Gay Manchester, a booming gay capital of Europe, has an amazing Pride!

By @ 06/18/18 in Dane Steele, David Perry, Gay pride, Gay travel, Manchester, Travel
Manchester in ManAboutWorld gay travel magazine

When it stops being a wig and starts being a triumph of architecture

It’s the gayest city in the United Kingdom, and it is not London. Gather round, dear readers, and find out how an itty-bitty backwater named Manchester became one of the outright gay capitals of Europe.

Gay Manchester: story and photos by travel writer David Perry.

Most histories will give the quick version of Manchester’s rise; that it was born out of the Industrial Revolution. Not true; the city traces its lineage back to the Romans, circa 79 AD, when it was known as Mancunium, a name that lives on in “Mancunian,” what people from Manchester call themselves. But it is also true that during Roman rule and for centuries after, it remained a pastoral, rather backwoodsy community living in the particularly long shadow of nearby Liverpool. Nevertheless, by 1520, Manchester earned a rep for its weavers, and that is key.

Manchester in ManAboutWorld gay travel magazine

Manchester Town Hall welcomes the world

Because by 1600, Manchester’s looms were throwing sparks thanks to cotton from the New World. Canals were dug. Warehouses, mills, and factories thrown up. A commodities exchange established. By the Victorian Era, it was “Liverpool where?” But something else was happening, something that blue-blooded London or stodgy Oxford could not have predicted: Manchester, having been built by common men (nicknamed “worker bees,”) became an incandescent hotbed of common-men ideas. Abolitionism, free trade, Marxism, women’s rights, workers’ rights, immigration, child labor, republicanism, parliamentary reform, and yes, discussions on the inherent rights and liberties for “Urianians” and “homogenic love” — early terms for gay men and same-sex affection — found fertile soil, often for the first time, in Manchester’s unions and trade halls.

Manchester in ManAboutWorld gay travel magazine

Nice cock in the Northern Quarter

Skip to 2018, and very gay Manchester still has a decidedly anti-snooty vibe, bees are the ubiquitous city emblem, and the gay life is off the charts. Manchester Pride (August 24 – 28) is one of the oldest of its kind in the UK, and one of the biggest events on the city’s calendar. This is the city that inspired “Queer as Folk,” after all. Mancunians particularly embrace the LGBTQ heritage; you may see a few rainbow flags flying year-round in the form of small mosaics in sidewalks and facades. These are stations along the famous Manchester LGBT Heritage Trail, a historic stroll through the seminal events and places that made gay rights a “thing.” Advertisers, from mega-companies like Thomas Cook Airlines to modest self-storage warehouses, fall over themselves getting a float in the Pride Parade. It’s all very chummy. And gives “God Save the Queen” a whole new dimension.

It is also homo-concentrate! (KEEP READING… 🙂

Gay Manchester in ManABoutWorld gay travel magazine

Pride, Manchester-style

The irony to gay travel in Europe is that several cities, while gay-friendly, do not have gay sections — London included. Not so Manchester; the Gay Village runs two blocks along Canal Street (whose signs inevitably are missing the “C”) from Charlton Street to the A34. In reality, it is much larger, extending to Major St. to Whitworth and crammed end to end with gay establishments of every description. But visiting Americans should keep in mind for all the rainbows and drag queens, this is still Britain; trying to find a gay bar in Manchester, or just about anywhere in the UK, is none too easy since gay pubs rule the roost here…and yes, there is a difference. On Bar, New York New York, Via — these homey homo-nexuses are brightly lit, rarely deafening, almost like a living room, and the drinking is adults-only. Perhaps because Manchester Pride is so big, organizers manage the crowd with ticketed events; just getting into the Gay Village during Pride requires an official wristband and single or four-day passes.

Another cultural curveball is the very much alive club culture. Nothing will make a gay Gen Xer feel ancient as trying to explain to a Millennial what the gay clubs of the 90s was like. Grindr may have killed many a dance hall in the USA, but the beat goes on in Britain (and Europe as a whole) without a break. In Manchester, pride of place goes to Gaydio, a cavernous space that seemingly warped out of a Club Kid wet dream and pulls in the best trance and techno DJs the world over. The dancing goes till dawn, and it is not unusual for people to go in, come out for a late dinner, and then go back in again.

