London has always been a city harbouring more than a few dirty secrets. In the 18th century, London was popular for its molly houses, and in the 19th century, a surge in Turkish baths provided another anonymous place for men to meet. By the late 20th century, Hampstead Heath was well established as an open cruising ground, and gay areas thrived around Earl’s Court, Soho and Vauxhall.
London Fetish Week will allow visitors to sample some of this action July 7 to 13. A series of special events celebrating the kinky heart of Britain in all its glory will take place at locations across the city.
While the west London hub of Earl’s Court once catered to leather lovers, it died out by the late 1980s, and soon the niche was filled by Vauxhall — a borough of south London, just across the river from the Houses of Parliament. Freddie Mercury once sneaked Princess Diana into the celebrated Royal Vauxhall Tavern here, dressed in a black leather jacket and cap.
The area expanded in the 1990s and remains a fetish mecca today, with the gay community also choosing to live in the area and in nearby Clapham. It all kicks off here on July 8, with Master Class at the Eagle, where you can quite literally be shown the ropes. However, it’s really The Hoist that can bill itself as Vauxhall’s premier fetish club — the centre of the whole scene.
Just as the World Cup comes to a close, the Hoist hosts Sports Cruise on July 10, which is open to any guys into sports gear, from football kit to rugby gear, wrestling suits, swim shorts, jockstraps and trainers. It also hosts Deconstruction, the official closing party, on July 13, which will include the world’s biggest wet area — the Pacific was a close second.
If you don’t care for negotiating night buses at 3am or doing the walk of shame a few hours later, you could do worse than picking a nice hotel near Waterloo as a base for nearby Vauxhall. It’s also not far from XXL, the famous bear club that runs every weekend. Waterloo has a Premier Inn and Travelodge if you’re happy with the basics, while the Novotel or the H10 hotel are slightly more upmarket. Most of these hotels should offer views of the London Eye and Big Ben.
Across the river and into central London, Soho has long been the heart of the capital’s sex scene but grew to be more exclusively associated with the gay community by the 1990s. Gay people from all walks of life merge and mix freely on Old Compton Street, in the heart of the West End.
As a traditional boozer for the older, hairier gent, Comptons hosts the Soho Social on July 11, and later, the Fetish Week Dinner takes place at Amalfi Italian restaurant across the street. The dress code requests “no extreme clothing,” so Gaga’s off the list. If you want to stay in this area, there are any number of budget chain hotels across the West End, but if you want to splash out on your stay, the newly opened W hotel in Leicester Square is a modernist piece of art, with glass walls and neon lights in a prime location. If you’d rather have something traditional and quaint, the Covent Garden Hotel is for you – and Judi Dench, when she’s working in town.
I spoke to Ethan, who has been going to Fetish Week for years, and asked him about the state of the current fetish scene.
“If I’m brutally honest, I think the fetish club scene has started to die a bit of a death in London,” he says. “The main reason I can identify is apps like the Recon one and more extreme hook-up sites like BBRT. That said, people make an effort to go out to big events in the calendar like London Fetish Week.”
A quick look around the Recon site makes it obvious that the app is capitalizing on how people use phones for hooking up. Rather than letting the internet kill the fetish scene, Recon is using it to accommodate its nights in clubs and introduce people to the scene.
Philip Hamill, Recon’s founder and managing director, explains that the appeal is now broader than ever.
“Over the five years that Fetish Week has been running, we have seen a continual increase in visitors coming to London for the event,” he says. “This year, Recon members from as far afield as Australia, United States, Canada, South America and, of course, Europe have already registered and bought tickets.”
“London is the home of Recon, and our own regular scene-goers love it when other Reconians join in and party with them, and this year looks like being the best so far,” Hamill says.
There’s certainly an international feel to some of the events, offering a fully European experience. You can get Into the Tank on July 11 at Club No 65 and enjoy a taste of Spanish kink, while Berlin brings its legendary Skinhead Night to Eagle London on July 12. Both events take place in Vauxhall.
The main event of the week is Full Fetish, which takes place July 12 at The Coronet Theatre in Elephant & Castle. At £20 a ticket, this is also the most expensive, but if you’re indulging, this multi fetish event promises the works.
So, if you’re coming to London, what kind of guys can you expect? Again, I ask Ethan.
“You’d be surprised!” he says with a laugh. “You’ll find guys from every walk of life out on the scene — from bankers to builders. And often it’s the quiet guys you’d least expect to be into fetish you’ll find out on the scene. I’ve bumped into colleagues from work, politicians and even a Hollywood actor!” Suggestive as he is, he’s not naming names.
And remember, if it all gets too much, you can always just meet people in London’s many friendly gay bars. From the bars of Soho to the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, sooner or later you’re bound to meet someone who tickles your fancy.