Probably London’s best-known alternative gay venue, the historic Royal Vauxhall Tavern plays host to comedy, cabaret, jazz, gay, bingo and club nights seven days a week. This ought to be a must-do on every party boy’s list.
Just over the road from Vauxhall tube station on Kennington Lane, it’s hard to miss the round-edged, red-painted Royal Vauxhall Tavern. It’s pretty easy to find, standing proud at the end of the road in a path of grassland just by South Lambeth Road. It looks like a relic from a different era hidden away behind the modern buildings that adorn the Vauxhall Bridge, but once inside the venue that introduced Lily Savage to the world you’ll be happy to see modern sound and light systems were brought in a couple of years ago to give the old place a fresh and younger feel.
The Royal Vauxhall Tavern has long been the retreat of choice for gay Londoners who feel they’ve outgrown the twinkly clubs of Soho but still want to go out and have a good time. That means you’ll see quite a few beardy thirty-something ‘alternative’ gay men (and a few of their straight friends), trying quite consciously to be a little uncool. The punters here can enjoy anything from live music to some hilarious comedy nights, as well as meeting the venue’s homegrown stars such as Amy Lame or the Dame Edna Experience. For nearly fifteen years, Saturday night at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern has played host to their infamous club night, Duckie, which continues to go from strength to strength. The venue has survived numerous attempts by developers to take over the site and build a shopping centre, which has served to increase the loyalty of the regulars. They also take part in regular fundraising for gay charities in the local community.
There’s a distinctly retro vibe to the music policy at the RVT, with a fine selection of indie, glam rock and Eighties electro pop dominating the club nights. At other times, you might catch a drag artist performing the standards, or aspiring pop stars strutting their stuff before they make it big, along with the enduringly popular Readers Wives Fan Club playing regular sets every weekends. If you’re fussy about the kind of music or entertainment on offer, it’s worth paying a visit to the Royal Vauxhall Tavern’s website for a calendar of upcoming events.
Compared to the nearby Vauxhall superclubs or gay bars in Soho, the drinks prices at the RVT are refreshingly reasonable. The bar staff are friendly (even flirty, if you play your cards right), and efficient so long as you’re not asking for anything too complicated. More a bottle of beer venue than a cocktail bar.
The Last Word
This word is thrown about too freely, but the Royal Vauxhall Tavern really is an institution on the London scene. Ditch the fake tan and muscle Marys for the night, and head out to enjoy a fun gay venue that’s not all about posing.