Gay London should be familiar stomping ground but scenes, of course, change over the years so it was interesting to explore the unfamiliar and new sites.
The one main change that has occurred is the amount of backrooms and saunas with sex-on-site facilities that have sprung up. This is a major development since the British sex laws didn’t allow it before. Now all you need is a licence from the local council, planning hearings and all. This may lead to some comic situations such as the one where the (mostly gay) clergy of Southwark Cathedral objected to a (straight) fuck club being opened next door. Never mind that the venue currently houses a (gay) club called Hard On (which used to be called Fist). Such are the absurdities of officially sanctioned sex regulations. Or is it payback for all the anti-gay harassment of the past?
What did I sample? First up was Man Bar, which had a boots-only night on. Get in for £7.50 with a free drink, strip and have fun. This is a simple formula and of course it works. Unpretentious, non-attitudinal and uncomplicated fun was had by all.
The saunas are a different scene altogether. Overpriced (£11) with few (free) facilities. The Pleasuredrome had vaulted cubicles, where I several times hit my head on the ceiling, and a tiny video room with a plasma screen, but the videos were in black and white. Colourless porn sure looks arty, but I bet it was unintentional. If you want a private room with several video channels (in colour, I presume) you have to pay extra. The steam room was far too cold and the sauna boxes were overcrowded, but they were actually sufficiently heated. The men came in all shapes and sizes and I was blown away by some tattoos I noticed. One had ‘bitter’ and ‘sweet’ written under each nipple, which sort of made me wonder what scene he was into, but he said he had his done, along with half a dozen others on his chest and arms, when he was straight a decade ago (if this was really true then his nipple tattoos should have read: ‘bitter’ and ‘lager’). He was sure making up for lost time! (That’s when I hit my head on the ceiling).
Chariot’s, a franchised sauna chain with several branches around town, was full of muscle marys, who were doing a spot of live S&M (Stand around & Mimic your own escort advert picture) on Sunday afternoons. Nothing much happened on my watch. Renaming the sauna chain ‘Starfucks’ may be a bit premature.
Contemporary sauna designers should leg it to the Museum of London’s Roman section, where there are scale models of the bathhouses they built for the legionnaires stationed in Londinium. They featured under-floor heating systems, efficient plumbing, spacious rooms with varying temperature levels and a sensible lay out – all far more sophisticated than their 21st century counterparts. They may not have had the porn videos but I am sure that a couple of buff Roman soldiers would have more than made up for that shortcoming!
When exploring the gay side of a city I always like to take Dante as my guide to this inferno. It’s always easy to find the 7th ring where the sodomites have their parties, and in London it’s called the King’s Cross Cruising Club. Now this one was the best value for money, if you discount the free all-you-can-eat buffet of Hampstead Heath. Ring the buzzer at a non-descript boarded up shop front in a lugubrious part of town and £5 gets you into a converted shop and basement where you can pretty much do whatever takes your fancy – but bring your own toys. The men were all very keen and willing, since there was no pretence that anybody was there for anything else than shagging as many men as possible – even though the nibbles and snacks could have fooled you there was some kinky tea party going on. Highly recommended if you have an adventurous outlook in your sex life.
The funny thing was that most of my friends in London were curious to hear about all these places because they have never been there – and my friends are no prudes! I guess it takes a tourist to show the locals where the places to go are, they pretty much stick to cruising on gaydar (sigh! I prefer my meat live, red, erect and throbbing, rather than in byte size).
One disappointment was the lack of gay history in the newly opened Museum in Docklands. Port cities have without fail queer stories to tell but not a squeak here. At least they should have acknowledged the traffic that took place by west end toffs riding on a late bus to the east end for a spot of nookie with the local lads, who worked on the docks or were on leave from the merchant navy. A classic model perfectly illustrating British class society.