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Lost Gay Bars of Earl’s Court, London

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It may be hard to imagine, but there was a time when Soho and Vauxhall weren’t the centre of gay nightlife in London. 

Way back in the 1970s and 1980s Earl’s Court was THE place to be, with a bustling gay scene offering a number of different cafes and bars to meet a stranger or dance the night away. 

Here’s a round up and celebration of the bars that may be gone, but will never be forgotten!

Before we get started, do you have any memories from the lost gay bars of Earl’s Court that you want to share?

Are there any bars or clubs that are missing from this list?

Get in touch and let me know (and there are always bonus points if you share embarrassing photos)! 

Lost Gay Bars of Earl's Court

1960s

Lord Ranelagh

Where: 294 Old Brompton Road, Earl’s Court

When opened: 1964

When closed: 1980s

The story behind this one is wonderful.

The pub wasn’t a gay bar until, in 1964, a band called The Downtowners, who played there regularly, came up with a little gimmick for their gigs.

They convinced a number of local drag queens to come into the pub and perform alongside them.

And, before they knew it, they had set the wheels in motion for the Queen of the Month contest.

From then on, every Saturday night between September 1964 until May 1965, the bar was full of revellers cheering on a gaggle of competitors for the crown. 

Things went supersonic after the newspaper News of the World heaped scorn on the night, running a critical article entitled “This Show Must Not Go On.”

Rather than deterring audiences, of course, this drew them in, and the crowd was so huge that it spilled out on to the street. And, before the night was over the police had to come along and shut the whole thing down.

In the 80s the bar changed its name to ‘Bromptons’, which it is perhaps best known as (see full entry further in this article). 

1970s

The Copacabana

Where: 180-182 Earl’s Court Road

When opened: late 70s

When closed: transitioned to a non-gay bar in the late 90s.

gay earl's court clones lostThe Copacabana (or just Copa’s if you’re in the know) opened on Earls Court Road in the late 1970s, and is remembered as the first public nightclub aimed at a gay clientele.

It was at The Copacabana where you could see all the fashions and posturing from the Clone scene – a fashion movement that started in the Castro district of San Francisco, but quickly made its way over to the UK.

Clones adopted the dress and style of an idealised working-class man (with plenty of pencil-thin moustaches and tight jeans for good measure).

Harpoon Louis

Where:180-182 Earl’s Court Road

When opened: 1983

When closed: 1997

Also known as Harpies and Louies, Harpo’s and Banana Max. 

This bar was upstairs from The Copacabana and provided a more laid-back atmosphere and live performances. 

The site is currently a chain of the Filipino fast food restaurant Jollibee. 

The Masquerade Club

Where: 310 Earl’s Court Road

When opened: 1972

When closed: ?

A dingy cellar nightclub beneath a laundrette with two separate rooms. 

Because of the quirk in licensing laws at the time the bar was unable to serve alcohol unless it also served food. This meant you could always find someone munching on salad or stale bread left out to appease the authorities. 

The club was known for playing the coolest new disco and soul records for the sweaty crowd. 

 

“If you got there early enough, you’d have this sort of like spam supper served to you… two slices of white bread, a leaf of salad, and some presumably spam, which, actually, we were all starving, so we ate it…”

Princess Julia on Lost Spaces

Listen & Subscribe for Free:  Apple Podcasts  |  Spotify  | Google PodcastsEverywhere Else

The Coleherne

Where: 261 Old Brompton Road, Earl’s Court

When opened: 1970s

When closed: 2008

the coleherne earl's court gay bar

Talk to any self-respecting gay-of-a-certain-age about Earl’s Court back in the day, and The Coleherne is bound to be the first bar they mention. 

Though it long had a reputation as a bohemian haven, and attracted a mixed clientele that included many queer people, it wasn’t until the 1970s that the bar officially became a gay bar.

And not just any gay bar – a leather bar! 

With the change came all of the things you’d expect – blacked-out windows, notoriety, and a shift in clientele.

