So we’re flying across the ocean, over the pond, as it were, on
(because why not, it’s our anniversary, a special one at that, and
how lovely to fly at 38,000 feet in something as luxurious as a
cruise ship or the Orient Express – 48 seats on a 757 jet built for
220 passengers – and we’re talking vases of fresh flowers, white
dahlias – hello? – and in the bathrooms as well – and each sleeping
compartment has 21 square feet and a six-foot-six-inch fully-flat
bed, so it’s more like a small apartment, actually – and large
enough for two people to have dinner face-to-face, on white linen
and bone china, cocktails galore, before bidding adieu for a
full-night’s sleep – complete with a snuggle sleeper suit in teal
blue jersey – hello? We’re gagging at the indulgence of it all! Bose
Noise Cancelling headphones and entertainment consoles and all this
after utilizing the Emirates Lounge at JFK, which was rather like a
gentlemen’s club in London).
So we’re feeling
fine. No problems. It’s been a few years – okay, five – since
we’ve last popped over to London, and we’re remembering what Samuel
Johnson once said, about how “when a man is tired of London, he is
tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
Afford being the operative word, given the weakness of the
American dollar against the almighty British pound, but no matter,
there’s always a contrary view, as expressed by Sweeney Todd, where
Sondheim has him spitting venomously, “There’s a hole in the
world like a great black pit and the vermin of the world inhabit it
and its morals aren’t worth what a pin can spit and it goes by the
name of London.” Oh, sounds perfect for us.
And as if to
corroborate, we’re perusing an issue of the New Yorker and
here’s Rupert Murdoch, press baron, weighing in, saying that he’s
shocked by Britain these days and that “it has become totally
Now we know for sure:
we’re off to the right place – to celebrate.
It’s not even a
bank holiday weekend – read: three-day weekend, with no work on
Monday – but after we’ve settled in on the corner of Pall Mall and
Waterloo Place at the
(read: swank and delicious in that Paris meets London way: French
hauteur combined with British cool, and all the help looking as if
they’ve stepped off a catwalk, for a smoke), we’re off to meet our
pretty Britty boyz at
on Old Compton Street. British boyz and their pubs. Their beers.
They hang on street corners like the girls used to in the
Meatpacking District. It’s a Friday after work. It’s drizzling, of
course. London without drizzle? Inconceivable.
Then we’re dashing to
Rupert Street, where there’s such a crush at the door, you’d swear
Jude Law was on his knees, working. This little bar is packed to
the gills – with representatives from all over. It’s a gay United
Nations. No wonder the summer Olympics will be held in London. And
these boyz are off and running already – to Vauxhall, which is
pronounced VOX-hall and derived from the Russian for “amusement
park.” Also known as Vauxhall Gay Village, and interestingly enough,
located directly across the street from the massive headquarters of
the British Secret Intelligence Service (aka MI6). Vauxhall: the
gay midway in the carnival that is London.
ourselves there on Saturday. It’s a cab ride from the West End. An
almost-mile-long series of eighteenth-century brick arches, and
under each arch, there’s a club or a bar, cavernous, some of them,
and all of them with queues out in front, with doorman and ropes and
stanchions. It’s club row. It’s a sideshow. A midway – whatever
you want, it’s all there, ripe for the picking.
Ultra at Area,
Chariots, the Roman sauna, and
Menthol at Club Factory,
and the night before, it was
Fiction at the Cross
(where George Michael goes – that is, when he’s not to be found at
Hampstead Heath….), and
A:M at Fire,
and frankly, the choices are all so overwhelming we’re grateful that
we’re in good hands.
Paul and Chris,
have been on it, charting it all out for us, and of course, this
being London and them being denizens of this den of inequity, they
A:M at Fire
through Saturday morn and now it’s Saturday night and so willingly
we follow their lead. We trust them. We first met them at the pool
in South Beach, where they’d traveled to meet Paul’s aunt Betty
Jean, but of course the real reason they were in South Beach was
so we knew right then we’d found soulmates for life.
