Travel

Manchester: Every Reason to Be Proud and Gay

by Mark Thompson
EDGE Style & Travel Editor
Monday Jul 25, 2011
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Remember when you turned 21? Neither do we. But still, there’s something resonant about that age - as if the world suddenly opens a door for you. And guess who’s turning 21 this year? None other than Manchester Pride.

You know, Manchester, as in "Queer as Folk," the original series. Manchester, the hometown of Morrissey, the Smiths, New Order, Oasis, Joy Division and Simply Red - and nearly every other band you danced to during your slightly goth coming-out phase.

And yes, Manchester, the town where the pursuit of LGBT equality has been a seminal part of Mancunian history. Mancunian - that’s what we call people who live in Manchester, England.

That Manchester. That’s the city we’re talking about. In other words, the city that is no baby sister to any other British town.

By now, thanks to the near-global conquest of "Queer as Folk," most everyone knows that LGBT life in Manchester starts at what is known as the Gay Village, a series of cobblestoned thoroughfares centered around Canal Street. But what you might not yet realize is that during Manchester Pride, the Gay Village morphs into a 24/7 bacchanal.


For the nearly ten days and nights of Manchester Pride, the Gay Village becomes a veritable amusement park, with manned gates and entrance fees. Since its inception twenty-one years ago, Manchester Pride has raised more than one million dollars for LGBT and HIV charities across Greater Manchester.

One of the final Pride celebrations of the global calendar year, Manchester Pride’s Big Weekend occurs during the annual August bank holiday, with Saturday afternoon’s Pride Parade, which remains the city’s largest, as the centerpiece. More than one hundred floats and marching contingents cheer their way through the city’s center, including the stars of the world’s longest-running television soap opera, "Coronation Street," this year celebrating its 51st year of filming in Manchester.

Last year’s official Grand Marshal for the 20th annual Manchester Pride Parade was Sir Ian McKellen (also known throughout Pride as Serena McKellen) who worked a rainbow-colored feather boa and a t-shirt that stated: "Some People are Gay. Get Over It."

Winner of "Best Pride Event" in the UK for the past four years, as well as a recent nominee for "World’s Best Pride" award, this year’s Manchester Pride 21 hosts more than 40 events at more than 20 different venues, with headliners such as Pam Ann, Pixie Lott, and a rainbow cast of virtuoso entertainers and consummate performers.


For many Mancunians, the raison d’être of Manchester Pride occurs on Monday evening, the final night of Pride, at Sackville Gardens, the picturesque locale for the HIV Candlelit Vigil. There, beneath the trees, amidst the garden, and alongside the life-size bronze memorial statue of Alan Turing, the eminent mathematician and father of computer science who was persecuted and prosecuted for his homosexuality, thousands of people gather for a contemplative celebration of those who have died.

For many, it’s the sight of a silent crowd holding thousands of candles that speaks the loudest.

"Each year we go above and beyond to ensure Manchester Pride is bigger and better whilst remaining true to our roots as a fundraiser for local LGBT and HIV charities," says Jackie Crozier, festival director of Manchester Pride. "And the fact that people travel across the country and even the world to attend really means everything to us."

One of the joys of Manchester Pride is the outpouring of support from the city at large throughout the ten-day festival. With a parade route lined with the full spectrum of humanity, from children to grandparents, all cheering, waving and singing along to gay anthems while waving rainbow flags, Manchester Pride presages an almost idyllic world where everyone is happy and free.

It’s no wonder that you see so many people in Manchester (and the world over) wearing t-shirts with the city’s motto: I [heart] MCR. What better sentiment to capture the spirit of a city that practices camaraderie in the pursuit of civil rights.

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WHAT TO DO:

Over the Rainbow/Gay Manchester Walking Tour: As Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living," which is another way of saying, "Know yourself," which means, "Know your history - and especially if you’re gay."

And one thing you’ll realize with this brilliant walking tour is that Manchester has been at the vanguard in the fight for LGBT equality. Take, for example, Manchester’s Lesbian and Gay Heritage Trail, a series of rainbow tiles set into the pavement at various LGBT historic points around the city. Originated during Manchester’s hosting of Europride in 2003, the Lesbian and Gay Heritage Trail has become one of the city’s more popular tours, commingling a rainbow cast of Mancunian heroes such as Quentin Crisp, Noel Coward, Albert Kennedy, and Edward Carpenter.

Right behind Canal Street, over in a quiet corner of Sackville Gardens, there’s the "Beacon of Hope," the United Kingdom’s only permanent HIV/AIDS memorial. Across the lawn is the Alan Turing Memorial - further evidence of Manchester’s commitment to making LGBT history an integral part of its cityscape.

