From sex to shopping, a Kings Cross journey

Kings Cross used to be synonymous with its seedy sex industry – street workers, dodgy hotels and a Michael Porter-type cluster of  sex shops and the like.  The street workers seem to have gone (hopefully to somewhere safer) the hotels are slightly less dodgy now but what happened to the shops?   The shops had in some cases been there for what felt like decades, were unmissable as the only brightly lit shop fronts at night and became local landmarks, but not always in a good way.  Better council enforcement, regeneration leading to rising rents and increased footfall has meant the shops have been replaced with new forms of mammon.  This is undoubtedly a good thing and we have written many times on this site about some of the establishments.  But history takes many forms so I thought it worth recording what had replaced the sex establishments of yore as a marker for regeneration.

It’s important to point out that none of the current businesses have any connection at all with their location’s former use.

The infamous Pirate Books in a prime Kings Cross ‘gateway’ location on York Way was finally driven out by determined Islington council action.  The site first became a coffee shop and is now a noodle bar.

chozen noodle pirate books

Pleasure Island was in my opinion essentially a brothel on a prime corner location practically opposite my former flat on the Cally Road.  The site is now occupied by an estate agent.

Trio Pleasure Island

And almost oppostite the former site of Pleasure Island is another estate agent.  That site was also a sex shop for a few years, then became a carpet shop.

Unmemorable Letting Homes

Breathless was a rubber fetish shop on Kings Cross Road – the unit is now empty but hasn’t been re-let it seems.


At the bottom of the Cally Road was the Bleu Danube and DVD Xtra adult video store, another prime corner location.  Now on that site is the Backpacker pub.

Backpackers Bleu Danube

Opposite Bleu Danube was several incarnations of shops like Soho Books that moved between premises now occupied by Drink Shop Do (an early flag bearer of grass roots regeneration) and Dash.

Soho Books

And along the side of St Pancras station before that was regenerated were a series of low key shops that for a while included Fettered Pleasures a specialist S&M supplier.  I can’t quite recall which unit it was in but it may have been the one in the photo, which is now the Eurostar First Class Lounge – do let me know if i have this wrong.

Eurostar Fettered Pleasures

About William Perrin

Active in Kings Cross London and South Oxfordshire, founder of Talk About Local, helping people find a voice online and a trustee of The Indigo Trust , Good Things Foundation and ThreeSixtyGiving as well as Connect8.
This entry was posted in Kings Cross local history and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to From sex to shopping, a Kings Cross journey

  1. And do you think estate agents and food shops (the only shops that can afford to exist in central London due to the high rent and rates) are an improvement? The streetwalkers have been replaced by rough sleepers.

  2. Albert Beale says:

    from: Albert Beale, 5 Cally Road

    Frankly, in terms of those parts of the “sex industry” that are non-exploitative and based on consenting adults – and much of it surely is – then I’d rather have them as my neighbours than the raucous shouting-half-the-night-and-keeping-everyone-awake-generating late-night drinking establishments, and the homelessness-expanding estate agents of recent years.

    Drink Shop Do certainly _are_ great neighbours – but so were Soho Books.

    All in all, the world would be a better place with more sex and less shopping.

  3. Mike Llewellyn says:

    Just a comment to applaud the above two comments 🙂

    I enjoyed my time living there (I forget the name of the road, probably it was the Cally Will? Although for some reason I am thinking Wharfdale?), and I have fond memories of hung-over Sunday morning breakfasts at the cafe around the corner.

  4. Chris says:

    The Kings Cross end of the Cally has no character anymore. I guess lots of the newer arrivals like that.

  5. Tony Rees says:

    We don’t remember the shop on the corner of Northdown Street ever being a sex shop. As for character this area certainly had plenty of that, but whether the screams of girls being beaten up by their pimps out the back of us was preferable to rowdy late night drinkers I’m not sure. The loss of proper local shops and the community they fostered is what we really miss.

  6. tony are you sure – when i lived there in the in the late 1990s it was in its pleasure island guise. have i remembered the wrong place?

  7. Trotsky says:

    The Flying Scotsman closed down on October 5th.

  8. Aron Cronin says:

    It seems all change again. The Backpackers/Brill bar have become the offices of Keystone employment agency – previously on the corner with Pentonville Road – and builders are transforming the Flying Scotsman, does anyone know into what? Have the Flying Scotsman girls migrated south for the winter? Opposite there is a milkshakes and cakes bar in what was I think an osteopath premises.

  9. Tony Rees says:

    Hi Will, just to add to my comment on 61 Caledonian Road, we met up with an old friend who lived above the shop in the late 80’s/early 90’s and she remembered that the shop was a letting agency run by a Greek couple. Off course that brought it back to me, they were very nice people and ended up going back to Greece to set up a similar business there. After that we remember it being empty for much of the time but intermittently it was a café, a corner shop that never seemed to open and a carpet shop, but we still don’t remember it being a sex shop. As it’s just across from us I think we would remember, but then the little brain cells aren’t what they were!

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