Since the mid 1990's, London’s LGBT landscape has transformed. Scores of venues have closed all over the city, rocked by spiralling property prices. The economic reality is incredibly tough for small, independent businesses who are falling victims to the chains which now dominate the once quirky streets. This has happened in East London and now the Vauxhall gay village, but nowhere has been harder hit than Soho.
Last year, Ben Walters, writing in the Guardian reported that more than a dozen LGBT spaces had closed in the capital, while a handful of other LGBT establishments were at risk. The Yard, one of Soho’s most popular gay bars, has fought a long and public battle against closure, while The Black Cap – though not in Soho but nearby Islington and one of the city’s most iconic LGBT venues – sadly lost its fight in April 2015.
It’s not, however, just a matter of rising rents and the onslaught of luxury housing: the dominance of gay hookup apps means that people are certainly going out less. But as the author Timothy Graves observed: "It may be tempting to sit at home flipping through countless profiles on your iPhone, chemed-up on a cocktail of drugs while waiting for some random to turn up at your doorstep. But is it as much fun as dancing the night away with friends or opening up to the potential for that chance encounter with someone you like?"
We may be able to do little about extortionate property prices, but all LGBT people can vote with their feet by supporting the remaining establishments as much as possible. In doing so, we can help preserve them for the next generation of gay people who are looking for more fulfilling first-time experiences than swiping at anonymous torsos on a Smartphone. Strange, isn’t it, we live in a world which has never been so well connected by technology, and yet so many of us feel more disconnected than ever.
The good news, however, is that there are still some important and vibrant LGBT bars in Soho offering us all the space to create those life-affirming connections. Here’s my pick:
The Yard is truly unique – and needs to survive! Set around a courtyard – great in the summer – it’s on two levels, offering cocktails, exceptionally hot bar staff and a great meeting space for friends, fun and frolics. 57 Rupert Street, London, W1D 7PL
One of gay Soho’s best kept secrets is set on a tiny alley where prostitutes still ply their trade – you can’t get more traditional Soho than that! Politely rebuff the ladies’ advances and descend into this delightfully quirky bar with super cool tunes, a goldfish tank and Barbie dolls stapled to the ceiling. 79 Wardour Street, London, W1D 6QG
Soho just wouldn’t be the same without the venerable Comptons. It’s been going since 1986, and what you see is what you get: no attitude and men – much like the building – who are big and built to last. 51-53 Old Compton Street, London, W1D 6HN
Molly Moggs, set on the corner of Old Compton Street and Charing Cross Road, is a Soho institution. There’s cabaret every night of the week from the best drag queens in the business. It’s tiny, very friendly and things can get wonderfully messy –
which is just how Soho should be, of course. 2 Old Compton Street, London, W1D 4TA
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