Sex between two consenting adult men (at the time, older than 21 years old) was ilegal in the United Kingdom until as recently as 1967, when the Sexual Offences Act decriminalized it. This might seem outrageous in the 21st century, but the sad reality is that many countries still penalize being queer, some even with the capital punishment. This fact, along with the frighteningly increasing numbers of hate crimes and attacks we’ve been seeing in the past few years, make the celebration of Pride more relevant than ever. And if anyone knows how to celebrate properly, it’s Londoners.
The LGBTQ+ community had been active in London for many decades, with the first drag acts occurring as early as the 1880s. This act of resistance through art and mockery of traditional gender roles is still predominant in present-day London gay bars. The city truly is a smorgasbord of safe LGBTQ+ spaces and queer representation, with a variety of options for everyone.
With so clubs and gay bars in London to choose from, we’ve narrowed down our favorites, from iconic drag spots to up-and-coming venues where everyone can be who they want to be. If you’re straight, just don’t come for a bachelor or bachelorette party! It’s time to be loud and proud with the best gay bars in London for Pride 2022.
The Brunch Spot: Dalston Superstore
This queer club doubles as a cabaret venue, cafe, gallery and community center for its LGBTQ+ neighbors. Dalston Superstore, located in the trendy and diverse district of Dalston, opened its doors in 2009 and has been welcoming everybody (no matter their sexual orientation) ever since. The bar is very music-centered, with theme nights throughout the week, drag performances and even a Glastonbury Festival residency.
Expect low lights and a sultry ambiance, unisex toilets, and camp cocktails as well as electro, disco, house and, of course, corny pop ballads. What gives Dalston Superstore its cult status is its weekend Drag Brunch, which takes place on both Saturday and Sunday from noon till 17.00 and features games, quizzes and jaw-dropping spectacles! Make sure you get a ticket in advance and bring your ID with you, as you’ll be asked for it at the door.
Dalston Superstore is wheelchair accessible with a ramp at its entrance, and offers burgers and other staples from Essential Vegan, a former Shoreditch joint. Not into cocktails? Savor a wine or beer. Prefer to remain sober? Have a lovely cuppa from their selection of teas or coffee.
The basement at Dalston Superstore is the place to be at the end of the night during Pride, so see it as full circle—you can start the day with brunch and get back for that last chance for romance.
The Drag Olympics: The Glory
Haggerston’s The Glory has the feel of an East End pub but hosts a queer performance venue complete with a basement disco. Proudly owned by legendary London drag queens Jonny Woo and John Sizzle, along with party connoisseur Colin Rothbart, The Glory boasts a staff of influential creatives ready to share their endless knowledge of the city’s queer scene. Ask for their tips on what to do, see, eat and drink in London and they’ll gladly oblige.
The Glory operates on a first come-first served basis, so make sure you show up early on weekend nights: Fridays are for drag disco, Saturdays for Glory Lates (a cabaret night), and Sundays feature the “salon” hosted by Princess Julia herself. Julia is a famous DJ and music journalist who has been a staple of the London queer scene since the ’80s, when she was a member of the Blitz Kids along with a young Boy George.
Head over to this venue to attend London’s biggest drag contest: LIPSYNC 1000. Started 15 years ago, the competition sees 150 queens fighting for a big cash prize, with a Grand Finale and celebrity judges such as Kelly Osbourne or Nick Grisham. Its sister event, Man Up, a competition for drag kings, was first organized in 2015. RuPaul who? Enjoy the galas with one of their cocktails in hand, or choose from its selection of beers and wines.
The Historic Monument: Royal Vauxhall Tavern
Dating back to 1865 and rebuilt after WWII for returning servicemen, the Royal Vauxhall Tavern has been an LGBTQ+ and award-winning cabaret venue since the early 1980s. This isn’t your average gay bar in London—the place that saw Freddie Mercury smuggle in Princess Diana in male drag boasts all sorts of live acts from the local and national stage.
The intimate venue features theater seating, with a stage and quality sound and lighting. Come for the live acts, stay for the history! The Royal Vauxhall Tavern prides itself on having one of the most varied “What’s On” programmes in the capital, and considers itself an independent and vibrant brand complete with its own merchandising. This Pride, don’t miss their legendary rock and honky-tonk party Duckie, defined by creator Simon Casson as “men dressed as women dressed as dogs dressed as cats.”
Open every night of the week, the venue has a no-tolerance policy for any kind of intolerance, and it’s part of the Women’s Night Safety Charter, an initiative that trains staff to improve the levels of safety at night for women-identifying patrons. The Royal Vauxhall Tavern is wheelchair accessible, but you will have to book in advance to make sure they reserve you a seating area.
What was known in the ’80s as the “Palladium of Drag” (featuring residencies from fabled queens such as Lily Savage or Dame Edna), the pub has seen London queer history develop from the emergence of the London Gay Liberation Front (1970), the first ever Pride (1972) and the AIDS crisis in the ’80s and ’90s. The crowd will vary depending on the night, but on a regular weekday it veers towards an older audience, perfect for escaping the TikTok-addicted young gays and party like it’s 1999!
The Symbol of Resistance: Admiral Duncan
Located in Soho, this small venue is packed with glitter and a friendly atmosphere every night of the week. Despite being in central London, the Admiral Duncan has maintained reasonable prices and a neighborhood vibe. Think of this as your local gay pub where the staff knows you by name and knows your drink of choice.
Admiral Duncan is one of Soho’s oldest gay pubs—it became an LGBTQ+ space in the 80s, but the building where its located dates back to 1833. Sadly, it became infamous after a neo-Nazi terrorist bombed the venue in 1999, leaving three dead and 70 injured. The pub has since reemerged and stays strong today as a symbol of queer resistance in the face of hate. The victims are remembered on a plaque by the bar, where you can toast to them and keep their memory alive.
Head over to the Admiral Duncan for a chill day drink or pay them a visit at night, when it’s buzzing. Their small dancefloor is filled with friendly faces dancing to classic pop hits or latino music until the early hours. Residents Ruby Violet, Candy Heals, Mrs Moore or Sandra take over the mic for some comedy or flawless, gag-worthy lip syncs. The pub makes safety their priority, providing drink covers to avoid spiking and Guest Support members of staff ready to help if someone’s uncomfortable. A lovely
The Naughty One: Metropolis
You should always remember to bring your ID when you visit Metropolis in Bethnal Green—this oasis of debauchery and enjoyment is +18 exclusively. The venue doubles as a gay club on the weekends, but it’s a strip club during the week. Londoners have been enjoying this venue since it opened in 1861 as The Arabian Arms but transformed into Metropolis 120 years later in 1991.
Split into five floors, the massive club boasts several areas that are bookable for private parties (bars and DJ setups included): the basement, the beach, the diverse and inclusive dance floors and the balconies—ideal for having your private area without missing anything that happens on the dancefloor. Many hip London magazine launches have taken place in Metropolis, as well as gigs of all sorts.
Possibly their most famous night is Harpie’s, a.k.a. the U.K.’s first LGBTQ+ strip club, which happens on fridays. Come and move to bashment, carnival tunes and dancehall on Saturdays at Trash Palace or A Disco in a Strip Club. As for the crowd? Much like a Berlin queer club, Metropolis welcomes gays, lesbians and every letter on the LGBTQ+. Expect people with curiosity and a penchant for hedonism. There’s something for everyone at Metropolis!