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Halfway to Heaven
Halfway to Heaven

The best gay bars in London

Discover the best gay, lesbian and LGBTQ+-friendly bars and pubs in London

Written by
Nick Levine
Written by
Alim Kheraj
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London's LGBTQ+ scene is among the brightest and most fabulous in the world. Whether you're looking to learn about queer history by seeking out some LGBTQ+ landmarks, or maybe your queer quest is slightly more hedonistic and the vibrant LGBTQ+ clubs are your thing, there's more than enough to keep you busy.

Of course, much of this city’s queer history is housed in our bars and clubs. And London, thank goodness, still has a diverse number of LGBTQ+ venues, even outside of Soho. So, whether you're after a drag brunch, a burlesque show or just a quiet pint, here's a comprehensive list of the capital's gay and queer-friendly bars and pubs, including those predominantly for lesbians.

RECOMMENDED: Read our love letter to London’s LGBTQ+ venues

The best gay bars in central London

  • Nightlife
  • Alternative nightlife
  • Soho

Soho’s world-famous G-A-Y has everything you’d expect: cheap drink offers on weekdays, a young crowd and plenty of Dua Lipa playing on the video screens. It’s spread over three floors, with a dedicated girls’ room downstairs, and never seems to empty out. Most Londoners over the age of 25 profess to hate it, but they’ll still end up here a few times a year, drinking a WKD-based ‘cocktail’ and dancing to Lady Gaga. And fear not, because when this door closes, another opens at G-A-Y Late. Located around the corner at 5 Goslett Yard, it offers a similar experience, but with a later licence and even louder pop songs.

  • Bars and pubs
  • Strand

Tucked away down an alley off the Strand, The Retro Bar is one of queer London’s secret gems. It’s a small, gloriously old-fashioned indie bar where anyone on the LGBTQ+ spectrum will feel welcome as they drink and listen to Blondie and Bowie blaring out of the jukebox. If the nostalgic tunes don’t give you a warm glow, the cosy decor surely will: the walls are filled with iconic photos of everyone from Grace Jones to Beth Ditto. The quieter upstairs bar is a good date spot, though it’s not open every night. 

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  • Nightlife
  • Alternative nightlife
  • Soho

As its name suggests, Compton’s is a longtime stalwart of Old Compton Street. It’s especially popular with a crowd of beer-drinking, blokey gay men and can be kind of cruisey. But don’t let the throng of punters spilling onto the street put you off. The lovely upstairs lounge is a great place for a date or conversation – and attracts more of a mixed crowd – and the ground floor is a lively bar space where you’ll probably hear a Kim Wilde banger.

  • Nightlife
  • Cabaret and burlesque
  • Leicester Square

Occupying a prominent spot on Soho’s Chinatown fringes, this large LGBTQ+ venue is regularly voted London’s best. Ku is a little classier and pricier than local rival G-A-Y, but attracts a broadly similar crowd and the young, up-for-it vibe is just as much fun. The ground floor offers a bright and modern bar space with video screens playing chart hits; downstairs is a clubbier room where fresh-faced types of all genders dance to pop and dance remixes. A second Ku Bar on nearby Frith Street offers a more sedate spin on the same experience.

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  • Bars and pubs
  • Soho

This cute Soho courtyard bar attracts a mixed LGBTQ+ crowd. The downstairs alfresco area boasts sedate lighting, wooden banquettes and a fair bit of flora, giving things an almost bucolic feel. The upstairs loft bar has smart leather sofas and a balcony that’s popular with smokers. There’s a pretty simple food menu but, realistically, most people come here to drink and mingle. The Yard gets especially busy during warm summer evenings, when its airy ambience makes it a queer space you could comfortably bring your mum to.

  • Nightlife
  • Late-night bars
  • Trafalgar Square

This traditional gay boozer is situated halfway between Soho and Heaven, hence the name. The upstairs bar is great for a midweek catch-up, while the basement is a fishbowl-like cabaret space where drag queens take to the stage seven nights a week. It can get pretty raucous down there, especially when Friday night resident Marsha Mallow belts out signature her club classics medley.

