A longtime working class area, East London is now home to some of the city’s best restaurants and bars. And while London’s gay scene is traditionally in Soho, most hipsters have moved further afield to Shoreditch and Hackney. Soho will always have a place in gay London, however as rent prices increase and more locals move out to the fringe neighborhoods, the queer scene has seen a slight revival and resurgence elsewhere in the city. Shoreditch and Hackney in East London have long been the site of London’s alternative cultures, so it’s no surprise to see some of those institutions (and new ones, opening often) with large LGBTQ crowds making this area one of the best for gay and lesbian visitors.
Here’s my go-to guide for a gay-friendly weekend out in East London…
TOP 10 GAY-FRIENDLY THINGS TO DO IN EAST LONDON
The Glory is one of those gay places that’s always going to feel a bit like home. It’s a small venue with a big heart and a busy bar. With a small stage for drag shows and live DJs next to the dance floor, The Glory is a trendy pub for a cold pint or a cheap cocktail. Located on Kingsland Road, the eclectic space is all about performances, with Saturdays being the favorite, though there are enough mid-week special events to keep the place busy all the time. Prices are affordable and many of their shows and parties are free before midnight, with an entrance of five pounds for late-comers.
One of the biggest gay clubs in East London, the Dalston Superstore is famous for its wild nights. Also located on Kingsland Road, it attracts both local and well-known DJs for parties just about every night of the week. In earlier hours, you can grab food. The menu is mostly comfort food like sloppy joes (not unlike the sloppy joes you’ll find on the dance floor after 1am) and all-day brunches. Art from local queer artists is regularly featured on the walls and drag shows, pub quizzes and lesbian-nights are common on the Dalston Superstore’s event calendar.
Brick Lane Sunday Market
Brick Lane has always been a place of discovery in East London. Every Sunday, the Brick Lane Market reappears in this tiny street among the Indian restaurants, cafés and local thrift shops. The street food isn’t just delicious but it’s also prepared with the heart and traditions of a dozen different cultures and countries; from the Argentinian chicken empanadas to the spicy soups from Thailand, a Sunday at Brick Lane means affordable food, live music and mojitos. Bring a date!
Eating London Food Tour
One of the most interesting ways to explore the East End is, perhaps predictably, to do it with some food in your mouth. The East End Food Tour from Eating London Food Tours introduces you to local British foodie classics, like the fish-and-chips from Poppies to the salt beef bagels at Beigel Bake. Interspersed with historical stories about the neighborhood—everything from Jack the Ripper horror stories to Harry Potter references, this always-changing area is hard to track back, but the tour offers the perfect opportunity for understanding its current development as the epicenter of fusion and creativity.
Founded at the turn of the 20th century, the Whitechapel Gallery has a history of showing revolutionary works. It was the first and only gallery in Britain to show Picasso’sGuernica, as well as legendary works by Jackson Pollock, David Hockney and (one of my personal favorites!) Cy Twombly. Today, it’s at the forefront of London’s contemporary galleries, with regular exhibitions relating to feminist and social issues in modern society. A previous exhibition of Hannah Höch’s works (a Dada artist from Weimar-era Germany) included pieces representative of the artist’s feminist ideals and bisexuality.
Open since 2006 in Shoreditch, The Hoxton isn’t just a place to sleep, but also a place to meet others, to eat and to drink. The front lobby’s large windows and plush sofas make it a cosy place to make friends, plus with urban yoga events and pop-up shops operating in the building, it’s a great place to get situated in the Shoreditch hipster scene.
A bit more expensive than affordable, the Ace Hotel is all about design and the ‘scene’. Located right at the heart of Shoreditch High Road, this is the perfect accommodation alternative for those who travel to London for work, pleasure, or both. Its restaurant, Hoi Polloi, offers amazing breakfast varieties and incredible main dishes, including the local’s favorite Hoi Polloi cheeseburger. The co-working space is frequently visited by locals and travelers, making it a perfect spot for networking and casual meetings with friends. Plus, the hotel frequently hosts events such as the London-based Naked Boys Reading group—which is exactly what it sounds like.
Columbia Road Flower Market
Has there ever been such a pretty street market before? We don’t think so. Each Sunday, Columbia Road Flower Market transforms the quiet, peaceful street into a cacophony of flower-sellers, scents and street buskers. It’s the perfect place for a romantic, leisurely stroll on a Sunday morning—just before brunch.
It wouldn’t be considered cool or hip if there wasn’t a secret art gallery in the basement. Inside the trendy Tramshed Restaurant on Rivington Street. In the basement is a small gallery space, CNB Gallery, featuring a wide range of artists — not just established ones, but local up-and-coming ones as well from the local Shoreditch art scene. The restaurant even has an original art installation by Damien Hirst and a menu (by Mark Hix) mostly consisting of chicken and steak.
This trendy Mexican bar and restaurant, DF/Mexico, serves up American-inspired Mexican foods—and fast! Popular both at lunchtime in the evenings, it’s right in the heart of Shoreditch, on the site of the former Old Truman Brewery alongside other equally trendy bars and restaurants. Ordering food is done by clicking some buttons on an iPad at the front, by the bar, and the food comes quick and tasty. With bottomless horchata available, and ice-cold margaritas, it’s a fun and casual restaurant to begin an evening out. Also, I think I’m totally in love with the restaurant’s name—it’s so travel-themed!
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Obviously there’s a lot more to see and do in East London—from the indie club nights at East Bloc to the chill afternoons at London Fields park. The thing about Shoreditch and Hackney is that it’s a quickly changing area. Always full of life and energy. Note that some of the tips above are from my earlier article on The Culture Trip. Read more of my Shoreditch travel tips here.