to stay during your trip to London given it is slightly off the beaten track. Once you’re here, though, there is plenty to keep you occupied. It is more of a hangout for lesbians who converge on Stokey’s Church Street for shopping, vegetarian dining and holistic therapy sessions. Women bars in Stokey are numerous and range from alternative hangouts like WANC Café (Women’s Anarchist Nuisance Café ) to karaoke/drag show clubs like Tonic. The mainstay for lesbians in Stokey is Blush, however. The local art scene is highlighted each June during StokeFest, and live music of all genres is alive and well here.
Known as the gay village, Vauxhall is the spot for after-hours clubbing and cabaret. It’s frequented by gay men looking to cruise and party all night, akin to the warehouse district of New York. There wasn’t much to Vauxhall before Crash hit the scene. It grew a loyal following and competition followed. Vauxhall is filled with after-hours and after-after-hours clubs open round-the-clock well into late Tuesday morning meaning it’s possible to start the party on a Friday night and literally party until Tuesday.
Located in south London, Brixton is just a short cab ride from Vauxhall. A well-known neighborhood for gays, Brixton lost some of its homo attraction when Vauxhall exploded on the scene. Now it’s slowly regaining its footing with polished-off clubs Fridge and Nsomnia.
Some Londoners claim that two of the city’s best gay bars are in Clapham, which is located south of the river. Two Brewers is unassuming on the outside, but inside it plays host to some of London’s best drag cabaret. The Kazbar is more of a funky disco bar for clubbers, but more laid-back than the Vauxhall thumper clubs.