And now we’re
perusing the gay rags, one of which has Boy George on its cover and
the other with George Michael. How perfect, how gay! Two legendary
sex and drug sluts! No sex, please, we’re British. HA! This
Vauxhall nabe makes Chelsea in New York look like a sandbox. These
boyz are serious about playing. And they come from all over – and an
abundance of them from the Iberian peninsula – and can we say yum?
them hopping. And there’s no question it’s not just the beer here.
Happy smiling faces. It’s sizzling hot. More like South Beach in
July. We make our way to the dance floor. We were just going to
have a beer or two. Call it an early night. HA! Not once the
groove starts happening.
We should have known.
Earlier in the evening, we’d found ourselves atop the National
Theatre overlooking the Thames. It was barely five p.m. And
everyone was there for – fireworks. Fireworks at five. London at
five – is dark. Night starts at five. Which means there’s a lot of
nighttime to use. A lot of hours for vampires.
So why fight
it? So many frisky boyz in
It’s Saturday. It’s one a.m. and they’re just getting started. So
we give in – and before long, we’re outside walking with the droves
of boyz heading to the next stop:
Horizon at Fire.
every-day club. We have no idea when they clean it. Fire’s kind of
like the subway in New York – it’s always running. And it’s packed
on Saturday night. It’s a funky house mash-up with three rooms and
each one with its own beat. Red chandeliers sway in the Main Room
with tracks of blue lights and there’s a woman named Tonnic on a
box. Sing out, Louise. And a snakelike sexy sylph with his head
completely encased in black leather. There’s a version of Pink
Floyd’s “The Wall” which has the boyz creaming and then “Last Night
(A Deejay Saved My Life). It’s not completely what we’re expecting
musically – which is not to say that it keeps us from moving.
Everything flows, better than we might imagine if we were to break
it into separate parts, and maybe because, as much as anything, it’s
clear to us that we’re partying in the gayest scene in Europe.
We hear the stories:
about the bartender from Crete who used to be with the hottie named
Salvador from Mexico City, but now he’s with the Vietnamese who
escaped Saigon as a boat person who now owns nail salons all over
London, and his Thai friend who’s a fluffer for the gay rags, for
all the escorts, all of whom, incidentally, advertise full frontal
and hard, no blackouts, no smudges, it’s all there for your
purchasing pleasure, no unhappy surprises, and clearly, no doubt
about it, London is a hotbed of carnal action.
On Sunday, we pass a
statue along the Thames with an inscription that reads “He rode upon
a cherub and did fly.” Well, maybe not a cherub. Probably not an
angel – but no doubt he did fly. Flight being what seems almost
second nature for this group of hedonists. Rupert Murdoch was
right: they’re omnivorous.
We, of course, have
crawled into bed on Sunday with the dawn (eos, as the Greeks would
have it), but our pretty Britty boyz have wandered onward, as has
much of the city – and not to church, in spite of the proliferation
of spires on the London skyline.
We pass by a
theatre, where a placard announces that a certain actor gives “a
sassy performance.” Uh, hmm. That’s exactly what these London boyz
offer. And that’s what we’re anticipating when we head to
Sunday night. For some months now, we’ve been hearing about this
club and particularly its bank holiday parties: the Sunday nights
when no one works on Monday and everyone heads to
There’s a queue out in front, but also there’s a lovely woman named
Sophie who takes care of us and offers to show us around. Actually,
no, we’d rather stumble in by ourselves, cameras in hand. Find what
we will, see what there is. First off, it’s big.
Fabric is one
of those old meatpacking buildings. Where the meat was stored.
Perfect: meat in an earlier life, and now meat again.
It’s only past
midnight and the boyz are pouring in. Funny how it is that boyz
around the world know exactly when to arrive: en masse. There are
wide staircases and long paneled halls, and everything very clean
and well-managed. Still, it could be confusing; you might wish for
a road map. We’re standing at the base of two staircases, wondering
which one to take and this girl says, “You don’t wanna go up there,
honeys. That’s the straight room.” Which is a relative term here
on this island of hedonists…
Huge sets of
double doors lead into the three various rooms, and thereafter, we
follow a labyrinthine series of curved stairwells and hallways lined
with lounges and beds and low lighting and lasers and up a staircase
to a balcony where the sweetness of marijuana is thick and where we
overlook the main room which is where the boyz have congregated.
