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The Criterion Bar in Piccadilly Circus was a popular West End meeting place for London's gay men in the 1930s. George Ives called it "a great centre for inverts" since around 1905. By the 1920s it was known as the "Witches Couldren" or "Bargain Basement".

In 1932, one Saturday night, Taylor Croft visited the bar "to see the gathering of homosexuals". He left "Amazed by the blatency with which they behave, the utter disregard of normal people... or the café management. There were nearly 200 perverts present, noticeably dressed as usual, some with berets on the backs of their heads... Some with coloured sweaters rolled to their necks, many... painted and rouged, one boy actually in women's clothes... one man took out a lipstick and openly used it. A boy crossed to speak to a friend and kissed him on the lips ...everywhere urnings were going from table to table greeting their friends, discussing forthcoming parties."

In the 1930s the police used new powers, such as the Defence Regulations and Emergency Powers Acts (EPA), firstly to convict individuals of homosexual activity in public, then the landlord. Proprietors had to be careful not to have their licence revoked, or worse, imprisonment. The Criterion was " staid enough until 10pm. By then the great ornate hall... Had been emptied of respectable clientele and filled with well behaved male trash".

See Timeline of West End Bars and Clubs.


Matt Houlbrook, Queer London

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