The bar unfortunately had tragedy surrounding it – three separate serial killers have used it as a stalking ground for their victims. The most well-known of these, Colin Ireland, also referred to as ‘The Gay Slayer’,  murdered five men he met at The Coleherne.

In the mid-1990s the bar shifted its focus once more, becoming a regular gay bar in order to attract more customers. The shift did little to maintain the business, and the bar unfortunately closed in 2008. 

It is now a gastropub called The Pembroke. 

Interestingly, in 2021 it was reported that a former DJ at the pub plans to resurrect the venue in Taunton, a small town about 165 miles south west from London. 

The Boltons

Where: 326 Earl’s Court Road, Earl’s Court

When opened: 1970s

When closed: early 1990s

The Boltons, which originally opened in 1892, became a gay bar in the 1970s. 

Throughout the 1980s it gained a reputation as a sleazy bar you would only go to for rent boys and drugs. 

In an effort to clean the space up the brewery that owned the pub changed its focus in the 1990s, and it has not been gay since. 

The bar still exists to this day – a little less seedy and a lot more chi-chi (£14 for a burger – seriously?).

The Catacombs

Where: Finborough Road, Earls Court

When opened: 1970s

When closed: early 1980s

catacombs earl's court gay bar lostWant to hear a depressing story about gentrification?

The Catacombs, which was a basement club playing the latest disco tunes on its packed dancefloor is now an overpriced townhouse.

Converted in 2009 by Edoardo Mapelli-Mozzi, who happens to be married to Princess Beatrice, the two-bedroom property sold in 2021 for £3million. 

Imagine how many bottles of poppers that could buy you…

1980s

Philbeach Hotel

Where: Philbeach Gardens, Earl’s Court

When opened: 1981

When closed: 2008

It wasn’t just gay bars and clubs in Earl’s Court. Being the centre of gay life in London an entire industry sprung up in the area, including hotels for gay tourists. 

The Philbeach Hotel was a gay-owned Bed and Breakfast, offering a place to crash once all the bars and clubs had closed. 

With 35 rooms across 3 floors it was one of the largest gay hotels in all of Europe. 

Spare a thought for the cleaners of the hotel. Philbeach gained a reputation for being quite cruisy, and it was common for men to get up to all sorts of shenanigans in the rooms or the communal bathroom.  

Brompton's

Where: 294 Earl’s Court Road, Earl’s Court

When opened: 1984

When closed: 2008

bromptons earl's court gay bars lostIn the 1980s Lord Ranelagh changed its name to Brompton’s, and an iconic gay bar was born. 

Considered to be friendlier than The Coleherne, the bar attracted less of a leather crowd and had more of a Clone vibe. 

It was here that Clone Zone, the chain of gay superstores, had its fledgling start, setting up a stall inside the bar where they sold imported merchandise to customers.  

1990s

Earl's

Where: 180 Earl’s Court Road, Earl’s Court

When opened: 1997

When closed: ?

Opened on the site of Harpoon Louis following its closure.

There is not much information about this venue online, but it reportedly catered for a younger clientele than other bars in the area. 

Stiffy's

Where: 294 Earl’s Court Road, Earl’s Court

When opened: late 1990s

When closed: ?

In the late 1990s, Stiffy’s opened in the upstairs section of Brompton’s. 

2000s

Infinity

Where: 294 Earl’s Court Road, Earl’s Court

When opened: 2008

When closed: ?

After Brompton’s closed Infinity opened in its place. 

It wasn’t long, though, before this bar had its day, and the building that housed so much gay history was knocked down in 2014. 

Other places of note

Freddie Mercury's Residence

Where: Logan Place, W8

earl's courtIf you needed any more proof that Earl’s Court was the centre of gay London life in the 1980s then you need look no further than the celebrity residents of the area. 

And no star shone as bright as Freddie Mercury, lead singer of Queen, who lived here from 1980 until his death in 1991. 

Though it’s been cleaned up now, for many years fans visited and left messages of love on the wall surrounding the property. 

Are there any bars or clubs that are missing from this list?

Any memories from the lost gay bars of Earl’s Court that you want to share?

Get in touch and let me know (and there are always bonus points if you share embarrassing photos)!