There’s a dancing silhouette, a kind of Keith Haring figure, which
is the club’s icon, and he’s everywhere, in black light and yellow,
and on video screens and painted on the walls: a kind of reminder as
to what we’re all here for. Dance, fools, dance. Posted around the
club is a schedule with the lists of deejays, a total of eight
different deejays doing two-hour sets in the three rooms. As well
as live visuals and live percussion and--
Then there’s the crowd. Young and happy, celebratory and giddy.
Romantic and silly. And a song that reminds us to “Lose control.
You’re all VIP.” So democratic, the British. There are girls, real
girls, and one of them hooking up with two Brazilian hotties by way
of South Beach. You know the look. And the three of them have the
group of us—looking. Voyeurs all. And in the bathrooms, the usual:
dicks measured by the meter. There’s sex and plenty of it, and
whatever happened to British reserve? Long ago infected by those
Iberian beats, apparently. And when we find
Chris and Paul,
they’re with this twenty-year-old Brazilian who they’d first seen
out on Friday night – and he’s just told them he hasn’t slept, not
a wink since then. Easy pickins’…
The floor feels
padded, easy on the feet. And the boys have pelvic motion. And the
song admonishes us to “werk it out. London, werk it out. San
Francisco, werk it out. Detroit, werk it out.” And we’re having
it. And so is the crowd, and something about their happiness, their
joy, reminds us of a stat that we’d read in the gay rags, about how
only 1 in 100 gay men in England has tried crystal meth. Tina’s not
a bitch, not here, not yet, and there’s less edginess on these
pretty faces, and maybe that’s also why these boyz are not pushy-shovey.
Instead, they’re perfectly happy to hear “Big Love.” Again. And
again. We count it played three times. And each time, the roar
from the crowd gets bigger. “I’ve been saving my lovin’…” Well,
it’s doubtful that anyone in this crowd has been saving anything –
and least of all anything in their pants, but never mind… It’s the
thought that counts. Because the other song that seems to werk
them to the bone is “I can’t get enough.” Yeah. Uh, huh.
Exactly. That’s London for you: can’t get enough.
And it’s such a
pleasant atmosphere to get just what you want. We’re particularly
struck by a bathroom attendant who turns to a guy just emerging from
a stall – and tells him to wipe under his nose. How thoughtful is
that? So considerate, these British. And back out on the floor,
we’re all moving to “Oh ma corazon” – or at least that’s how we’re
hearing it. Everyone’s singing, so we do too – like we know what
we’re singing. Something about our hearts and how we’re loving it
all. We’re photographing the boyz who werk for the lens and then
want to do it all over again. Please, please, please, take
another one. I look awful in that one. Oh, all right.
We could stay here all
night. There’s so much to see. We could hang at this long table we
find which would look great in our country house – if we still had
one. A big-ass table with boyz dancing atop it, and our eyes on
their moneymakers. Perfection. “Now please remind me how we were
ever more than friends?” But we’re Americans. Calvinists by
lineage, not hedonists. We have to find a bed where we can kneel –
for confession. HA! Hardly.
We kiss our way off the floor and head for coat check. We’re
heading back to the plushness of our bed at the
St. James –
while everyone else is heading on – to the next stop. To Vauxhall,
Later at Fire,
Open, to Bearcode…. To anything they want, wherever they end up.
Oh, Londontown. It has
hundreds of years on New York. Hundreds of years of practice,
before New York was even a thought. There’s no sin left unturned.
No wonder they do it right, and often, and on and on. As Sondheim
has it, as Sweeney Todd sings it, “I have sailed the world and seen
its wonders…but there’s no place like London.”
Check it out for yourself.