This is one of our occasional guest articles, written by a fellow ginger, Phil, who unfortunately gets sent to purgatory, er, Reading quite often.
If you’re in Reading, then you’re there for work, or because you’re being punished, it isn’t a destination one actively chooses to visit generally.
As there’s a large student population and it’s commuter-ville for London with lots of affluent people, Reading has lots of trendy bars and cocktail lounges as well as dive bars and cheesy clubs.
Regarding gay life; the apps are reasonably active with a full range of locals and visitors, students to the more mature and a bit of every tribe you can image. Good central hotels which are app friendly (doesn’t require a key card for access) include Malmaison and the Penta.
Malmaison – Central, dark, trendy, boutique feel, rooms are plush and luxurious although quality varies by room, excellent restaurant and room service menu. No Gym. No points programme. Rooms accessible without a keycard. Showers not always douche friendly.
Novotel – Central, business targetted hotel, small gym, pool, sauna, steam room. Lifts require keycard access. Showers not always douche friendly. Part of the Accor Group for points collection.
Ibis – Central, awful, avoid. Lifts require keycard access. Showers not always douche friendly. Part of the Accor Group for points collection.
Mercure – Central, middle of the road hotel, dated and low quality – avoid. Part of the Accor Group for points collection.
Hilton – Out of town – Good hotel with a good gym and pool.
Crowne Plaza – Just outside of the centre, details unknown. [GTG – I’ve stayed here with work and it’s actually a large, decent property, nice health club and gym. Do need a key card for room access. About a ten minute walk from the station.]
Penta – On the edge of the centre, trendy hotel, decent gym, no pool or sauna. Rooms are trendy. No Points Programme. Rooms are accessible without a keycard.
When it comes to bars and clubs there’s very little, in fact, the four gay bars that there were in Reading have all closed down, now there’s only The Blagrave by Reading railway station which is at best gay-friendly and worst full of post-work drinkers. They have an excellent gin selection, and it’s not a bad place to call in for a quick drink; you’re unlikely to want to spend the night there though, and some of the clientele are on the fringe of society.
With all of this, it’s worth remembering that London is only 25 minutes away on the excellent rail service from Reading into London Paddington. London’s gay life closes for business around 23:00 during the week meaning you can hot foot it over to Paddington and be back on a train and in your bed in Reading by 00:30.
Other decent watering holes include Be At One (cocktails), Tasting House (wines) and the Allied Arms (traditional British pub with a large beer garden).
Every chain restaurant you can imagine is in Reading around the Oracle Shopping Centre from Five Guys to Yo! Sushi, few stand out, but Côte offers reasonably good French cuisine and is always consistent. If you’re feeling a little more flush, there’s the London Street Brasserie (LSB) where you’ll be able to enjoy fine riverside dining.
For a unique eating experience, check out Sweeny & Todd which is not far from Be At One, it’s a deli at the front, then a pub and then finally at the back a restaurant. It specialises in pies and is generously decorated in chintz with rickety chairs, mismatched tables and a variety of old photos and advertisements from a lost age.
If you need to get a haircut while you’re in town, there’s neat little barbers not far from Reading station, Salvo + Alex. It’s small so you might have to wait but the cuts are always excellent.