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Ode to The Backstreet: London’s den of iniquity was last of a leather kind

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Lab.oratory (the underbelly of Berlin’s Berghain) must rank as the greatest sex space in the history of the universe, the 37-year patina which coats nearly every nook, cranny, and orifice of east London fetish stalwart The Backstreet (aka Backstreet) surely singles out this den of iniquity as unique among the waning number of surviving male-only bars devoted to leather, rubber and the rest.Not even Berlin’s gay ‘ghetto’ Schöneberg has anything to rival it: an atmospherically lit, blackened and cinematic space coded top to bottom in conventionally manly signifiers (black oil drums, thick festooned chains, dusty boots dangling from the ceiling, camouflage netting, a big cage, stools, dirty everything), playlists that consistently get it just right (sexy but never overly aggressive music), and an unbendingly strict door policy (albeit with waistcoats and boots made available to those guilelessly showing up in mufti).

A reassuring brand of sleazy anonymity pervades the bar and one that lends itself to a wet and sticky dream. Sadly, this piece is not merely an unbridled celebration of an establishment that occupies a singular position in the pantheon of gay leather bars that includes both New York’s Mineshaft and Spike, Hamburg’s Toms Saloon, London’s Cellar Bar, Amsterdam’s Argos, Berlin’s Knaast, Paris’s Keller, Munich’s Ochsengarten, Antwerp’s The Boots and various Eagles, nearly all of which are dead or near-dying.

On Monday the 18th of July Backstreet will start auctioning off the bulk of its trophy-filthy contents, with keys to the venue – the ground-floor space of an otherwise defunct building that easily could qualify as a ruin – to be handed in later in the week.

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