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  • Nightlife
  • Alternative nightlife
  • Soho

This cave-like basement bar is Soho’s only venue dedicated to queer women and non-binary folk, and it takes this responsibility seriously. Unless you identify as such – or arrive with plenty of queer female and non-binary mates – you’re probably not going to get in. Run by the team behind Ku Bar, She Soho has a similarly convivial ambience and flair for getting the party started. Be aware, though, that it’s only open Wednesday through Sunday.

  • Bars and pubs
  • Cocktail bars
  • Soho

Friendly Society benefits from the power of surprise: after entering through a bland back-alley doorway, you’re greeted at the bottom of the stairs by Soho’s most idiosyncratic drinking den. Barbie dolls hang from the ceiling, there’s a big fishbowl in the middle and old movies are projected onto a back wall. Although the short cocktail menu has been the same forever, the staff always seem perplexed when you order one, though that’s definitely part of the charm. The crowd here is LGBTQ+ in the broadest sense - anyone with a sense of fun will feel at home, whatever their gender and sexuality. If you fancy dancing to Donna Summer while sipping (relatively) inexpensive prosecco, this place is an essential pitstop.

The best gay bars in east London

  • Nightlife
  • Alternative nightlife
  • Haggerston

Since opening in 2015, this east London pub, club and performance space has rapidly established itself as a jewel in London’s LGBTQ+ crown. On the one hand, it’s a place you can nip into for a quick after-work drink: the bar staff offer proper cocktails as well as the usual beers, wines and spirits. But on the other, it’s a platform for forward-thinking queer entertainment: previous offerings have included Butt Mitzvah, the UK’s first ever queer Jewish night, and Björk Scratchings, a tribute to the eccentric Icelandic chanteuse. It’s also a genuinely mixed space where the vibe is less ‘anything goes’, more ‘everything encouraged’.

Dalston Superstore
  • Clubs
  • Dalston

This Kingsland High Street hangout is an East London institution loved by everyone from Owen Jones to Princess Julia. It calls itself a ‘multipurpose queer venue’ and that’s no exaggeration: you’ll find drag brunch events in the upstairs bar by day, and forward-thinking club nights in the basement when it gets late. Current regular nights include Happy Endings and Club Tantrum: names which tell you everything about Dalston Superstore’s fun and subversive vibe.

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The Karaoke Hole
  • Nightlife
  • Karaoke
  • Dalston

The little sister of nearby Dalston Superstore, The Karaoke Hole is the UK's first drag queen karaoke bar, and a place where you can let your inner diva out. Between 7-10pm, things are pretty formal: you can pre-book tables, sip on cocktails and sing to your heart's content. From 11pm, however, it all gets a little raucous: the karaoke becomes a free-for-all, as drag queens and X Factor wannabes all sing like mad while backed by disco balls and wind machines. 

The Queen Adelaide
Queen Adelaide

The Queen Adelaide

After beloved east London queer pub The George and Dragon was forced to close down in 2015, The Queen Adelaide rose from its ashes a couple of weeks later. Opened by the same owner around a mile up the same road, it has similarly kitsch decor – look out for the famous horse’s head – and the capital’s queer LGBTQ+ hipsters have flocked way. But in a way, the Queen Addy is also a bit of an upgrade: this time, the merriment spreads out over two floors and there’s a 3am licence at the weekends. Let the party rage on!

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  • Bars and pubs
  • Pubs
  • Limehouse

Located in once-grimy Limehouse, the White Swan is an East End gay staple. After some dubious refurbs, it now has a disappointing modern-yet-dated interior, but some great cabaret shows and cheap drink offers help to make amends. It also plays host to some very fun club nights including Girls Night Out + Pop Curious?, a heady celebration of both mainstream and cult pop girls.

The best gay bars in south London

  • Nightlife
  • Clubs
  • Vauxhall

To paraphrase a famous saying: after a nuclear holocaust, all that will be left are cockroaches, Cher and the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. This pub-cum-legendary queer performance venue has been threatened for years by greedy property developers, but the RVT Future Committee refuses to let it die. People care about this place because it mixes a rich history – Princess Diana once popped in disguised in male drag, and British drag icon Lily Savage performed here in the ’80s – with excellent regular nights like Bar Wotever and Push the Button. The fabulously atmospheric grade II-listed surroundings don’t hurt, either: quite simply, it’s a place that feels iconic because it is.

