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SAINTS AND SINNERS

A Choose-Your-Own Guide to Exploring Gay London

by Billy McEntee
Hicaro Nicolai as Lulu in Cabaret (Photo by Marc Brenner)

The great thing about London is you can go into the day (and late into the night) with no plan and stumble unto some hidden gems.

Hicaro Nicolai as Lulu in Cabaret (Photo by Marc Brenner)

With smashing theater, bustling nightlife, and design-forward hotels, London has long been a popular destination for gaycations.

But, of course, not all gays want the same kind of trip: even in a big city, you can enjoy a low-key holiday, or you may venture off the beaten path for something a touch more daring. There’s plenty to eat, see, and explore in England’s capital where all are welcome, no matter if you’re a saint or a sinner. Choose which kind of person you are, and let this guide lead you to tours and lores or drinks and kinks.

THE SAINT’S GUIDE TO LONDON
Saints visiting London may want more of a traditional trajectory: fish and chips, informative museums, and classic sightseeing. All of this makes for good clean fun, especially if it’s your first time in the city where you’re just looking to get acquainted.

Penthouse Bedroom at St. Martin's Lane

Penthouse Bedroom at St. Martin’s Lane

STAY
St. Martin’s Lane (45 St Martin’s Ln. Tel: +44-20-7300-5500. stmartinslane.com) in gorgeous Covent Garden is the perfect place for a saint to stay: the rooms are bright and airy, the hallways smell of lemongrass, and the lobby’s restaurant (and secret bar) are divine. Just a few blocks from the shopping area known as the Seven Dials (seven cute streets that radiate off of a central plaza), St. Martin’s Lane is a beautiful hotel whose rooms boast wall-to-wall glass windows so you can gaze out at the London Eye (Riverside Building, County Hall, Tel: +44-20-7967-8021, londoneye.com), National Theatre (Upper Ground, Tel: +44-20-3989-5455. nationatheatre.org.uk), and other famed landmarks. Philippe Starck’s quirky and eclectic design offers handsome fixtures(giant chess pieces as statues and brass hands as doorknobs are just some of the funky flourishes). A stone’s throw from museums and shopping, St. Martin’s Lane is classy London with a wonky twist.

SEE
Saints will love & Juliet (Shaftesbury Theatre, 210 Shaftesbury Avenue, Tel: +44-020-7379-5399.shaftesburytheatre.com), the pop-tunes-infused tale of what might have happened if Juliet didn’t die in Shakespeare’s classic tragedy. Combining songs by Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, Pink, Ariana Grande and other stars, this West End show is a jukebox mega-musical with a fun story and wit to boot. Audiences follow Juliet as she heads to Paris for new adventures, meeting friends and a new love along the way. Come for wholesome fun with a sugar kick, and you’ll be bopping along to the tunes all the way back to your hotel.

The Cast of Heathers (Photo by Pamela Raith)

The Cast of Heathers (Photo by Pamela Raith)

There’s plenty to eat, see, and explore in England’s capital where all are welcome, no matter if you’re a saint or a sinner


SANCTIFY
For a fun afternoon, take a stroll along the River Thames, snapping pictures of Big Ben and the London Eye (the iconic clock and Ferris wheel) and head eastward toward the Tate Modern (Bankside, Tel: +44-20-7887-8888, tate.org.uk), a gorgeous museum with floors and floors to explore that feature everything from stunning Rothkos to feminist works from the 20th century. On the weekend, you can hit up drag brunch at Zebrano (18 Greek Street, Tel: +44-20-7287-5267. zebranolondon.com) downtown on Greek Street. The drag queens are the tops and the Bellinis are bottomless. If you’re down for drinks later on, Cahoots (13 Kingly Court, Tel: +44-20-7352-6200. cahoots-london.com) is a speakeasy bar that’s an homage to post-war London and is designed to look like an abandoned train station. Be sure to make a reservation, and do try the Winston Churchill. It’s served in a vessel that looks like the Prime Minister’s head, and is a mix of vodka, banana, coconut, and caramel, making for a sweet nightcap.

THE SINNER’S GUIDE TO LONDON
The sinner has perhaps been to London before and wants a more adventurous itinerary, or none at all. The great thing about London is you can go into the day (and late into the night) with no plan and stumble unto some hidden gems. Mystery and intrigue are lurking just around the corner, and to discover some of these lesser-known wonders, read on.

