Life Outside London: Bristol

Mike Pony, of cult queer night Horseplay, gives us a guided tour round his home of Bristol, from where to find the hot bearded boys, where the mixed nights to dance with all your pals happen, and why the city has a lot more to offer than mainstream provincial gay nights…


With so many friends, ex-lovers and former flings ditching the capital for sunnier climes or moving home to take advantage of the relatively cheaper rent in the rest UK, it can feel like there’s been a bit of a London exodus. But in reality it just means new friends to make, and more importantly new places to go stay when you need a break from the rat race. With this in mind, we at QX are taking a look at the LGBT scenes in cities both here and abroad and speaking to the promoters, DJs and venue-owners in the know about the secret delights their scene has to offer.


Aspects of Bristol’s LGBT scene have come under fire recently with a controversial op-ed in Pink News from the owner of gay nightlife brand OMG. Why is this not a true representation of the scene?

For me streaming a playlist in a club instead of employing DJs is the antithesis of what clubs are about. A good DJ knows exactly when to drop the right beat to keep the dancefloor moving; it’s a shared live experience. I’m not interested in being sold a regulated, homogenised night out, I want to be surprised and taken on a journey. Luckily Bristol promoters are pumping out amazing underground parties like no other city right now. We don’t have to suffer capitalist chain clubs.

Horseplay is known for both hot bearded boys as well as your grand concepts and immersive on-site performance art happening alongside the music. What made you veer slightly to the left of the traditional gay clubbing experience?

When we started we attracted lots of hot beardy men, but we are a much more diverse night now with more women coming along. My background is in live art and immersive theatre, so it’s been fun to experiment with that in our parties. We’ve had nights where our punters have been fed pavlova by drag-ballerinas or had their genitals immortalised by an illustrator and displayed on the walls of the club. We don’t always do immersive art stuff, sometimes we just go for an all out rave in a weird place like an old coroners courts or underground police cells. We like to mix it up.

We’re packing our bags and coming for an extended visit. What other nights should we be making a beeline for and why?

Dirtytalk – Sleazy underground house and a proper crate-digging attitude to tunes. Always in surprising venues with amazing DJ bookings.
Don’t Tell Your Mother – Laid back indie disco/LGBT social. It’s good for hanging out and chatting to your mates. Their monthly night is like the gay bar we want to socialise in all year round.
Eat Sleep Drag Repeat – New drag night at The Queenshilling. The Shilling is upping its game and trying out new things; they recently hosted Amour Ami, a techno party run by some hot up-and-coming promoters. One to watch.


What if we just want a quiet cider in a gay bar? In local vernacular “where’s that to?” and “cider I up!”

We could check out The Phoenix where they host Don’t Tell Your Mother. It’s a gay owned bar run by two great guys which has a lovely garden. The food is delicious.

What’s the best piece of advice you would give to a budding baby homo about to explore the delights of the South West scene?

Dig deeper. Under the surface there is lot going on. Don’t accept the ordinary, Bristol is extraordinary.

There seems to be a fair few LGBT-friendly parties happening, bringing over big guests like DJ Sprinkles and Boris. Why do you think these inclusive mixed nights work well in Bristol?

I think mixed nights with no agenda are probably the future of gay clubbing. We don’t usually use gay venues for Horseplay because there aren’t any venues that suit our sleazy, strobey vibe. We just want a dark basement somewhere, a dash of smoke and strobe and a massive sound-system. Attitudes to sexuality have changed and LGBT friendly parties are as much a safe space as gay bars used to be, so we go where the good beats are.

Be honest, where are the Grindr hot-spots in the city? Asking for a friend…

The scruffy, hot dirty boys hang out in Stokes Croft and Easton.

Sum up for our dear readers please, why you love your fair city?

It’s an easy, laid back and leftfield city full of sexy people just doing their thing. I don’t feel the pressure here that I felt when I lived in London. Rents are reasonable, parties are good, eating out is affordable and Bristol has its own way of doing things. It’s the city looks at stuff and says “How would BRISTOL do that?” It’s an awesome place to live.



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