RuPaul’s Drag Race UK has thrust the British drag scene under the international spotlight. London remains the UK city with the biggest queer scene and the most options for drag fans.
The following are just some of the more well-known places to enjoy the finest talent and bitchiest put-downs. Heckle at your peril!
The Royal Vauxhall Tavern
This fantastic old pub is a true London institution. It’s been standing on the site since the 1860s and attracting gay, trans and bi customers for decades. Drag entertainment is part of its DNA, and it now hosts a wide variety of entertainment throughout the week.
Recommended are Timberlina’s Bingo on Monday and Tuesday night’s Bar Wotever: for boys, girls, trans, non-binary and ‘wotever’, including admirers of drag kings.
Saturday night club Duckie (running for over 20 years) is always packed to the rafters and has weekly entertainment, while there’s usually drag entertainment during the Sunday afternoon dance session (RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Charlie Hides – pictured above – had a long-running Sunday residency here).
The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, 372 Kennington Lane, London SE11 5HY.
The Two Brewers
Regulars may affectionately refer to this South London institution as ‘The Two Sewers” but don’t let that put you off… it was probably a drag queen who coined the phrase!
This is a large, long-running neighborhood gay bar that’s been running since the 1980s. Cabaret has been a staple part of its appeal since it launched, with a purpose-built stage capable of holding mini-theatre productions. Every British drag queen worth their salt has trod its boards at one stage or another.
There’s a club room open at weekends, with entertainment of one variety or other every night. Sunday’s ‘Power of Three’, with a triple bill of drag, is a popular session.
The Two Brewers, 114 Clapham High Street, London, SW4 7UJ.
G-A-Y is London’s biggest gay nightclub, attracting up to 2,000 customers each Saturday night to Heaven in Charing Cross. The brand also operates a G-A-Y Bar in Soho and G-A-Y Late sister venue.
Although better known as a club than a cabaret venue (it’s hosted gigs from Madonna, Britney, Mariah Carey, Lady Gaga, among others), it also plays regular host to Drag Race alumni. Many have appeared as guest judges for its weekly Porn Idol contest, when customers strip for prizes, and they always take part in meet and greet sessions with fans.
G-A-Y at Heaven, Under The Arches, Villiers Street, London, WC2N 6NG.
Halfway to Heaven
This central London bar is just off Trafalgar Square, in the shadows of the National Portrait Gallery and Nelson’s Column. The first floor provides a traditional pub atmosphere, while the basement offers more late-night fun and shenanigans, including drag almost every night of the week. Residents include Martha D’Artha and Miss Penny, who alternate on Wednesdays, with Mrs Moore, Rose Garden, Vixens and CK (Crystal and Kelly) on weekends, along with many guests.
Halfway to Heaven, 7 Duncannon Street, London, WC2N 4JF.
The Admiral Duncan
In the heart of gay London, on Soho’s Old Compton Street, it’s difficult to miss the bright purple exterior of the Admiral Duncan. The long-running bar holds a sacred place in the hearts of many gay Londoners: it was the scene of a tragic terrorist bomb attack in the mid-90s. However, with the support of the community, it returned and remains a welcoming beacon to all those looking for a fun, queer evening out.
Its drag cabaret is one of its biggest attractions. RPDR UK contestants Baga Chipz and Sum Ting Won are regular performers, alongside the likes of Sandra, Mary Mac, and Cookie Monsta.
Admiral Duncan, 54 Old Compton Street, London, W1D 4UB.
It’s been estimated that London lost approximately 50% of its queer venues between 2007 and 2017. Like many other cities, rising rents and other factors have prompted a shrinkage of the scene. Bucking the trend is The Glory, opened in East London in 2014 by a bunch of friends, including alt-drag stars Jonny Woo (pictured top) and John Sizzle (above).
Through scheduling a rotating line-up of different shows and events throughout the week, The Glory has become the go-to venue of the Dalston/Shoreditch hipster set.
A little further out of central London than some of the venues mentioned above, its shows and special events are nonetheless worth the journey.
The Glory, 281 Kingsland Road, London E2 8AS.