I love London. Come on, I left one of the world’s most thriving cities, Madrid, to come here. Well OK, saying I ‘left’ Madrid is underselling the story of my past. The reality is that I didn’t decide to come here voluntarily. It was actually under some pretty traumatic circumstances. This is like a flashback moment in a film, but I was a bit of a ruffian and I was kicked out of my parents’ home when I was 21. They gave me a one way ticket to London and £100. Looking back on it now, I actually think their plan was to whip me into being less of a dick (now I really understand them, and we have a great relationship), but saying it was bloody scary at the time is an understatement.

I landed in London with very little money and nowhere to sleep, and a hundred of Her Majesty’s finest pounds lasted me less than a week. Anyway, I’m a stubborn motherfucker, so l decided not to call them or ask for help. I actually managed to survive and make a living speaking very little English. One of my first jobs was as a glass collector in the now sadly closed club CRASH (so much of gay London is disappearing – that’s a whole other story, but part of the city’s transition, I guess…) and that’s where my love affair with clubbing started. They say it’s easy to get lost in London – physically and metaphorically. It’s so very true. Suddenly, it’s 15 years later!Borja Pena by Cathal o'Brien

You hear it over and over again. London is the ultimate melting pot. Other cities claim it, but London’s cultural mix is unrivalled. There are cities that come close, but you have to live and work in London to realize that it leads the way. Particularly on the in-scene, people coexist and learn from each other harmoniously. This is why I believe that London is at the forefront in everything creative – because inherently, it is the perfect environment to always be inspired.

London has so many layers, so many neighborhoods, and so many things to do and people to meet. My advice to people that come to London for the first time is that it’s best to keep it loose and go with the flow, maybe just plan the very start of a night out and as for the rest, let the magic happen.

It always helps to talk to someone in the know so they can tell you what places are happening and what nights are fun. London is one of those cities where the best things are never actually listed. It’s about word of mouth and making friends. And exploring Facebook, which seems to be the promoter’s weapon of choice.

Borja Pena by Cathal o'Brien

It’s very difficult to keep up with the scene as everything changes all the time. Regularity isn’t very cool in London – a hangover from the ‘pop-up’ culture of the late noughties. Start the night in a local watering hole and ask someone that looks like he’s into the same stuff as you. And that’s key. You have to approach people, Londoner’s aren’t famous for making the first move – don’t wait for them to come to you. Once you’ve engaged someone, he will redirect you to the best night of your life, or to his apartment… either way you will be entertained, I’m sure.

Asking what I’d show a first time visitor is a really tough question. I guess I’d start my trip in Soho. Clichéd I know, but one mustn’t forget one’s ‘roots’. Soho in the 60s, before it was legal to be gay, was THE underground. Much of the trendy scene in Dalston today looks like Soho did back then. The reason why we’re here, doing what we do, is because ‘being queer’ in London started there. Unfortunately, it’s now become very touristy and isn’t as happening as it used to be. But on Borja’s tour, we start with some history.

Borja Pena by Cathal o'BrienLet’s get the DJ-geek stuff out of the way. Soho is especially good for browsing. Forget museums, there are shops and landmarks which are museums and galleries in their own right. Phonica Records (best record store in the world, bonus points if you’re still spinning vinyl) is the jam. Then check out Bang Bang, a vintage designer clothes store, that’s cooler than Brick Lane Market, because it’s actually unique in its location. I also love VinMag (although many say it’s a little bit of a tourist trap) for old magazines and vintage poster art – a great place to let those creative juices flow.

But as I’ve said before, London has so many hoods and boroughs to explore. I currently live in Vauxhall, right next to the infamous Eagle. Every Sunday, London descends to its small dancefloor, the home of the now global phenomenon, Horse Meat Disco. Depending on how your night goes there, there’s a brilliant place to have breakfast or afternoon tea in Vauxhall Park called the Teahouse Theatre.

Borja Pena by Cathal o'Brien

But there is no doubt that East London is where it’s at – good times guaranteed. I love to start my Eastie experience by having herbal tea and cake with my mates in Broadway Market. I’d then take a pint or two at The Nelsons Head, hidden amidst the residential streets off Hackney Road. Dinner at one of the many Vietnamese places on the Kingsland Road is a must. One in particular deserves a mention, because of its name – Viet Hoe. I love it! Just tell them to hold the garlic if you plan on doing any kissing later in the evening.

The George and Dragon is the pre-club hangout. Bijou in all senses of the word, this is the place to rub shoulders, asses and groins. It’s not ideal for a claustrophobe, but this is where to gather information on the night ahead, and proximity (no garlic, see?) will give you the opportunity to strike up a conversation.

But almost as a rule, the East London dancing experience happens when you jump into a cab for the short ride to Dalston. The Dalston Superstore (yes, they never changed the name or fascia from the grocery store it used to be, much like other hangouts in the area – Vogue Fabrics, Jaguar Shoes) is where I’m headed tonight. Incidentally, I’m showing a couple of celebrity guests around – the lovely Kim Ann Foxman is visiting from NYC and Silvia Prada from Barcelona – so I’m really putting what I preach into practice. If there were more hours in the day, I would have taken them to Voodoo Rays (who, in my humble opinion has the best pizza in London and an underground dance tunnel that always impresses with a line-up to rival any Ibiza club) and if jetlag isn’t (or perhaps if it is) an issue, you won’t ever go wrong with the Old Street late night den of iniquity, East Bloc. You’ll find me on the decks there from time to time, especially on my own night DISH, every second Saturday of the month. Say hi. I won’t bite. Or smell of garlic.

Photography by CATHAL O’BRIEN.