Tours are often led by Manchester Councilor Paul Fairweather, a true gentleman and an LGBT scholar who brings our history to life with an articulate empathy for the struggles we’ve endured and the victories we’ve earned. Be grateful for how far we’ve come - and for those who have brought us here.

LINK: Over the Rainbow/Gay Manchester or Tour Manchester with Pauline Lloyd


East Lancashire Railway: Even if you don’t have a Harry Potter fetish, or a penchant for Victoriana, or a rail worker fantasy, you’re going to love taking a ride on this coal-powered, steam locomotive. And if you’re lucky, you might even get to ride in the engine - and shovel coal.

The East Lancashire Railway is a 12-mile heritage railway that runs from Bury to Ramsbottom, and beyond to Rawtenstall. Ramsbottom is one of those impossibly quaint British towns - and to arrive there via coal train is to feel as if you’ve stepped back in time and found yourself in a beautiful time warp.

Keep your cameras within reach - and don’t be surprised to find yourself smiling uncontrollably. Everyone else is, too.

LINK: East Lancashire Railway

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(Feature story continues on next pages: Where to Eat, Where to Stay, Getting There, Tourism Info...)


WHERE TO EAT:

Ramsons Restaurant: In a quaintly picturesque British village called Ramsbottom, just beyond the confines of Manchester proper, there lives a man named Chris Johnson who is, quite simply, the epitome of a gourmand restaurateur. As well, Mr. Johnson is a raconteur - and to dine at Ramsons Restaurant, Mr. Johnson’s gourmet restaurant, is to experience an amalgam of Italian cuisine and some of Britain’s best regional fare.

According to Mr. Johnson - and there is much about a meal at Ramsons that is "according to Mr. Johnson" - the smell of garlic in early spring permeates the countryside around Ramsbottom and the restaurant is named for that wild garlic that thrives in the area.

One afternoon in late summer, a four-course meal, with wine pairings, commenced with a twice-baked leek and ricotta soufflé, followed by a garden pea and spinach soup, drizzled with truffle oil. There was also a carnaroli rice risotto, with Parmesan crust, and dressed salads and vegetables, as well as seasonal British or Italian cheeses, and an apple crumble cheesecake. If, by chance, you feel that this is not enough, there is also what Mr. Johnson describes as Ramsons’ "most indulgent" menu, a gourmet tasting menu of ten strictly seasonal tastes of the chef’s choice.

The restaurant has a loyalty program, which is entirely in keeping with the restaurant’s popularity amongst locals, as well as Mr. Johnson’s fellow gourmands who travel serious distances to eat, again, at Ramsons.

In another life, it’s possible that Mr. Johnson was a theatre impresario - but we are fortunate that, in this life, he is one of Britain’s most gifted restaurateurs.

LINK: Ramsons Restaurant


Ning: In 2006, in the Northern Quarter of Manchester, a restaurant opened that quickly became the ne plus ultra in Malaysian food in the United Kingdom.

Helmed by Norman Musa, a Malaysian native and Manchester Chef of the Year finalist, Ning serves indigenous Malaysian cuisine taught to Mr. Musa by his mother in their hometown of Butterworth in Penang, Malaysia.

A gado-gado salad of warm vegetables and tofu is topped with a homemade spice peanut sauce, while a plate of kuey teow goreng with wok-fried rice noodles, bean sprouts, and chili sauce is a plate of home-cooked memories. This is the kind of food that you imagine growing up with if you were fortunate enough to be raised in a country with such a vibrant culinary history.

Mr. Musa, who is also a television star, best-selling author, and cooking instructor, has an ebullient personality that perfectly complements his dynamic cooking - and the combination creates an ongoing celebratory atmosphere within the stylish restaurant.

LINK: Ning Restaurant


Cheshire Life @ Harvey Nichols Manchester: As Patsy always convinced Eddy, there’s nothing like Harvey Nichols to improve your mood - and who are we to argue with Patsy?

Manchester’s Harvey Nichols is a stunning structure with soaring glass walls and panoramic city views - and the restaurant is perfectly situated to cosset you with bubbles and more than 400 wines from around the world. Even Patsy would approve.

At night, after the store has closed, the restaurant is a refuge from the hoi polloi and a lovely sanctuary in which to indulge your decadent inclinations. Start with a Jerusalem artichoke risotto, followed by spring vegetables and duck egg with leek terrine - and then finish it off with a chestnut mousse. Or maybe the rhubarb parfait. Or order them both. Patsy would.

Indulge; you only live once - so live it well at Harvey Nichols.

