When I moved to London a couple of years ago, I was really keen to get to know a city full of queer culture and LGBTQI+ history. What I soon realised was that, outside of the heavily-advertised generic-as-hell club nights at Heaven, you have to do a little more digging to find the more interesting underbelly of London’s gay heartbeat.
Yes, I mixed a lot of metaphors there. Bad habit.
This guide (it’s a bird’s eye view because my name is Kestral, get it?!) is a live and always expanding collection of my notes as a vibrant and energetic queer person learning to love the city I now call home. If it is at all useful, feel free to buy me a drink sometime. I love a Piña Colada or an Iced Tea.
The Common Press
This place is both a bookshop and a cafe, and is honestly one of the most friendly intersectional queer spaces I’ve ever found. I love it so much I spent at least one day a week here, and use it as my base for writing. They have an iced tea that is out of this world, and just started doing food. I’d rate it 12/10.
The LGBTQ+ Community Centre
A fantastic events space and super friendly cafe, and a great spot to get together if you want a quiet space free from music. It’s more central than The Common Press, but has less of a selection. 9/10.
Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club
Don’t let the name food you – this isn’t an old-school Working Men’s Club. It’s been taken overy by queer groups to put on amazing nights out, but during the day it does drinks and light lunches in an inclusive and queer way. 8/10.
Live Music, Cabaret, Talks, Films and Spoken Word… once a week on a Tuesday evening at the RVT, you can join the most wonderful queer literature and art night this side of… well, London I guess. 11/10, sometimes a 12/10 if the cute bartender gives me a free drink.
Sappho runs queer board game and book club events in East London. Open to all LGBTQI+ people, you can join and play games, discuss books you love, or compare recent art finds. 11/10, good biscuits and non-alcoholic cocktails.
If you took Heaven, took out all the generic CisHet fuckboys, and turned it into a kinky NSFW party, you’d get Crossbreed. It’s a super respectful, super chill night for people to just let loose and explore who they are. There’s no pressure to participate, and no dress code – but be aware that folk may wear kink and fetish gear and you may well see things that you’ve not considered your cup of tea before. Go explore, and then have a nice cup of tea and a sit down. Crossbreed has it all! Definite 10/10.
No TERFs and no cis men – it’s a night for trans and non-binary people to feel safe and comfortable. It runs once a month or so at various venues across East London, and feels like what would happen if you turned the stonewall riot into a party. If you’ve got energy to work out, it’s a good place to punch the air and scream! 8/10.
If you’re a bear, or into bears, or a cub, or into cubs, or an otter, or into ott – you get the idea. BeefMince is for all bear-adjacent folk, and if you want a good bear hug (pun intended) it’s a lovely, safe, and friendly night to go along to. Twice a month at the RVT.
Push The Button
It’s 80s and 90s dancefloor fillers , cheap drinks, but inclusive as hell. Think Heaven, but without the fuckboys. It’s a proper inclusive queer night out, but generic enough to be fine if you don’t want to see any kink. 10/10. Weekly on a Friday at the RVT.
A night for those who find the odd scally hot. If you’re into sportswear, sports gear, or just find sporty people hot… this inclusive club night, running once a month at the RVT, is a great thing to try out. Scores 8.5/10 in my book. For my sins… I do love a scally lad.
Hardon Club Nights
Once a month, HARD ON run a club night for anyone into rubber, leather, etc. in Vauxhall. Unlike nights like Crossbreed, you have to dress the part and participate – and while it’s a bit cis-oriented, it’s a really safe and respectful environment for folks exploring kink. Just be warned, the changing area isn’t huge so come prepared with talc to help you squeeze into your latex body suit! Scores a 6/10 for me.
SBN – Stark Bollock Naked
An all-nude club night for those who enjoy being naked. Gave me a bit of body insecurity, but everyone seemed nice enough. You definitely need comfortable footwear. 5/10.
Trans @ TED’S
Ted’s Kink Bar in Fulham has a trans night which is pretty fun now and then. Good for cis folk who are allies, as well as trans folk who don’t mind mixing with cis allies. You’ll get called beautiful a lot. 6/10.
Michael Twaits’ Saturday Show
If you’re looking for a Saturday night of drag royalty, head to the Phoenix Arts Club near Tottenham Court Road tube stop. Thanks to the Lizzie Line it’s just 6 mins from Whitechapel and it’s the best drag night by miles. Don’t let the fact that the host is a friend of mine make you think I’m biassed. Even though I clearly am. I rate it 98/10. Love ya Micheal.
There’s a more tame Sunday drag and cabaret show at The RVT for those who want something chill, but less generic than a brunch of avocado toast. Hosts DEE and Mrs Moore create the most invlusive cabaret featuring both Drag Queens and Drag Kings, as well as other non-drag acts from the queer community.
NADC – Not Another Drag Competition
If you like something with a bit more of a competitive edge, search for NADC. For six months every year, there are weekly heats for this anyone-can-enter drag content with a twist!