Manchester, England’s third largest city has an active and very vibrant gay scene. Canal St is the centre of the gay village and it is where it all happens. It is not surprising that many of the gay venues run along one side of Rochdale Canal and on the other side of the street there are tables and chairs for drinking and eating. Canal Street, over the years, has grown to be the UK’s largest LGBT centre, outside of London. The Gay Village is home to many annual events, such as Sparkle the Trans Festival, the Bears Bash and The Skins Weekend. Manchester Pride is one of the top Pride events in Europe and Canal St plays host to tens of thousands of people in late August each year.
When we visited Canal Street we found rainbow flags flying on an array of venues and drag queens parading outside clubs and restaurants. The atmosphere was busy and lively but the street itself has become so popular for ‘hens nights’ and tourists that on Saturday nights it has unfortunately become somewhat of a circus. However, other nights are very ‘normal’ for a gay street. We still decided to eat at the well known Velvet Bar and Restaurant at the top of Canal Street. This downstairs, dimly lit eatery was a perfect place to meet our friends. The food was of a good standard and the atmosphere was pleasant and relaxed. There is also the five star Velvet Hotel above the restaurant. This is a luxury hotel but quite expensive. Taurus Bar is right next door and it has the reputation of being one of the best bars in Canal Street. (http://www.taurus-bar.co.uk)
After dinner, our friends suggested we have a drink at The Molly House just one street behind Canal Street. This three storey bar with its comforting ambiance, good range of beers on tap and its excellent tapas, was a great choice. We settled in on the second level where the bar had a large space for standing and drinking and cosy leather lounges at the end of the room. When we were there we found the bar filled with a mixed group of guys. We can highly recommend this bar and when leaving it don’t forget to have a peak around the corner at the three storey high mural on the outside back wall, depicting local gay icons including Quenten Crisp.
Our last stop for the night was The Eagle at 15 Bloom St in the village. This male only bar, unlike some other Eagle Bars around the world, is stylish, plays dance and electro music and the crowd was only semi butch. We really liked this late night bar and found it to be one of the best in Manchester’s gay village. There is also a back bar known as the Black Eagle. It is darker than the front bar and more typical of cruise bars.(http://www.eaglemanchester.com)
When in Manchester make a bee (symbol of the city) line to Canal Street and the gay village. The bars, restaurants and clubs attract a huge diversity of the LGBT community, not only from all over the UK but also from the rest of the world, including Australia. We loved spending a short stay here but we will definitely stay a bit longer on a future visit.
P.S. Manchester has recently opened a stunning new library in one of its remarkable old buildings near the town hall. If you want to find out all about the history of Canal Street, it’s community and it’s struggle for equal recognition, the new library is a great place to find out everything. It has an interactive film display which incorporates old newspaper clippings with film and narrative to provide a complete picture of the Canal Street story. We found this place fascinating. Don’t miss it.