Brighton has an estimated gay male population of over 25,000: that's about one
in five of its men or four kilometres of dick. Gloriously out of season, OutUK's rampant
global rambler Adrian Gillan makes his first visit to the UK's gayest resort.
I'd toured the gay globe from Cairo to Moscow. I'd even done Bournemouth and Torquay.
But I'd never made Brighton. |
So with a troubled soul, and an entourage of mental
baggage, I took the hour's train trek south to this queer oasis, like some poor
boy visiting his rumoured papa, absent since birth.
Palace Pier (c) Visit Brighton - Adam Bronkhorst
The thoughts flitting through my fuddled brain! A well-to-do homo haven down by the
sea enjoying queer allegiance the length of the Downs; all men gay; half of them
old and in Hove; militant youths ambushing arrogant Londoners down for the day,
jealously guarding this Southern gay capital separatist state; sizeable yet small
enough to have an identity and community and teach others how to Pride.
Wilde, Bosie, Rattigan, Olivier, Novello, Woolf: they'd all loved it. If new boy
Newcastle were the Barcelona of the North, then - I mused as the train pulled in - might
old boy Brighton actually be that fabled, post-colonial San Fran of the South - the
long-established gay Mecca to which all us queers must flock?
Our Gay Brighton Story begins when randy royal raver Prince Regent escaped London
back in the 1770s. Though straight - and no port or sailors here - he brought with
him an air of flamboyance and devil-may-care that made the town a natural colony
for rich queers in tow. |
The word got out and thousands flocked to a
place by a Southern sea an hour from London but a million miles away in spirit.
Brighton Pride (c) Visit Brighton - David Matthews
But it is only with legality in recent decades that a visible gay quarter
has emerged around St James's Street and Old Steine, stretching along the front
from the Palace Pier into the area called Kemptown, or 'Camptown' as now is.
Forget Graham Greene's post-war Pinkie gangster land: the whole area is now awash
with those lovely sweet Gay Mafia types - more Brighton Cock than Rock these days.
Its most famous landmarks are the Royal Pavilion (which acted as a kind of royal
beach hut for Prince Regent) and the Palace Pier. Between the pavilion and the sea
are the Lanes - a maze of narrow walkways which house shops, bars and cafes.
GAY PUBS & BARS
You'll find most of Brighton's gay venues in and around Kemp Town
(known locally as Camp Town). Handily, all are within staggering distance of each other.
The Bulldog, in St James Street, was built in 1875 and use to be a
mortuary. I'm tempted to bung in a sentence about stiffs here, but I'll resist.
A traditional boozer that attracts a mixed bag of fags, the Bulldog holds regular
charity nights and raises heaps of money for local HIV/AIDS organisations.
Probably the cheapest gay bar in the town it has a happy hour from 10pm-11pm. Entertainment includes
cabaret on Sundays.
The Marine Tavern (13 Broad St; T: 01273 681 284) joins a crowd of other
traditional Kemptown bars that generally cater for the older set.
Understandable in perhaps the UK's gayest acreage, many oldie pubs too numerous
to mention here - Queensbury Arms (Queensbury Mews; T: 01273 328 159) and Camelford Arms
(Camelford St; T: 01273 622 386) included - are shamelessly gay-friendly.
Wouldn't last long around these parts if you weren't!|
Indeed, in an almost prophetic Utopian vision, many a style bar, eaterie, boutique
and gallery have sprung up the entire length of St James's Street in the last five
years, cashing in on the local gay surge, attracting a mix of stylish, moneyed gays
and strays, side by side - and scarce a rainbow in sight. Look out for Dr
328765) a friendly, old fashioned pub on the
seafront popular with an
The all-in-one Amsterdam, (11-12 Marine Parade; T: 01273 688825) hotel-bar-sauna
multiplex pulls in travellers from afar who strangely fancy everything under one roof.
Though there are better saunas around, the bar heaves in the summer with its patio
facing the sea.
The Queen's Arms (George Street; T: 01273 696 873) is probably the liveliest, campest
pub in town with regular drag acts and karaoke laid on throughout the week for a
drunken cheery pre-club crowd. Or you might try the slightly out-on-a-limb Harlequin
(43 Providence Place; T: 01273 620 630) for an equally energised but more alternative
Brighton Drag Show (c) Visit Brighton
Legends (31-32 Marine Parade; T: 01273 624 462) down by the
front has well nigh defied all known gay laws of design to keep up with the pack. There's
a hotel, bar, terrace and club all in one place!
Almost next door, Charles Street (Marine Parade; T: 01273 624 091) - something like the
Soho Rupert Street bar but bigger - is the real style-meister on the map, with
capacity for 500, many of whom are left queuing at the long bar, if not busy making
their big entrance or exit down the illuminated ramp. It divides opinion - self-consciously
trashy to some, design heaven to others. Decide for yourself.
Brighton Clubbing & Sleeping