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I WANNA TAKE YOU TO A GAY BAR

Illustrations by Michelle Thompson

A frank new book about the evolution and importance of gay nightlife has Paul Flynn reflecting on his own nocturnal adventures in the capital — and other cities
around the globe. Whose round is it, anyway?

One afternoon in the mid-Eighties, sneaking off school to traipse around Manchester city centre, I stood transfixed under a neon Statue of Liberty sign on the side of a pub beside a disused carpark. Something looked off about it. I stared and stared, until it clicked. The wrist on the iconic statue’s right arm, usually raised triumphantly, was limp. Two elderly women shuffled past pushing tartan shoppers. ‘You don’t want to be thinking about going in there, love,’ one of them scolded. I was 14, in my school uniform. She probably meant well. But she could not have been more wrong.

Like an amateur sleuth, developing his nose for sniffing out the closest available mischief within a five-mile radius of the house I grew up in, I’d accidentally uncovered my first neighbourhood gay bar. It would be two or three years before I learned that New York, New York was presided over by a towering drag queen called Solitaire who carried herself with all the poise of a drunk navvy. But a cultural, even sociological, seed had been planted in me, ready to germinate.

I’ve since drank in gay bars from Belfast to Beijing, Toronto to Tokyo. I’ve met the finest of friends and most deplorable of boyfriends in them. I was sacked from a storied Glasgow gay club for helping myself to its spirits. I watched the first gay bar being built at Glastonbury in 2009, liberating the monolithic festival’s orientation, feel-good factor and taste level overnight.

“I still maintain that no London pub can emulate the sheer, frenzied, down-home electricity of watching Sunday karaoke night at Soho’s bear pub, The Kings Arms”

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“A part of the gay bar experience is about having mixed feelings. There is disappointment. Of course, sometimes you walk into a room and think, “Does everyone in here like themselves?””
- Jeremy Atherton Lin

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The Queen Adelaide, Hackney

“Gay bars are the closest the LGBTQ+ community gets to a physical location in which to observe and document our collective experience.”

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London Gay bars for those in the know

The Old Quebec, Marble Arch

Two streets down from Selfridges sits the favoured space for gay gentlemen of a certain age. Upstairs could be a Wetherspoons, complete with slightly confused interlopers from the big Primark. Downstairs is, um, quite the different story.

The Kings Arms, Poland Street, Soho

The bears’ Soho stopover,
this is a colourful amalgam of Rovers Return conviviality
and elasticated waistbands, with added jukebox.

The Old Ship, Limehouse

Commonly referred to as the oldest gay pub in the capital and housed in the ornate backstreets of Limehouse, The Old Ship keeps its maritime heritage trappings on the shelves and good humour behind the bar.


The Queen Adelaide, Hackney

Built from the thrift shop detritus of the much-loved George & Dragon, the Queen Adelaide is a perennial favourite of fashion students trying on experimental new identities for size, plus their older forebears who’ve long since located theirs.

The Retro Bar, The Strand

Tucked down a backstreet behind the Strand McDonald’s, with wall poster art featuring Kate Bush, Pete Burns and Divine, this is the meeting point for the specific arm of LGBTQ+ London who found their sexuality etched into the run-out grooves of 7” singles by Suede.