Jack Cullen


GT’s back-bench blogger Jack Cullen gives up Soho for Lent in order to discover what’s so cool about East London’s gay scene…

I’ve lived in London for two years now and I still don’t really understand the East. The misconception is that it’s dark, hard to travel around, no cash machines, lunatics and troublemakers pacing the streets, and lots of arty types smugly clinging onto dead-end trends, surviving on a diet of coke, salt-beef bagels and James Long’s last Tweet.

And yet a lot of people reside in East London deliberately. Turner Prize nominees abandon Norfolk to squat in Spitalfields whilst high-brow magazine editors put two fingers up to Twickenham to set up home in Hackney. Everywhere you look there’s an A-list hair salon or a budget-busting bakery. East London is unquestionably the more happening end of our capital.

No matter how fun it is to take the piss out of the Shoreditch set, like in the YouTube phenomena Being A Dickhead’s Cool, part of that loathing is fuelled by envy. Despite being stuffed with expensive art-house meccas like Shoreditch House and The Boundary, the whole of East London is a psychological private members club that outsiders want to get in on. Not only is it big and bad but it’s starkly intimidating in a way that is addictive, provocative and masochistic.

“So where’s good for gays in East London on a Friday?” I boldly ask an assembled crowd of coolness on Brick Lane, to which I receive a round of looks from cute fashion PR interns that says “Oh God – please go home to NW6 and leave us alone before your night bus turns into a pumpkin cup-a-soup”.

“Well, um” one boy starts, looking me up and down assessing how much he’s allowed to give away “There’s the George & Dragon and The Joiners, or there’s Dalston Superstore, or you could go to Vauxhall”. This last part is injected with encouragement like ‘Please leave us alone now and follow your stupid oafish trainers all the way to Vauxhall’

Then, suddenly, someone who is genuinely cool, plucks a flyer out of his handbag and slams it on the coffee table like a royal flush…

“DISCO FAG BAR at East Bloc!”

“Now THAT’s a good place to start your gay East London adventure Jack!” he delights. The image is a pop art cartoon of a 1970s NYC clone. It looks good.

“OH EAST BLOC” wheezes the first boy like he just remembered “It’s by Exit 8 of Old Street” he reads off the flyer but as if it’s his own knowledge, “quite good, the kind of place that not everyone knows about yet. So, yeah, pretty good, but it depends” he finishes, confusingly as if he’s still reading off the flyer.

So I decide to make DISCO FAG BAR my destination tonight. Three simple words that sum up what I want out of my Friday night.

Well, admittedly ‘fag’ is quite a complex word with lots of cultural baggage, but one I’ve always secretly enjoyed, whether it’s being hurled at me with an empty beer can in Brent Cross or dropped neatly into the dialogue of an early Bret Easton Ellis novel . There’s something pathetic and trashy and about ‘fag’, like a come-drenched towel falling to a boy’s ankles. Yet at the same time ‘fag’ has a rather silky demure to it, like the sun shining off an Italian’s first moped.

You wouldn’t get a night called DISCO FAG BAR in Soho these days. No, not in the nouveau-puritan age of the twenty-teens.

REVIEW: Disco Fag Bar @ East Bloc

The music is “an underground mash-up of electro disco, hi nrg, synth pop and filthy house”, the highlight of which is an extended house remix of Message In A Bottle.

The venue is small and could be busier, but the atmosphere is nice, with respectful and personable security on the door (something that rockets any club into my high score table), reasonable drinks prices (3 quid something for a vodka mixer), and some cute Moroccan seating areas in the back.

There are a surprising amount of French clubbers.

My friend is disappointed by the lack of sex going on - “Everyone here has a boyfriend or is in love with themselves”. One clubber certainly is, dressed as an erotic dandy pirate, his signature dance move is caressing his shoulders as if building up an imaginary Radox lather.

The best moment of the night is when we meet a girl called Coldine:

“You know your name is an addictive painkiller in America?”

“REALLY?! People in AMERICA are ADDICTED to MEEE?” she tries to do give us a military salute but loses her balance and instead falls over dramatically into a pile of Barbour coats and Vivienne Westwood shawls.

Coldine unwittingly sets for us the nickname-a-stranger theme for the night. Colditz, Colgate, Cold War etc.

All in all DISCO FAG BAR is great fun, it’s Tom of Finland meets Felix Da Housecat, it’s fun, it’s fresh and a mighty fine place to start my East Side Story.

DISCO FAG BAR is every Friday at East Bloc, 10.30pm-4.30pm, Free Entry before midnight with a flyer, only £5 after

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