LINK: Cheshire Life @ Harvey Nichols Manchester


Michael Caines MC Bar and Café: Located in the ABode Hotel, right off of Piccadilly, this casually stylish restaurant serves Michelin-starred cuisine created by Michael Caines, one of Britain’s leading chefs. Celebrated for his innovative use of regional and seasonal produce, Caines works wonders with an innovative grazing menu of small plates.

Start the evening at the BarMC, with a flute of champagne - and then see how quickly you succumb to the seductive atmosphere.

LINK: Michael Caines MC Bar and Café


Mint Hotel Skylounge: Sometimes you just want to get away from it all, escape from the fray - because sometimes Manchester Pride can be a little intense. What you need then is a perch, an aerie, from which to view your loyal subjects - because, after all, you’re a queen. That’s when you head to Skylounge. Located at the top of Mint Hotel, Skylounge affords you perspective - and space. It’s an elegant sanctuary at the top of Manchester. Order a martini - shaken, not stirred - and toast to the city that does Pride right.

LINK: Skylounge @ Mint Hotel

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(Feature story continues on next page: Where to Stay, Getting There, Tourism Info...)


WHERE TO STAY:

Townhouse Manchester: Formerly known as the Princess, the property on the corner of Princess and Portland (a five-minute walk to Canal Street) has undergone a $6 million renovation and been rechristened the Townhouse Manchester.

Right in the heart of Manchester, this former cotton warehouse is a splendid historic Victorian building with beautiful bones and a solid foundation - and the meticulous renovation has transformed a Victorian dowager into a Victorian princess.

The 85 executive rooms and suites are tastefully designed in a palette of earth and jewel tones, with modern chairs and tables - and the spacious bathrooms are equipped with monsoon rain showers. The beds are heavenly. Suites include a selection of fresh fruit, glossy magazines, and Nespresso machines, which conspire to keep you in the room longer than you might have anticipated. And if the weather is inclement, it’s all the more tempting to have a spa day at this four-star property.

The breakfast buffet is a full-on British meal, complete with beans and broiled tomatoes, served in a very civilized dining room by an enthusiastic and efficient staff. And the 101 Bar is a lovely lounge in which to take an apero or tea in the late afternoon.

Free WiFi throughout the hotel makes it possible for you to remain happily at the Townhouse - and still get your work done.

LINK: Townhouse Manchester

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GETTING THERE:

American Airlines: Back in May of 2010, American Airlines launched its non-stop Manchester-New York route with two daily flights: one from JFK and the other from O’Hare. Originally a seasonal route, the route proved so popular that American relaunched it in early 2011, with the expectation that the route will operate as a year-round service.

Leaving from the brand-new American Airlines terminal at JFK, American Airlines makes it easier than ever to enjoy a red-eye flight across the pond. The two-class Boeing 757-200 serves 16 in Business Class - and we don’t just mean hot nuts. This is a dining service that lets you choose from smoked salmon, curried shrimp, lamb medallions, or seared scallops. Stuff yourself and seal the deal with Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Sundae - and then sleep it off in comfort before your arrival in Manchester. You’ll be ready for everything Manchester is ready to dish out for you.

And then, on the flight home, order the Pommery Champagne and evaluate all the ways in which you managed to hold onto your pride in spite of your debauchery.

Relax, you deserve the pampering - and American’s transcontinental flights indulge you with the best. After all, American Airlines, much like the city of Manchester, has been at the forefront of the fight for LGBT equality. It’s always good to support our allies - and especially those who were there for us before all the rest.

LINK: American Airlines

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

Manchester Pride: Click here for Manchester Pride

Manchester Tourism: Click here for Manchester Tourism

To help celebrate Manchester Pride’s 21st birthday, the cast of the hit TV show "Shameless" and former England rugby player Ben Cohen produced a short film entitled ’First Time On Canal Street,’ which follows a boy venturing out on to the famous street to celebrate his 21st birthday.

The film is cut to Queen’s ’Don’t Stop Me Now’ and includes members of the city’s LGBT community celebrating the upcoming 21st.

Manchester 21 Video: ’First Time on Canal Street’ YouTube video

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PHOTOS:

Manchester Photos:

Click here for Manchester photo album

Click here for another Manchester photo album


A long-term New Yorker and a member of New York Travel Writers Association, Mark Thompson has also lived in San Francisco, Boston, Provincetown, D.C., Miami Beach and the south of France. The author of the novels WOLFCHILD and MY HAWAIIAN PENTHOUSE, he has a PhD in American Studies and is the recipient of fellowships at MacDowell, Yaddo, and Blue Mountain Center. His work has appeared in numerous publications.

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