By Raphael Kadushin
Originally published in the March 2010 issue of Out.
No one is saying so long to Soho, London?s thumping gay heart. But in a city that keeps shifting shape, it?s another neighborhood that has won real cachet among insiders as the edgier, eccentric English antidote to anodyne Soho. This is Vauxhall, a south side district downriver from the Tate Modern and London Eye that can look more gritty than glam, like the bombed-out World War II casualty it still partially is. What the ruins mask, though, is Vauxhall?s pedigree as London?s kinkiest playground, a legacy that stretchesback to the area?s cruisy 17th-century Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. In the aughties, the area?s long stretch of railway arches, which open onto deep barrel-vaulted interiors and sit under the main line out of Waterloo Station, became home to a dense caravan of gay clubs, bars, caf?s, shops, and saunas. Locals joke that a Wildean Vauxhall (a.k.a. Voho) weekend means checking into your first preparty on Thursday evening and stumbling out of the last post-postparty Monday morning, the trains rumbling overhead like an echo of the neighborhood?s itchy momentum. It?s all enough to make the neighborhood?s party-happy ghosts very, very proud.
The Royal Vauxhall Tavern
This 18th-century brick relic was once a music hall and drag cabaret, saved from demolition by local gay businessmen. The revived pub-theater now drags drag, burlesque, and improv into the present with nightly shows -- among them, Sunday?s popular Dame Edna homage. 372 Kennington Lane; +44-0207-820-1222; RVT.org.uk
Working your way down the arches means literally opening the door to every rendition of gay nightlife, like a louche advent calendar. Start at the podlike Barcode Vauxhall (69 Albert Embankment; +44-0207-734-3342) for cocktails. Move onto the club Fire (South Lambeth Road; +44-0871-971-4220; FireClub .co.uk), which stays open round the clock on weekends with DJs and lavish after-parties. End at Hoist (47C South Lambeth Road; +44-0207-735-9972; TheHoist.co.uk), featuring leather and nude nights or the frisky Chariots Sauna (63-64 Albert Embankment; +44-0207-735-6709; GaySauna.co.uk).