Manchester in ManAboutWorld gay travel magazineThe four days of drinking, dragging, dancing, and doing the nasty culminate in a candlelight vigil in the Sackville Gardens, a small park near Canal Street and site of a memorial to Alan Turing. Played memorably by Benedict Cumberbatch in The Initiation Game, he was the Mancunian cryptanalyst broke Nazi encryption codes and helped the Allies win World War II but nevertheless convicted and jailed of “gross indecency,” that is, being gay, and later chemically castrated before his suicide. As much a remembrance of Turing and other martyred LGBTQs, it is a reminder that such oppression is still very much alive.

But it also marks just how far we’ve come.

Manchester: What to Know

The downside: you cannot just show up. Manchester Pride is so big, organizers manage the crowd by ticketed events; just getting into the Gay Village during Pride requires an official wristband and single or four-day passes, to say nothing of the concerts et al. On the other hand, you need not pay through the nose to fly into London and then train it to Manchester; the city has its own international airport.

Manchester: Where We Stay

The Radisson Blu Edwardian Being on Peter St. puts the hotel grand entrance, and its bar, directly on the route of the Pride Parade (and makes it one of the better vantage points). Almost dead-center of town, the Edwardian is instantly recognizable by the grand arches fronting its Peter St. side, and is a smart choice for gay visitors by being within walking distance of the Gay Village and also some of the best not-necessarily-gay sights in town, including the John Rylands Library, Manchester Town Hall and Manchester Central Library (a trio of architectural gems) and the Manchester Art Gallery. Even better, expect the hotel to fly the rainbow flag during Pride; the Edwardian is a proud ally.

The Midland Can’t miss it; its brick-red Edwardian Baroque facade is one of the most ornate in Manchester, as is the display of rainbow flags and unicorns festooning the entrance during Pride Week. Also on the Pride Parade route, the historic Midland (so named having been built by the Midland Railway back in 1903) has some interesting trivia, being the place where Charles Rolls meet Henry Royce met and drove off into history, and for refusing The Beatles entry on the grounds they were “inappropriately dressed.” Raow!

Jurys Inn Contemporary and boutique-y, the sleek Jurys is just off the Pride Parade route, but right next to Bridgewater Hall (for music) and Manchester235 (for gambling and entertainment). We all have our vices.

Manchester in ManAboutWorld gay travel magazine

Pony up for a pint at The Refuge

Manchester: Where We Eat

Albert’s Schloss This German-styled beer hall-cum-cook haus is the finest of its kind in Manchester and very possibly the busiest. Just down the street from the Radisson Edwardian Blu and Midland, it’s a great watering hole provided you can get a seat. Heavily on the Teutonic (an irony, considering the Germans bombed Manchester flat in World War II), you can catch some awesome old-school cabaret along with the suds.

Albert Square Chop House Built in 1866 as a warehouse and right across from the Neo-Gothic Manchester Town Hall, this mega-British eatery is, while casual and relaxed, is where you go to impress. Celebrated for its menu, also on Albert’s guests’ radar should be the bar with its extensive list of local, oh-so Mancunian ales.

Evelyn’s Located in the counter-culture haven of Manchester’s Northern Quarter, Evelyn’s proves America’s dim view of English cuisine is woefully obsolete. Cozy and unpretentious in setup, guests have a particularly global menu, spanning tofu to buttermilk chicken.

The Refuge Housed in the atmospheric and fabulously ornate Principal Assurance Building (transmogrified into an atmospheric and fabulously ornate hotel), the Refuge covers several bases at once: prestige address, beer hall, and world-cuisine mecca. Korean chicken, Gloucester pork belly, and lamb shawarma seamlessly blend on the menu, to say north of the vast array of options available at the bar.

Old Wellington Inn This half-timbered and quintessentially English pub, built in 1552, is also one of Manchester’s oldest surviving buildings. Famous throughout the UK for its ales, the Wellington has seen some of the seminal moments of Manchester’s history, serving as HQ for its nascent commercial moguls in 1600s. Most visitors, though, skip the history and go straight for the ales. Can’t blame ‘em, those ales rock.

The Whitworth Art Gallery It may sound odd to go to a world-class modern art museum for the food, but chef Peter Booth crafted a menu as artistic as the installations. Locally and ethically sourced, the menu includes an afternoon tea that is so popular one must book a seat in advance. The art, by the way, is swell, too.

Mr. Thomas Chop House Blending Victorian industrial muscularity with Art Nouveau chic, this eatery every year plasters a big ol’ Pride Flag in its window to loudly proclaim who’s side its own. Very British, the menu takes traditional fare like salmon and ham and morphs it into some of the most stylish culinary experiences in Manchester.

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