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Originally published in the March 2010 issue ofOut.
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).
A bit of Lisbon on the Thames. Grab a bowl of caldo verde soup to soothe your rattled club nerves. 46A Albert Embankment; +44-0207-820-1117; MadeiraLondon.co.uk
The Riverside Vauxhall
Occupying one of Vauxhall?s new high-rise apartment buildings, this bistro revisits purely British flavors, with bangers and mash and sticky toffee pudding. Hamilton House, 5 St. George Wharf; +44-0207-735-8129; RiversideLondon.co.uk
Park Plaza Riverbank
Airy, generic blond-wood suites are saved by Thames River views -- complete with Big Ben -- from half the guest rooms. 18 Albert Embankment; +44-0207-958-8000; ParkPlaza.com
The Morning After
The cavernous gallery space adds to Voho?s rising rep as an arty district, hosting five annual exhibitions. The Tate Modern, London Eye, and Shakespeare?s Globe are also a brisk walk away, in the neighboring cluster of South Bank landmarks. 155 Vauxhall St., +44-0207-587-5202; GasWorks.org.uk
Horse Meat Disco
This Sunday night disco, in the pitch-black Eagle Club, attracts top indie DJs and Voho?s most boho, eclectic crowd. Expect a swarm of waifish art students, neo-mod boys, and some of the cutest, scruffiest local bartenders. 349 Kennington Lane; +44-0207-793-0903; EagleLondon.com