Sling Voters

Going underground.

‘I’m apprehensive about becoming a dedicated cruising correspondent,’ I messaged this publication’s editor, when he asked for another dispatch from London’s queer scene. ‘But wouldn’t it be very funny to do something on Vault 139, which is a sex club near Warren Street?’

‘Yes, please,’ he replied. ‘YES, PLEASE.’

There was only one modification: that I use the visit to ask my fellow sex club patrons how they intend to vote, at the forthcoming general election.

Vault’s only street frontage, just off Tottenham Court Road, is a door which is squeezed on either side by the offices of a visa services company. Its signs give no clue as to what patrons can expect inside, but the steep descent down a dark stairwell to an electronically bolted door appears to be enough to stop punters roaming in from the nearby Slug & Lettuce.

On the Thursday I visited, the queue ran up the stairs and out onto the street. Those lining up stood politely and a little nervously, as though waiting to clear immigration at the airport. The only indication as to what awaited was a heady chlorine-tinged heat rising up the steps.

Entry to Vault is £12 and includes coat check, unlimited day re-entry and a drink. The card machine on the door doesn’t work with Monzo, but they do have a loyalty app: five visits and your sixth is free.

The premises are laid out in the shape of a hollow rectangle, with the core hosting the stairwell, staff office and bathroom, and the action flowing around them through zones partitioned with chain curtains.

Thursday is naked night at Vault and the busiest night of the week. Nudity is not optional: once you’re buzzed into the bar, you are handed a collapsible crate and shepherded to a side room where you strip down to your shoes. You trade your crate for a numbered wristband, your entry receipt for a drink… and you’re off. Alcohol options are a 440ml tinny – I saw Kronenbourg, Thatchers Gold and John Smith’s on offer – a single-measure spirit-based drink or an alcopop. The bar also offers free packets of lube and condoms, not that the latter are used much, and sells poppers in two or three varietals.

The first room one encounters on a clockwise circuit of Vault is arranged around two upright barrels, much like you might find in a pub’s smoking area. On this night, they served as moorings for six or so party bottoms. Behind the barrels was a wall of knee-height, easy-wipe laminate mattresses and four figures prostrated upon them face down, ass up. A sex sling, which one might otherwise have thought would be very much the centrepiece of a pornographic dungeon setup, was tucked in the corner like an under-used exercise bike.

This was not a conducive space for discussing the general election.

With so much orifice on offer, Vault can very much be a top’s market, with rival bottoms vying for their fair share. Happily, on this Thursday, most of the vacancies appeared to be filled, but this did make passing through the room somewhat difficult.

A right turn out of the orgy and I arrived in a corridor running the length of the venue. For those of a less exhibitionist temperament, there are booths sheltered under the eaves of the Victorian brickwork, each equipped with a square plastic mattress and lockable saloon doors. The strategy for picking someone up in this thoroughfare is to lean against the corrugated steel walls and hail one of the passing prospects as they go by like conveyor belt sashimi.

A short hall at the end of the corridor leads back to the bar via a battery of gloryhole booths, each subscribed with a queue. In the bar area, sex is by no means disallowed, but the couches, tables and DJ booth make it the de facto spot for socialising and, by extension, vox pops. (The soundtrack that evening, if you were wondering, was a disappointingly simple succession of generic club beats. On a prior visit to Vault, I saw two beefcakes rutting in front of an eager crowd in time to a trance mix of Running Up That Hill.)

Although asking an anonymous stranger about their voting intention mid-coitus would be an amusing play, it felt like obtaining information through misrepresentation – which goes against the National Union of Journalists’ code of conduct. So instead, I popped myself on a couch by the bar and waited for exhausted cruisers to collapse next to me.

My boyfriend suggested I bring a marker pen and have interviewees put a tally on my ass in line with their voting intention, but that seemed impractical. In any case, none of the six people who were willing to give a nude journalist a nude opinion were giving their vote to Rishi.

The first person to rest beside me was John, a director in his early sixties who has long been active in his local Labour Party branch. Neither pro-Starmer nor pro-Corbyn, John said he simply wanted people ‘to live to work, not work to live’. He was very interested in what AI and universal basic income would mean for the working class, and said his type was bratty Brazilian muscle bottoms.

For another interviewee, Mario, the forthcoming UK election will be the first in which he can vote. Versatile and originally from the Philippines, Mario had not yet made up his mind as to how he will cast his ballot – but offered up his view that many of his fellow immigrants to the UK ‘take the piss’ and that former strongman Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte had, for all his flaws, cleaned up the country’s streets.

I also spoke with Rich, a lifelong Tory voter in his thirties and a career bottom. Despite his blue pedigree, Rich told me that at the next election he will likely vote Labour. His cause for hesitation was Keir Starmer: for all Rich’s previous dislike of Jeremy Corbyn, he said he would vote for the socialist from Islington North over Starmer were he leader again because he, at least, stood for something.

My energies spent, I felt like I had taken the political temperature of the room – my research had been extensive.

People were still arriving as I – now clothed – mounted the steps to leave. Out in the cold I recognised some of the faces from downstairs, swaddled in North Face jackets and bike helmets, as they checked Citymapper and pulled Tesco meal deals from their bags. Perhaps, in time, I’ll get the chance to poll these men too: the next naked night is Monday and I’m only five visits away from another free entry.

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