A Roadmap for Gay-Friendly London
'Tis Pride season the world over. For something truly different, check out London's annual Pride Festival and Parade, June 19-July 3. The parade, though huge, feels more grass roots and politically charged than many of its American counterparts, which some complain have gotten a bit overly commercialized.
You'll see the traditional red double-decker buses crammed full of young socialists or the firemen's union or orderly phalanxes of openly-gay marines marching proudly under the Union Jack. Sigh, one day we'll be there. For now, get a vicarious thrill seeing what is in some ways a more fully integrated community showcasing simultaneously its similarities to and differences from its heterosexual counterparts.
Though London is cheaper than it's been in a long time (thanks to a more favorable exchange rate), it is still an expensive city. Book your air as soon as possible. There are still inexpensive seats to be found or consider cashing in some of your reward miles. The very traditionally English yet contemporary Stafford London by Kempinski tucked away in the heart of St. James is offering 20% off published prices when you book 30 days in advance. Click here to learn more. (Update: Please note that the advanced booking rate is subject to availability and according to a Stafford spokesperson as of right now it may not be available for the festival dates.) Even if you don't stay here, be sure to have a brew or Scotch at the award-winning American Bar (pictured at left; home to a fascinating collection of artifacts, memorabilia and oddities), a lively, yet sophisticated setting with an adjacent outdoor heated lounge for those cool London evenings.Straight but gay-savvy Head Concierge Frank Laino of this LGBT-friendly hotel, voted "Best Concierge Worldwide" by readers of Luxury Travel Advisor Magazine, has pulled together a guide for the first-time gay visitor, which he shared with us. (This is Frank in the photo at right posing in front of the hotel.)
Three tastes in one
Begin at the “it” place to dine: Aqua London on Regent Street. With three separate restaurants all in one location, this hip and stylish newcomer (opened October 2009) is attracting the see-and-be-seen set. Start with contemporary Japanese fare at Aqua Kyoto, followed by tapas at Aqua Nueva, and a drink at Aqua Spirit's cocktail and champagne bar featuring live live music and a roof terrace.
Pick up a little number (clothes, that is) at the recently opened Westfield Shopping Center ,one the largest urban shopping centers in Europe, offering pretty much every style from cutting-edge urban fashion to high-end designers.
Show off your new threads at a prime viewing spot along the parade route in Trafalgar Square, one of London’s most famous attractions. Franks inside tip: "Arriving early is key as this party place gets packed before dawn." If you are not a morning person, Frank offers this advice, "Nearby Regent Street, the longest street of the route, doesn’t require an early wake up call and is a good alternative to catch all of the action."
For the late-night set, party after the parade at a great venue for music lovers. The Pigalle Club evokes a 1940’s supper club with an edge. Expect to dance until dawn as this swanky restaurant transforms into a late night club featuring big name live performances and great DJ nights.