What’s a quintessentially English experience to be had in London? A hot roast lunch in a traditional pub? A play at Shakespeare’s Globe?
How about pulling up your school shorts with tears in your eyes, thanking Sir for “six of the best” while he puts his cane away and straightens his mortar board and tassel?
A wander through the streets of Soho can’t help but bring to mind claims that London has sold its soul. Walking through this former bastion of sleazy liberation, past more and more posters that protest London’s gentrification, one might start to agree that this millennia-old city has traded away some of its creativity, innovation and verve to become the playground of the super-rich, available to any high-end property developer willing to pay the exorbitant entrance fee.
Of course, it takes a long time to completely scrub such a place away into dull blandness, and Soho hasn’t quite lost its lustre yet. While much of its former creativity has dried up and gone, it’s still one of London’s most convenient and lively areas in which to stay, and remains unbeatable for those looking to spend most of their time on the theatre scene.
But LGBT visitors in search of alternative nightlife, particularly the kinky variety, will need to look further afield. Fortunately, they don’t have to look far. Away from its touristy core, gentrification has been unable to touch one of Europe’s healthiest kink scenes.
A good starting point for visiting kinksters is the Leather Social, held the first Sunday afternoon of every month at Comptons in Soho. If you’re staying for a while, this can be an opportunity to make some friends on the local scene and discover upcoming events. Of the gay venues on Old Compton Street, Compton’s is probably the closest you’ll get to a traditional English pub atmosphere. There’s also something particularly satisfying about enjoying a pint while surrounded by leather men amid Soho’s increasingly whitewashed corporate chic.
It’s Vauxhall, however, where the boys go to play (in every respect – London’s larger gay dance clubs are based here too). Two venues in the neighbourhood lure a loyal fetish crowd. The Eagle London, which delivers all you’d expect from a bar of its name, and the Hoist, an expansive and highly flexible dungeon space backing onto Vauxhall Station. A private club in operation for 20 years, The Hoist offers a wide variety of events, including what might be the most quintessentially English fetish party you will ever visit.
Boyz and Sirs is a corporal punishment (CP) party with a very distinctive flavour. Taking inspiration from English public schooling, Boyz and Sirs is all about using a dose of strict discipline to bring the boys up right. While dressing up isn’t compulsory, most participants kit out in either a school blazer, tie, cap and shorts, or the robes of a stern headmaster, complete with a disciplinary implement of choice. A variety of additional tools are available for those looking to make new discoveries in class, and there is a designated birching corner complete with an Eton Birching stool. The school theme is of course flexible and the club encourages variety. Traditional leathers, rubbers or even civvies are fine, but don’t be at all surprised if a Scout master takes your entrance fee and explains the rules.
Boyz and Sirs, like many of London’s kink events, operates as a private club. Guests must purchase a temporary “day” membership in addition to their entrance fee, but beyond this, a bit of respect and common sense, particularly regarding smartphones, is all that’s required to join in.
An entirely different set of rules, however, will apply to those who lose their coat-check chit.
Boyz and Sirs is one of the city’s friendliest kink parties, though the crowd does skew slightly older, which really should surprise no one. A good headmaster’s thrashing just doesn’t have the same meaning for a generation that’s never experienced the real thing.
Those who prefer their CP without that theme might want to explore Club CP at Bunker Bar in Shoreditch, which is the UK’s oldest continually operating CP club. Alternatively, Spankz is held weekly at The Underground Club, part of Central Station, an unassuming bar and inn in King’s Cross. This is another of London’s main kink hubs for men, with a broad range of events, including suit and tie, feet, bondage, and play parties.
London also boasts a good variety of mixed, queer fetish parties, including Hard On , Hotwired, Torture Garden, and BiZarre Events . The gender ratio will vary at each event, but those wanting a more traditional community might want to look up the men’s only Motor Sport Club (MSC).. In operation for over 45 years, MSC now meets at Central Station on the third Friday of each month, making it a good alternative for those who miss the Leather Social. They’re also the official organisers for Mr Leather UK.
While chic cocktail lounges may be replacing the down-and-dirty Soho of yore, options are still plentiful for visitors who’d prefer a less polished London. Having seen gentrification close the doors on too many fetish bars in New York, kinky Londoners are not about to take their city’s whitewashing sitting down. Particularly not after an afternoon at Boyz and Sirs.