Looking for a drink in a queer-friendly pub or bar? London’s chocka them — but here we’ve winkled out 10 of our all-time faves.
Retro Bar, Charing Cross
Hidden down an alley beside the ‘Heaven McDonald’s’ you’ll find the Retro Bar. It’s a cosy two-level joint themed around queer heroes (the walls are plastered with framed photos of icons from Grace Jones to James Dean) and good old-fashioned fun. The playlist will have you thinking they’re blasting out Heidi Montag choons, until you realise it’s the original sample song. Nostalgia can be overplayed but not when it’s as invitingly glam as Retro.
Zodiac Bar, Euston
One of the newest establishments on the block, Zodiac Bar is a queer-owned/managed bar-meets-club which hosts trans-led nights, Sunday karaoke, basement parties and a drag residency (and that’s just for starters). Sashay down early to the weekly RuPaul’s Drag Race viewing parties to make the most of the 5-9pm happy hour… and be prepared to find yourself in new shapes with go-go dancers by midnight.
Hailed as ‘the beating heart of queer East London’, Dalston Superstore is a fabulously rowdy bar famous for its outrageous drag brunches. When you spot queens performing on the street, you’ve arrived. With a 100% vegan menu and cocktails at the ready, it’s the ultimate hangover cure and party starter. Trust me, watching one drag queen perform all six parts of Chicago’s Cell Block Tango with six costume changes works better than any amount of paracetamol.
Ku Bar & Club, Soho
With three floors and as many different vibes, Ku is the slightly classier, but no less fun cousin, to G-A-Y for Soho partygoers. You’ll find legendary regulars have tables reserved ‘just in case’ but that doesn’t mean they’re not welcoming here — they just cherish the community. Stay on ground floor for chart hits or slip off downstairs for a slinkier time dancing the night away with joy-seekers of all genders.
The New Cross House, New Cross
A bona fide gem of south east London, the New Cross House is a traditional pub done queerly. It serves delicious pub grub (handmade pizzas, Sunday roasts) and has plenty of cocktails to pep you up after a tough week at the office — try the marmalade collins for size. The spacious beer garden — slathered in the Pride rainbow — makes it this place something special, and the outdoor loft space is available to hire for anyone wanting to throw themselves a gay old birthday. The New Cross House is a chilled come-as-you-are space that feels equal for all ages — definitely a place where ‘scenes’ don’t exist.
The Glory, Haggerston
Opening its doors in 2015, the The Glory has become a home for exciting queer talent and the local community. The perfect balance in atmosphere makes it the perfect place to pop in for a quick pint after work — but where you might equally hang around for drag showdowns, queer Irish cabaret or the ‘tunes and tantrums’ of a weekend disco. Many of these subversive acts are the ones everyone will be talking about tomorrow. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Glory is also where Bimini Bon Boulash was created.
The Yard, Soho
Tucked away at the bottom of Soho, chill courtyard bar The Yard is a winner all year round. Its chic vibe doesn’t require you to break the bank at the bar, which has turned many al fresco afternoons into late nights. There is food on the menu but it’s more a place for after work drinks or catching up with pals over wine. Nice first date option? Yes, although there’s a high chance you’ll bump into someone who’s already seen you naked.
Londons only permanent space solely for queer woman and non-binary buddies, She Soho is a pint-sized basement bar dedicated to catering for its intended audience. This means don’t try blag your way in if you don’t identify as such. If you do, though, what a night you’ll have! She arguably hosts the best drag king shows in all of London, that’ll blow your mind, and potentially more.
Royal Vauxhall Tavern, Vauxhall
The Royal Vauxhall Tavern is nothing less than a queer institution in London. As early on as the 1940s, gay men were drawn to the venue — which is now a daily riot of cabaret, quizzes clubbing — and the annual panto. The word iconic may be tired, but not when it comes to a sacred venue that holds so much of British queer history between its walls. From Princess Diana going on a night out disguised as a drag king, to Paul O’ Grady making Lily Savage a household name here, RVT is the first pub anyone wanting to pay their dues should go.
West 5, Ealing
Welcoming punters since 1998, West 5 is rich in character with traditional pub decor (yes, there’s a pool table) and kept warm by many long-returning locals. They love a RuPaul’s Drag Race queen appearance too, so get yourself round and see what/who the night brings. A great night out for anyone fancying something outside of the Soho-Vauxhall bubble.