1: Piccadilly Circus - The London Pavilion - Criterion Restaurant

1880s -1910

Stand near the old signage for the Criterion Restaurant and look across the road at Ripley's Believe It or Not.

So. Many. People. What are they all doing here?

Piccadilly Circus

Well, it’s got a lot to do with good town planning and fine-looking architecture. In the late 1880s the Victorians trebled the size of Piccadilly Circus and cleared some buildings to make way for the new Shaftesbury Avenue. Around the same time Regent Street got a facelift, Charing Cross Road was constructed, and new theatres started popping up all over the place looking like mini palaces.

The area saw a rise in risqué entertainment and ladies of the night started turning up in the middle of the day. 

Locals started calling the area “the Meat Rack”, and in 1889 a chap called Jack Saul started strolling the area to hand out cards for an all-male brothel in Cleveland Street.

With the growing crowds and the growing choice in venues, if you knew how to look, groups of homosexual men were not too hard to find.

The London Pavilion

The London Pavilion, a theatre and music hall, became a well-known pick-up joint. And the Criterion behind you was popular most evenings.

Others chose to chill at the Lily Pond, the Queer only section in Lyons Corner House. Or you could go hang-out with your cultivated bros around the corner at the all-male Long Bar at the Trocadero.

It probably felt exciting and liberating and scary, all at the same time.


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Criterion Restaurant

1900s - 1940s

Just behind you on Piccadilly Circus

Writer, poet and early homosexual law reform campaigner George Ives noted that the Criterion Bar was 'a great centre for inverts' and journalist George Sims saw in 1902 that the venue attracted 'men in evening dress, and men in mufti, guardsmen and garrulous music hall artists... all sorts and conditions of men.'

In 1916 the World newspaper described ‘painted and perfumed travesties of men openly leer[ing] at the passer-by’ in Piccadilly. ‘Certain bars and restaurants are meeting places for these creatures’, the newspaper went on, adding that it was ‘lamentable to know that their victims or accomplices are largely drawn from the ranks of the British Army.’


Please click on the gallery images to enlarge.