London’s History-Filled LGBT Pub: Visit When Coronavirus is Over

Royal Vauxhall Tavern London
Royal Vauxhall Tavern by Tom Morris / Wikimedia Commons

Standing out in a mostly residential, highly unassuming area of South London is Britain's first ever gay pub that continues to make a roaring trade supporting the LGBTQ+ community.

The Royal Vauxhall Tavern (RVT) is hard to miss. A fascinatingly rounded building with no other property attached to it, it sits on a busy main road just south of the river.

Unsurprisingly that place is Vauxhall.

To any passer-by it would just be another London pub. Granted, one that looks quite welcoming and friendly but somewhere selling pints and pub grub, like you'd get anywhere.

Until you look a bit closer. In reality it's a lot more than just another pub.

Royal Vauxhall Tavern
The RVT since 1863. (Google Maps)

Where it began

The RVT was built back in 1863 and named after the Royal Gardens, Vauxhall - the famous pleasure gardens that had stood where the pub was built until 1859. The gardens were a place that people from all classes, backgrounds and identities could have fun together.

They even played host to London's first ever known drag queen, Princess Seraphina, who could often be found in Vauxhall in the 1730s.

With the pub's performance scene really taking off during the 1940s, it has played host to LGBT punters and performers since the 1940s and today it continues to put on events and club nights to support this community.

From their regular Duckie club night to cabaret to a Harry Potter quiz, it organises so many amazing events which both locals and tourists flock to.

Famous Visitors

Moving into the 1970s and 80s, the venue gained more and more status so it became a key location for drag performances.

Paul O'Grady started performing at the Tavern as Lily Savage in the 1980s  before she was a famous name. One night, at the height of the AIDs hysteria when it was believed you could catch the disease by touching someone, the police burst in to do a drugs raid.

A riot ended up breaking out and Lily was carried off stage by police.

The pub also became a place of sadness. Thousands of gay men died from HIV/AIDs during the eighties and so groups began gathering there after friends' funerals.

Princess Diana
Princess Diana once snuck into the RVT (Image: Coventry Telegraph Archive)

Perhaps its most famous moment happened on a random Friday night in 1988.

Four friends were drinking in a flat and decided they wanted to go out to the RVT.

Those friends were comedian Kenny Everett, Queen front man Freddie Mercury, performer Cleo Rocos and none other than Diana, Princess of Wales.

The royal princess decided she wanted to join the others on the night out and so they dressed her in a leather cap, aviators and a camouflage jacket and actually managed to smuggle her in without anyone noticing who she was.

Rocos wrote in her memoir: "When we walked in we felt she would be discovered at any minute.

"But people just seemed to blank her. She sort of disappeared. She loved it."

Today there is no stopping the RVT as it continues to host incredible events including drag nights and other alternative performances.

Recently, in 2015, the pub was saved from redevelopment and given Grade II listed status after a huge campaign to prevent it from being destroyed. The likes of Sir Ian McKellen, Graham Norton and Paul O'Grady supported the campaign.

London may be in lockdown now so the Royal Vauxhall, like all other pubs, is closed, but as soon as entertainment venues re-open, you will be able to enjoy its array of incredible offerings once more.

Reported by Lucy Skoulding for