Pride in London is, at the end of the day, a jolly fun celebration – so for our third Pride Profile, we’re looking at iconic party spot the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.
Few venues inspire as much devotion, as much reverence, as the inimitable Royal Vauxhall Tavern. The haunt of celebrities, drag queens, and the great and good of the LGBT community, the rich and storied history of the RVT is a colourful tale, woven into the fabric of the city’s nightlife. In fact, it’s so revered that in 2015, it became the first building in the UK to gain Grade II-listed status on the basis of its importance to the LGBT community. It remains closed in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, but has been given a £20,000 grant to ensure its survival, as part of Lambeth Council’s Local Economy Hardship Fund – helping safeguard this vital space hopefully for many years to come. Here’s all you need to know about the Royal Vauxhall Tavern! [Featured image: @chrisjepson]
First things first, the Royal Vauxhall Tavern has a long, proud history as a party destination, having been built on the site of the old Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens – and even built with the venue’s leftover bricks. Though the building has been a licensed public house since the 1860s, the Royal Vauxhall Tavern’s beginnings as a nightlife hub began after WW2, when the first drag shows took to the stage.
By the 1970s, drag acts and gay men mixed with local workers, making the tavern a progressive, inclusive space which continues to this day – now an all-week venue, the RVT continues to go from strength to strength as south London’s oldest surviving LGBT venue. A vision in worn red velvet and disco balls, the Royal Vauxhall Tavern is a remarkably down to earth place, with an atmosphere that makes most everyone feel instantly at home.
One look at their celebrity guests, and you can be sure they’ve earned the ‘Royal’ moniker; Princess Diana was reportedly smuggled into the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in the 1980s dressed as a man, for a night out with Freddie Mercury and Kenny Everett. Oh to be a fly on the wall of that sesh! Mercury himself was a regular in the 70s, and Paul O’Grady’s drag persona Lily Savage got her start right here. It’s still a draw today; in the past month, Drag Race icon Bianca del Rio and ‘Tales of the City’ author Armistead Maupin have both hosted events there, and Belinda Carlisle will pay a visit in July.
Keeping alive the wild hedonism of the past, The Royal Vauxhall Tavern still ranks amongst the must-visit spots for city nightowls. Regular nights include “bingo-cabaret-mayhem” on Mondays, an innovative night of wildly-inclusive LGBT and Queer performance at Bar Wotever on Tuesdays, and on Saturday, it’s the turn of legendary Duckie.
An RVT stalwart for over twenty years, Duckie was co-founded by current London Night Czar Amy Lamé, who’s something of a Royal Vauxhall Tavern sweetheart, having also helped save the place from developers a few years back. Rock ‘n’ roll, honky tonk, and performance art slam together in a glorious club night that gleefully resists being pigeonholed, with vaunted DJs The Readers Wives on hand to marshal punters to the dancefloor.
Whatever the occasion, you can be sure the Royal Vauxhall Tavern will be rammed; the place doesn’t exactly know the meaning of the words “quiet night”. In a city which finds nightlife spaces – in particular LGBT nightlife spaces – increasingly under threat, one can only hope the RVT keeps the party going for many years to come.
Location: 372 Kennington Lane, Vauxhall, SE11 5HY. Nearest station is Vauxhall. See it on Google Maps.
Opening hours: 7pm-midnight (Mon-Thu), 7pm-4am (Fri), 9pm-4am (Sat), 4pm-10:30pm (Sun).
Entry: varies from event to event, but it’s all nice and reasonable.
More information: from their website.
Also published on Medium.