by Christian Lütjens
To make clear why Manchester is attractive to gays only three words are needed: “Queer As Folk”. The cult series may have become internationally famous due to the longer-lasting US spin-off, but it was invented in Great Britain. By gay screenwriter and producer Russel T Davies (“Doctor Who”, “Torchwood”), who set the plot in Manchester’s Canal Street for a reason. Davies himself lived there for a while and knew about the excellent gay infrastructure that had developed since the early 1990s northwest of the Rochdale Canal. The ten controversial (because very revealing) QAF episodes, which ran on Channel 4 from 1999 to 2000, contributed to the further boom of the neighbourhood.
Europride took place here in 2003 and an LGBT Heritage Trail was established the same year. The Gay Village is officially praised in the local tourist city map for its “unique atmosphere” by now. A rapid development, considering that the area was still a red light district in the 80s. Until the global economic crisis in the 1930s the textile trade flourished here. The cotton warehouses then decayed, prostitution settled in and gays used the dark bridges, alleys and pubs for cruising. The first official homo bar opened in 1991. The Manto (for “Manchester Tomorrow”) is still there. It has been renovated by now and offers little historical charm with its sterile balustrade corridor and minimalist ambience.
You’ll find it rather on the first floor of The Rembrandt or in the rustic pub of the New Union Hotel – both old-established pubs that were already “men’s meeting places” before homo “village-life” took over. They are now also part of the diverse gastronomic offer on Canal Street. The dilapidated brotherl quarter has become a pulsating labyrinth of pubs in which you feel at home right away. Starters at the Taurus, moving on to the G-A-Y (an offshoot of the London club of the same name), dancing on the three floors of the Cruz, sinking into the dim cruising niches of the Eagle basement… This is just one of countless variations of a happy nightlife in Manchester.
In the tireless up-and-down of the gay scene one could easily forget that there is also a world beyond the Gay Village. But you should not. You can find the successful symbiosis of old and new also in other parts of town. Everywhere in the city modern and traditional meet and merge. The industrial heritage becomes visible already on the twenty-minute train ride from Manchester airport to Picadilly station in the city. Decayed or converted factory buildings pop up again and again wedged between dull suburbs of terraced houses and box gardens. In the centre itself, the contrasts are highlighted in terms of urban amenities. Next to Manchester Cathedral, a tiny pub village with rural half-timbered houses recalls the medieval roots as a market settlement, while the iconically modern glass building of the National Football Museum rises up in the immediate vicinity.
Artists, galleries and hipster boutiques have settled in the former workmen’s’ houses, commercial buildings and covered markets of the Northern Quarter. In Castlefield a rebuilt small castle is a reminder of the Roman heritage, whilst the 169-metre Beetham Tower, the tallest building in the city rises up nearby. Don’t miss the Quays harbour area more in the outskirts. A completely new district has been built here in recent years, a spacious architectural park on the waterfront forms a relaxed counterpoint to the bustle of the city. The highlight of the area is the Imperial War Museum by star architect Daniel Libeskind. The exhibition there is a rather unbearable military propaganda event. Free admission make it bearable to enter the museum if only to enjoy the great view from the top of the tower. The building itself is worth a visit in any case – or only at a glance from the café of the opposite musical theatre in the Lowry Art & Entertainment Center.
Back in the Gay Village you can let your impressions sink in over a pint of ale or beer. Or you can followthe ‘trail of the rainbow flags’ mosaics on the ground. They mark the stations of the LGBT Heritage Trail. The one outside Manto is a reminder of the first gay bar in town. There is also one in front of the city hall since the rainbow flag was raised for the first time for the second Gay Pride in 1992. A shocking story is indicated by a mosaic in Sackville Gardens. Here stands the bronze sculpture of a park bench with a man holding an apple in his hand: Alan Mathison Turing. Turing was involved in the development of the first computer in the 1940s and they key figure in decoding the mechanics of the German enigma machine. He was sentenced to hormone therapy for his homosexuality in 1952, which was offically on the list of mental illnesses in England until 1967. The treatment made him depressed. He was found dead in his apartment in 1954. Next to him lay a bitten apple, which was probably poisoned. The exact circumstances of his death were never fully clarified. Such bitter anecdotes also find their place in the hedonistic wonder worlds of Manchester’s Gay Village. Once again one of these contrasts – which are the real attraction potential of the Queer-as-Folk home.
Official website of Manchester Tourism inlcuding events’ calendar, list of hotel and city map. Section ‘What to do’ gives information about gay Manchester, a top five of best gay bars and gay-friendly hotels.
HOW TO GET THERE
Easy Jet offers daily flights from Munich, Hamburg and Berlin-Schonefeld to Manchester. One-way is available from 31.50Euros. Germanwings offers non-stop flights from Stuttgart, Hamburg and Cologne/Bonn from 33Euros one-way.
Abode Hotel (107 Piccadilly) Rooms and service keep the promise made by the opulent entrance. The first-class restaurant is also recommended as it belongs to British star chef Michael Caines (two Michelin stars). www.abodemanchester.co.uk
Velvet Hotel (2 Canal Street) Cute boutique hotel offering good service and hosting a restaurant on its ground floor, directly on Canal street, www.velvetmanchester.com
Macdonald Townhouse (101 Portland Street) City hotel with comfortable rooms in boutique style, macdonaldhotels.co.uk
Hilton Manchester (Deansgate 303) Deansgate, Petersfield. Big spenders can pamper themselves with a stay at the highest building in town. The Hilton Hotel only occupies the lower 23 floors of the 47-storey building, but offers magnificent views all the same, www.hilton.com
The REM Hotel (33 Sackville Street) The ground floor of 33 Sackville Street houses the mens’ bar The REM, one floor up the plush bar of Belinda Scandal. All other floors are for hotel guests only. The perfect accommodation at the core of the Gay Village, www.rembar.co.uk
All information on the gay scene can be found in SPARTACUS INTERNATIONAL GAY GUIDE or Spartacus App!
A ridiculous amount of coffee was consumed in the process of building this project. Add some fuel if you'd like to keep us going!