Located on the south coast of England, the seaside city of Brighton & Hove has long been the preferred weekend getaway for London’s LGBT community—Oscar Wilde and his aristocratic young lover Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas were frequent visitors, as was sapphic couple Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf.
Less than an hour from London by direct train, and boasting a vibrant gay scene in the seafront Kemp Town neighborhood, a year-round calendar of LGBT events, an official nudist beach with a gay-favored area, and a prevailing laid-back attitude, you can see why it’s so appealing. Even the street art is gay: when renowned graffiti artist Banksy aimed his spray can at a Brighton wall, it was to paint two policemen sharing a passionate kiss. It’s also home to the UK’s only permanent AIDS memorial sculpture: a bronze depiction of two intertwined figures by artist Romany Mark Bruce, casting a shadow over New Steine Gardens in the shape of the HIV/AIDS ribbon.
The city is not merely a saucy seaside escapade for Londoners and other visitors—it’s said to have Britain’s highest proportion of same-sex households, with the 2011 census confirming that Brighton & Hove has the highest number of gay and lesbian civil partnerships in the country (2,346 individuals, or 3.1 percent of all legal relationships, according to the Office for National Statistics)—so same-sex brides and grooms are customary in Brighton. It’s such a gay place that LGBT could easily stand for “Let’s Go to Brighton Today!”
OUT & ABOUT
Much of Brighton’s thriving gay café and bar scene is focused around St. James Street in the Kemp Town neighborhood. There are welcoming, traditional-style pubs including The Royal Oak and Camelford Arms, attracting a diverse gay crowd but with a large proportion of older and beefier blokes, bears and polar bears. A Brighton institution, The Bulldog also attracts the manly hoards—it’s the city’s longest running gay pub and is the only one that remains open right through until morning every weekend. Big and contemporary dance bars like Charles Street, Bar Revenge, Legends Bar and A-Bar appeal to a slightly younger gay and lesbian crowd with DJ’s, plasma screens, theme events and drinks promotions. Numerous other venues throughout Brighton are mixed but with a significant gay and lesbian clientele, including Queens Arms, Doctor Brighton’s and The Marlborough Pub & Theatre, the latter home to LGBT performance group Pink Fringe. Testosterone-fueled basement cruise bar Subline is men- and members-only—but visitors can get nightly/weekend membership. There are several gay saunas, the biggest being The Brighton Sauna. A large gay club spread across three floors, Revenge is another landmark gay venue, having been an integral part of Brighton’s gay scene for over 21 years—there are theme parties every night, including lesbian-focused Girls On Top (Thursdays).
The Royal Oak www.reallondonpubs.com
Camelford Arms www.camelfordarms.com
The Bulldog www.bulldogbrighton.com
Charles Street www.charles-street.com
Bar Revenge www.revenge.co.uk
Legends Bar www.legendsbrighton.com
Queen’s Arms www.queensarmsbrighton.com
The Marlborough www.drinkinbrighton.co.uk/marlborough
The Brighton Sauna www.thebrightonsauna.com
Club Revenge www.revenge.co.uk
GAY WEDDING HOTSPOTS
Brighton & Hove City Council has approved almost 40 venues for civil wedding ceremonies, including tourist landmarks and grand seafront hotels, so there’s something for everyone regardless of how conservative or quirky you are. The list includes official council options such the Mayor’s Parlour, the Register Office and the Regency Room in Brighton Town Hall—plus a more unique choice: the Bandstand on Brighton seafront. Built in 1884, and restored to its original glory in 2009, it’s considered one of England’s finest surviving Victorian bandstands. This delightful alfresco option has space for 50 seated guests, but be aware that during adverse weather, ceremonies are relocated to the Bandstand Café below. http://www.brighton-hove.gov.uk/content/leisure-and-libraries/seafront/bandstand
The city’s most iconic landmark is the Royal Pavilion, an exotic, Indian-style Regency palace built in 1823 as the summer retreat of King George IV. A key tourist attraction, it receives 300,000 visitors per year. Not open to the general public, the Red Drawing Room features original palm tree pillars and fiery red dragon wallpaper, and can be hired as an exclusive civil wedding venue for up to 44 guests. Afterward, guests can enjoy an elegant reception in the King William IV Room, decorated in an classic Oriental style with hand-painted wallpaper and Chinese lanterns—though due to the nature of this historical setting, neither Bollywood nor any other style of dancing is permitted! http://www.brighton-hove-rpml.org.uk/RoyalPavilion/weddings/Pages/home.aspx
Another unique choice is Brighton Pier. Built in 1899, this popular tourist attraction has fairground rides, kiosks serving fish n’ chips and sugared doughnuts, deckchairs for sunbathing, three bars, two amusement arcades… in fact, everything you need for a fun day at the seaside. It also has the ingredients for the ultimate seaside wedding. And they can even arrange for your ceremony to be conducted by Elvis Shmelvis, the UK’s only certified Elvis wedding celebrant! http://www.brightonpier.co.uk/weddings-on-the-pier
HOTELS, B&B’S AND HONEYMOON SUITES
Recommended by British-based LGBT travel website FurtherAfield.com, myhotel Brighton is a sexy design hotel with 80 curvaceous guestrooms by renowned New York interior architect Karim Rashid. The choice rooms include “Heaven,” “Jade” and “Bamboo,” with huge circular beds and individual décor by local artists—or try the “Carousel” penthouse suite where in-room amenities include a sleek four-poster bed, free-standing bathtub, luxurious tiled steam room and a 300 year old vintage carousel horse! It’s perfect for fantastical gay honeymoons. www.myhotels.com
