After London, Brighton has the most active gay scene in England. Aside from vacationers, it's home to gay retirees and executives who commute into central London by train. The town has always had a reputation for tolerance and humor, and according to the jaded owners of some of the town's 20 or so gay bars, more drag queens live within the local Regency town houses than virtually anywhere else in England.
But the gay scene here is a lot less glittery than in London. And don't assume that the south of England is as chic as the south of France. Its international reputation is growing, but despite that, gay Brighton remains thoroughly English, and at times, even a bit dowdy.
A complete, up-to-date roster of the local gay bars is available in any copy of G-Scene magazine (tel. 01273/722457; www.gscene.com), distributed free in gay hotels and bars throughout the south of England. See also "Brighton After Dark," above, for a few popular dance clubs.
Doctor Brighton's Bar, 16 Kings Rd., the Seafront (tel. 01273/328765), is the largest and most consistently reliable choice. The staff expends great energy on welcoming all members of the gay community. In their words, "We get everyone from 18-year-old designer queens to 50-year-old leather queens, and they, along with all their friends and relatives, are welcome." Originally built around 1750, with a checkered past that includes stints as a smuggler's haven and an abortion clinic, it also has more history and more of the feel of an old-time Victorian pub than any of its competitors. It's open Monday to Thursday 2pm to midnight, Friday 2pm to 1am, Saturday 1pm to 1am, and Sunday 1 to 11pm. With no real lesbian bar in town, gay women tend to congregate at Doctor Brighton's.
Two of the town's busiest and most flamboyant gay bars lie within the Legends Hotel. The one with the longer hours is Legends, a pubby, clubby bar with a view of the sea that's open to the public daily from 11am to 11pm and to residents of the Legends Hotel and their guests until 3:30am. Legends features cross-dressing cabarets and women vocalists, while tweedy-looking English matrons and diaphanous Edwardian vamps are portrayed with loads of tongue-in-cheek satire and humor. Legends nightclub is a cellar-level denim and leather joint. The bars are open daily 11pm to 3:30am and charge a £5 cover on the weekend.
The Marlborough, 4 Princes St. (tel. 01273/570028; www.the-marlborough.co.uk), has been a staple on the scene for years. Set across from the Royal Pavilion, this Victorian-style pub has a cabaret theater on its second floor. It remains popular with the gay and, to a lesser degree, straight communities. A changing roster of lesbian performance art and both gay and straight cabaret within the second-floor theater is presented.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.