Photo: andresr / Getty Images
What is the most “heterosexual vibes” area of London? It’s a question that has perplexed LGBTQs for decades. Or more truthfully, me since last week, when I asked my Twitter followers this very question. It provoked quite a reaction and varied responses. Julia Hartley-Brewer was perplexed by it, which sent an army of angry men from Anti-Pronoun Twitter into my mentions, claiming to be oppressed by the “LGBTXYZ mafia” and branding me a “silly VICE writer”. Naturally, I decided that the best option was to expand on some of the most popular responses in an article for VICE in exchange for money.
One of the intriguing things about cities is how the vibes of areas can change over time. Depressingly, in London right now, this tends to err towards unaffordable housing, out-of-control gentrification and new Be At One bars. Interestingly, though, if the wisdom of my followers is to be believed, these sterilised urban shifts and the divisions they provoke seem to bring strong associations of straightness. (Because gays have, famously, never gentrified anything!)“Heterosexual vibes” don’t simply mean “lots of straight people”. It can be a feeling in the air, an aesthetic or a set of priorities built around a certain life path. Without further ado, behold: the London areas where an aura of straightness reigns supreme.
If capitalism supposedly breeds innovation, then how do we explain Shoreditch? London’s most gimmicky-yet-unoriginal area is home to some notable gay cruising spots, so I’ve heard, and is frequented by lawyer twinks and finance daddies by day. But its vibe could hardly be straighter by night. When the clock strikes 6PM, banker bros from Canary Wharf spill out of their offices and stop off at Boxpark – a deeply sinister space – for an overpriced fusion burrito before charging towards one of the area’s many generic bars. Here, the norm is a uniform of navy suits and brogues, plus talking (screaming) in a tinnitus-inducing volume.
Shoreditch is a tractor beam for men whose nickname relates to their “legendary” shenanigans at boarding school, where their parents abandoned them at 11, and self-define as working-class because one of their female cousins – whom they once kissed – didn’t go to university. And speaking of unresolved childhood trauma, a “famous ball pit cocktail bar” is a popular hotspot. It’s where future divorced couples frolic in plastic, sip supposedly retro drinks and search for Mr or Mrs Right, before stumbling home via London’s most stressful station: Liverpool Street.
Peckham often feels like south London’s answer to Hackney. After all, both areas are on the (perfect and flawless) London Overground and they’re also traditionally Black neighbourhoods that white gentrifiers of all genders, with hoop earrings and boxy fringes, have flocked to. But it lacks Hackney’s LGBTQ+ bars and, despite the area’s astrology-affirming vibe, it’s still a subtle heterosexual paradise. Peckham is where straight millennial couples often flee to rent once they’ve taken the plunge and moved in together about three weeks into the relationship. Here, they can parent houseplants and, if things get serious, save up for a sofa from MADE.com. Somewhere between a cold craft beer and a £4 cinnamon swirl, Peckham is where recovering fuckbois become Carhartt-clad Wife Guys-in-waiting. It’s a quintessentially heterosexual story.
If Peckham is for newly nesting renters, the neighbouring area of East Dulwich is where straight couples aspire to buy a flat when one of their elderly relatives finally dies. The area is undeniably bourgeois and annoyingly pretty, so it’s where couples put down roots when, like a pair of Pokemon evolving, things like Ofsted ratings, the Lululemon sale and girlbossing start to become a bigger priority in their lives than Klarna payments and MDMA. (It’s called growth, look it up.)
Combining areas might seem rogue, but guess what? I make the rules, and these hellholes are so similar they pretty much blend into one. While LGBTQ+ tourists might prefer the basicness of nearby Soho, their straight counterparts in Canada Goose puffa jackets are instead drawn to the sea of Angus Steakhouses, an obscured-view seat at a Moulin Rouge matinee and the many statues of famous colonisers in these areas. The Times Square cosplay of Piccadilly Circus, London’s most underwhelming monument to capitalism, is the perfect time to get out the selfie-stick. An upside? There are great transport links to get out, fast.
Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus
If you’ve read or watched The Handmaid’s Tale, you’ll recognise Chiswick: It’s pretty much Gilead, except everyone seems to be there voluntarily, pushing a £2,000 pram and wearing Veja trainers. Chiswick probably hosts more gender reveal parties than any other part of London, because once you’ve painted every room in your house with Farrow & Ball, there’s little else to do. The high street produces the distinct feeling that a lot of the area’s female inhabitants agreed to move there on the promise of a Wisteria Lane-style suburban fantasy, only to realise that “more time as a family” meant being abandoned with Oscar, Tilly and Milly in the middle of nowhere, between increasingly rare dates at Time Out-approved hotspots. (He’s probably being rebuffed by one of his interns in the Shoreditch ball pit bar as we speak.)
If you’ve spent any time on Twitter, watched Drag Race UK, or have even the faintest semblance of gaydar, you’ll know of the stereotype of “Clapham gays” – supposedly London’s most basic gays, whom everyone loves to mock. But if Clapham is anything to go by, overt gayness produces an equally powerful straight reaction in the universe. It’s an (admittedly very pretty and clean) area for gilet-clad, Nutribullet-obsessed people who describe themselves as “fiscally conservative but socially liberal” to potential Hinge dates. People who still have “Esq” and “Girly Swot” in their Twitter bios and yassify Theresa May at every opportunity. People who are organised enough to take out accidental loss and damage insurance on their AirPods, which they use to listen to The Chainsmokers as they run (everyone in Clapham is always jogging) between spin classes, rugby games and couples dinner parties.
Putney is to Clapham what East Dulwich is to Peckham: the slightly more boring “settling down spot”. It’s one of London’s whitest areas, with a high proportion of people working in so-called professional jobs. So it’s the place of choice for cricket superfans named Spencer – who think people “make their own luck” despite being employed by their dads, wear boat shoes despite rarely going on boats and think the gender pay gap is a myth despite actively contributing to it – to move with their new wives once they’ve gone full mask-off Tory. If greenery, over-priced roasts and the air of parental disappointment are your thing, move here.
Ever wondered where those couples you see furiously arguing in IKEA, to the point where you’re practically begging them to end it, actually live? Tottenham Hale is a good bet. The area is under major regeneration and is a “help-to-buy” hotspot, which means young couples are flocking to live in the middle of a building site, surrounded by cranes, out of understandable desperation to get on the housing ladder. It’s the sort of area that Foxtons estate agents probably say will be “nice in five years” in staff meetings. (This actually means they hope white people with Berber rugs and shelves full of Matt Haig books will push out all the locals quickly, so they can make a quick buck.) In that sense, Tottenham Hale is a classic London tale.
Camden’s famous tourist trap market, complete with Cyberdog, is where Taylor Swift claims to enjoy “walking in the afternoon”. But that’s a trauma to unpack another day, because the area’s straightness is primarily wrapped up in its nostalgia for a previous era of hetero-centred hedonism. At its open mic nights, you’ll find skinny straight men in trilby hats, who say they went to the “university of life” and claim to have co-written “Sheila” by Jamie T while high on ketamine, as covers of Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie” cover blare overhead. And the women? They mostly still dress like 1950s rockabillys and masquerade as struggling artists, despite attending a £40,000-a-year private school. Camden finds itself on this list because, much like the nuclear family, its time of supremacy is long gone.@LouisStaples