For even sexy sleepovers, you can’t beat Hotel Pelirocco. The 19 individually themed rooms offer something to arouse everyone’s interest, whether it’s the wild, Betty Paige-inspired “Boudoir,” the kitsch Dolly Parton-style of “Dollywood,” or the decadent “Play Room” suite with a mirror canopied bed, giant plunge bath and pole dancing facilities. www.hotelpelirocco.co.uk
If you want to stay close to the gay scene, you can’t get much closer than Amsterdam Hotel and Bar. Located in the heart of queer Kemp Town, this hotel, restaurant, gay bar and sauna is itself an integral part of Brighton’s gay scene. The large seafront terrace is a prime hangout during summer afternoons. www.amsterdam.uk.com
A gay-owned 4-star bed & breakfast, Hudsons has comfortable en-suite rooms, a charming conservatory-breakfast room, and a small private garden and patio area. Located in the heart of Kemp Town, but in a quiet residential street, it was awarded TripAdvisor’s Certificate Of Excellence 2013. www.hudsonsinbrighton.co.uk
There are delightful, pink-tinged neighborhoods to explore beyond the gay streets of Kemp Town. The labyrinth of alleyways that make up the historic Lanes area are full of antique shops, designer boutiques and jewelers, making this a recommended place for sourcing unusual gifts, or even a wedding ring! The alternative North Laines is a hipster haven of vintage clothing stores, organic juice bars and tattoo and piercing parlors. Recommended shops include Choccywoccydoodah, a design-focused chocolaterie renowned for creating decadent, bespoke wedding cakes and other delicious gifts and treats. www.choccywoccydoodah.com
An excellent way to learn all about Brighton’s queer history is to follow in the footsteps of Lord Byron, Oscar Wilde, Dusty Springfield and other notable gays and lesbians on the Piers & Queers Tour. This unique walking exploration of Brighton’s LGBT past is offered by Only In Brighton, ranked one of the city’s top activities on TripAdvisor. www.onlyinbrighton.co.uk
GAY DATES FOR YOUR DIARY
One of the biggest Pride festivals in the UK, Brighton Pride (August 2, 2014) attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors. The campaign theme for 2014 is “Freedom To Live,” acknowledging the plight of LGBT communities all over the world. The day will see a huge parade through the city, followed by a massive party in Preston Park with a main stage, dance and cabaret tents and a community village. www.brighton-pride.org
Britain’s bear community come out to play for Brighton Bear Weekender (June 20-22, 2014). This increasingly popular date for bears and cubs comprises a range of pub events, picnics and parties. brightonbearweekender.com
NEARBY HONEYMOON ESCAPES
Nestled at the foot of the South Downs, 30 miles from Brighton, the impressive Goodwood Estate offers several venues for civil wedding ceremonies and receptions. Ideal for a luxury honeymoon, the Goodwood Hotel can provide breakfast in bed with strawberries, champagne and roses, an indulgent spa treatment for two in the health club or a romantic hand-in-hand meander around the magnificent grounds. When it’s time to head off into married bliss, they can organize a chauffeur driven car—or even a helicopter from their aerodrome! http://www.goodwood.co.uk/weddings/first-nights-and-honeymoons.aspx
The 900-year-old Amberley Castle stands on 12 acres of private landscaped gardens, enclosed by a 60-foot-tall wall and working portcullis. Located 22 miles from Brighton, the 19 rooms include romantic features such as antique four-poster beds, original fireplaces with log fires and bottles of Laurent Perrier Rose champagne for honeymooners. For the ultimate lovers hideaway, “Mistletoe Lodge” is the castle’s enchanting treehouse—reached by a rope bridge, it’s available for intimate civil wedding ceremonies and romantic dinners. http://www.amberleycastle.co.uk/plan-your-event/your-wedding-day
Brighton in situated on the south coast of England, less than an hour by train from London. Approximately halfway between London and Brighton, London Gatwick Airport is served by numerous international airlines including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and easyJet, making it an ideal gateway.
VisitBrighton is the city’s official tourism organization, and its website is full of information about Brighton & Hove, including a specific LGBT section. www.visitbrighton.com
THE FACTS ABOUT SAME-SEX WEDDINGS IN BRITAIN The first legally recognized same-sex weddings take place in England and Wales beginning March 29, 2014. Starting in June 2014, same-sex couples may get married in British Embassies, Consulates and High Commissions, as well as on British military bases. By the end of 2014 gay couples in civil partnerships may convert these to marriages. This new law doesn’t currently include Scotland or Northern Ireland, but in February 2014, Scotland voted overwhelmingly in support of same-sex marriage, with its first gay weddings expected by the end of 2014.
The Church of England maintains that they don’t wish to conduct same-sex marriages; hence the new law doesn’t allow same-sex couples to marry in a church. Other religious and belief bodies can “opt in” to perform same-sex marriages—with the United Reform Church, the Quakers, Buddhists and the Pagan Federation among those indicating their intent to do so.
It’s not just British gays and lesbians who’ll benefit. Certain rules and conditions apply to foreign nationals wishing to marry here, but now those rules will be the same for all foreign nationals regardless of sexual preference.
For information on how to get married in England and Wales visit www.gov.uk/marriages-civil-partnerships/overview
Want the 4-1-1 on all things relationships, marriage and weddings this spring? Check out instinctmagazine.com/marriage for more and check out the Marriage & Equality (April/May) issue of Instinct—out now! Instinct is available at Barnes & Noble, at iTunes for the iPad and iPhone or through our subscription services at (888) 45-INSTINCT or through our online store here.