  • Clapham

Though affectionately nicknamed ‘The Two Sewers’, this long-running LGBTQ+ venue is no dive bar. Instead, it bills itself as ‘south London’s premier cabaret bar and club’ and offers regular drag shows and quizzes as well as club nights. It’s always packed on a Saturday, when DJs in the main bar drop pop bangers and the cavernous back room morphs into a proper club. Located in the increasingly gay enclave of Clapham, The Two Brewers has a more provincial feel than some of London’s LGBTQ+venues. But honestly, that’s a big part of its charm. 

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  • Bars and pubs
  • Pubs
  • Kennington

Reclaiming the spot that for 15 years was Kennington’s South London Pacific, The Cock Tavern is the creation of Farika Holden, one-time landlady of much-loved (and much-missed) East London queer pub the Nelson’s Head. And like that former bastion of kitsch, The Cock Tavern is as camp as they come. Rather than rip out the tiki aesthetic of South London Pacific, The Cock has merged it with the Georgian sensibilities of the building, albeit with a modern twist. It’s open Thursday through Sunday, and gets especially packed on Friday and Saturday nights, when the dance floor will fill up from around 9pm till closing time at 2am.

 

Eagle London
  • Nightlife
  • Alternative nightlife
  • Vauxhall

A few years ago, this Vauxhall venue underwent a transformation. Out went the license permitting sexual activity on the premises; in came trendy decor inspired by New York’s Meatpacking District. Eagle’s large horseshoe bar still attracts plenty of slightly older gay men, but the overall vibe is now a little cooler and more inclusive. On Sunday nights, the dancefloor welcomes a younger and more fashion-conscious crowd for Horse Meat Disco, one of London's very best club nights. It also has a lovely private beer garden that lays on barbecues in the summer.

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The Bridge Bar
  • Bars and pubs
  • Wine bars
  • Clapham

Located besides LGBTQ+ cocktail bar Arch and sex shop Fetch, this queer wine bar forms a mini ‘gay strip’ in Clapham, a south London suburb that’s become a real ‘gaybourhood’ in recent years. Like Arch, it benefits from a great outdoor space and books loads of fun and fruity drag shows: look out for the hilarious Beary Poppins. Queer Claphamites can be found here all week long, but during the weekend the long low venue can get busy, despite being tucked away from the thrum of Clapham High Street. 

The best gay bars in north London

  • Bars and pubs
  • King’s Cross

This King’s Cross gay pub often gets forgotten about in guides to LGBTQ+ London, and that’s a bit of a shame. Yes, it’s a little bit old-fashioned, but that’s a big part of its charm. Its handy location behind the station means it welcomes all comers travelling to and from one of the UK’s largest transport hubs, and on Fridays and Saturdays, there are popular karaoke nights attracting a pretty mixed crowd. Upstairs you'll find a B&B offering more-than-affordable rates for cosy, warmly decorated rooms. Central Station won’t be your first destination in queer London, but if you find yourselves here, you’ll probably have a great time.

  • LGBTQ+
  • Archway

This Archway bar is a welcome addition to the capital’s LGBTQ+ scene, especially because north London has relatively few queer  spacest these days. Open Thursday to Sunday, it’s a fun, unpretentious venue spread over two floors that places an emphasis on two things: karaoke nights and drag queens. Frankly, that’s a winning formula as far as we’re concerned.

The best gay bars in west London

West 5 Bar

Now sadly one of west London’s last remaining LGBT venues, West 5 celebrates its twentieth birthday in 2018. And deservedly so: it’s a proper, old-fashioned gay pub with a pool table, a grand piano and loads of loyal punters. Though it’s located in South Ealing, a relatively sleepy suburb, it regularly attracts PAs from top ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ stars like Courtney Act and Morgan McMichaels. If West 5 is your local, think yourself very lucky indeed. If you’ve never been before, it’s well worth seeking out next time you don’t fancy a night out in Soho or Vauxhall.

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