Two Bedroom Lofthouse Dining Area at Chateau Denmark

Two Bedroom Lofthouse Dining Area at Chateau Denmark

STAY
Chateau Denmark (Denmark Street, Tel: +44-20-3656-1000. chateaudenmark.com) is a one-of-a-kind hotel, so secretive you may have a tricky time finding it because the hauntingly gorgeous rooms are spread out all across Denmark Street in London’s ultra-gay Soho neighborhood. Rooms feature dramatic lighting, skull-print wallpaper, and a confessional booth-turned closet, complete with a cross perched on top. Lest you think this is unwelcoming, it’s anything but: guests are assigned their own butlers, who don fabulous purple jackets and can drop off takeaway meals, craft cocktails, and more. The rooms have an undeniable sexual charge (leather-black headboards on the beds and CBD relaxation oil at your fingertips all set the mood), and there are even blood-red bathtubs to soak in.

Madeline Brewer as Sally Bowles in Cabaret (Photo by Marc Brenner)

Madeline Brewer as Sally Bowles in Cabaret (Photo by Marc Brenner)

SEE
London is home to edgy theater all across town, and two shows all sinners must see are The Burnt City (One Cartridge Place, Tel:+44-20-8191-0100. punchdrunk.com) in Woolwich, and Cabaret (Northumberland Ave, Tel:+44-333-009-6690. kitkat.club) on the West End. The Burnt City is the newest immersive piece from Punchdrunk, the company that created Sleep No More.  Like that hit show, The Burnt City invites audiences to traverse through a colossal playground. As Greece teeters on the brink of victory, the neon backstreets of Downtown Troy give way to a sprawling labyrinth hiding secrets and scenes of sex and murder. Without a plot to follow, audiences literally follow the actors, dashing from nook to cranny to watch their dances and deviances unfold. Equally titillating is the celebrated revival of Cabaret, Kander and Ebb’s classic musical that is as queer and provocative as it is exuberantly entertaining. Exploring the dark life of Bohemian Berlin as Germany yields to the emerging Third Reich, this revival features stars from It’s a Sin and The Handmaid’s Tale. To top it all off, the Kit Kat Club theater is wonderfully reimagined to evoke the energy of a German nightclub.

Enjoying a Martini at Balans (Photo by New Africa)

Enjoying a Martini at Balans No. 34 (Photo by New Africa)

SCINTILLATE
Before your night on the town, pay homage to the LGBTQ+ leaders who came before us and blazed a path. The small but mighty museum Queer Britain (2 Granary Square, King’s Cross. queerbritain.org.uk) offers a look at boundary breakers, from Gentleman Jack to Sir Ian McKellen, who fought for queer rights. Just beyond the museum’s walls Coal Drop Yards (Stable St. Tel:+44-20-3664-0200. coaldropsyard.com) provides some fun daytime shopping. As night falls, head to one of the Ottolenghi restaurants (ottolenghi.co.uk/restaurants) in the city or Ave Mario (15 Henrietta St. bigmammagroup.com/en/trattorias/ave-mario) near Covent Garden to indulge in unique Mediterranean and Italian cuisine, respectively, in deliciously designed settings. Then, take the tube to East London for featured drag performers on the rise; say you saw them first at Dalston Superstore (117 Kingsland High Street, Tel: +44 20 7254 2273. dalstonsuperstore.com) before they blow up on RuPaul. Back across the Thames, dance to dawn at Heaven (9 The Arches, Tel: +44 20-7930-2020. heavennightclub-london.com) or G-A-Y (30 Old Compton Lane, Tel: +44-20-7494-2756. g-a-y.co.uk), and afterwards walk a few blocks to HERE nightclub (141 Charring Cross Road, hereldn.com), just next to your Chateau Denmark abode. This makes for a convenient final destination, unless, of course, you meet someone you want to spend more time with, or decide to go somewhere for a late night bite. If burgers and martinis are what you crave, Balans No. 34 (34 Old Compton St. Tel. 020-7439-3309. balansno34@balans.co.uk) is our favorite place to eat in Soho after a night on the town.


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