The most unexpected discovery for me in Leeds was the large number of LGBTQ bars that occupy a “quarter” of the city. The amount of places to visit is a point of pride for locals who traipse from spot to spot. I’m out on a Thursday night, and it’s packed with people from all walks of life. I start at Fibre (168 Lower Briggate, Leeds. Tel: +44-113-344-9550. www.barfibre.com), a chic cocktail lounge with an outdoors, but I ultimately end up with new friends at Tunnel Leeds (1 Commercial Court 11A, Briggate. Tel: +44-870-124- 6534. www.tunnelleeds.com), an exciting venue that features some of the best DJs, dance parties, and performers in the city.
Manchester is a city that purrs with a level of excitement not many places can rival. Luckily for traveler’s from the USA, Virgin Atlantic (www.virginatlantic.com) has regular nonstop flights to Manchester from New York, Los Angeles, and Boston. It’s here where the Industrial Revolution began, and it also has a proud history of science, politics, music, arts, and sport. This is the city where the atom was first split, the world’s first passenger railway was opened, and the modern computer was invented. It’s where pioneers like Emmeline Pankhurst, Alan Turing (who you can pay tribute to in Sackville Gardens), LS Lowry, and Anthony Burgess all called home.
It’s impossible to talk about Manchester without discussing music. It’s where bands like the Smiths, Oasis, Joy Division, and the Stone Roses were inspired to write music that moved the world. One place to walk is the façade of the former Hacienda Nightclub. A timeline is etched in the walls of the now-apartment complex on the side of the Rochdale Canal. You can see the importance of this venue as a center of the city’s creative, nightlife scene. Madonna performed here back in 1983 and the club eventually became an epicenter for house music and the queer community, earning the city the reputation as Gaychester in the mid-90s.
While the Gaychester nickname has been left in the 90s, the city’s queer community is thriving. As a tourist, a walk around the Gay Village reveals just how LGBTQ the city is today. Dozens of canal-lined cafes and restaurants transform into thriving clubs at night. The streets light up into a Mardi Gras–style gay celebrations and the people of Manchester also live up to their reputation as a party-hard crowd. If you visit during the summer, make sure to attend Manchester Pride (www.manchesterpride.com), where people from all over England come to celebrate all things LGBTQ.
The arts continue to thrive here, too. One new development, HOME (2 Tony Wilson Place, Manchester. www.homemcr.org), has created a much-needed modern-day arts space for local and traveling performances. Its programming is also queer heavy. When I visited, I had the chance to see Jinx Monsoon (winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race) perform to a soldout crowd. HOME also hosts many of Manchester Pride’s cultural films and theatrical performances.
As you explore the city, you may notice that Manchester’s entrepreneurs and architects are having a lot of fun creating some creative new spaces by reclaiming some of the city’s iconic out-of-use structures. One such place is the Manchester Three Rivers Gin School (21 Red Bank, Manchester. www.manchesterthreerivers.com) where I took that exciting class. The area, north of the City Center, is known as The Green Quarter. It’s also home to some secret queer parties such as Homoelectric (www.facebook.com/Homoelectric-16499670131).
A Manchester icon, the Mackie Mayor, is another example of reclamation. This former meat market on Swan Street was in disrepair for decades, however, it has been brought back to life by the team behind the wildly successful Altrincham Market. The bright food court has a wide range of options (from Thai cuisine and pizza to fish and chips) with chalkboard menus changing throughout the day.
My hotel, too, The Edwardian Manchester (Peter Street Free Trade Hall, Manchester. Tel: +44-161-835-9929. www.radissonblu-edwardian.com) is in an impeccably revived building. It was formerly the Free Trade Hall where the likes of The Smiths, Shirley Bassey, Leondard Cohen, The Ramones, Gladys Knight, and Abba performed. The most important performances to have taken place here, though, are by Bob Dylan in 1966 and a concert by the Sex Pistols for only 30 people (in audience were New Order, The Buzzcocks, Simply Red, and even Morrissey). The hotel now is a comfortable place to call home in Manchester, located in the City Center, where guests will get all the amenities they need. My favorite activity at the hotel during my stay was a visit to the spa and a swim in the indoor pool.
The hotel is also making waves for its restaurant, Peter Street Kitchen, which opened as a part of the hotel’s multi-million-pound renovation. This place is for ‘shared dining’ and consists of small plates from two different cuisines: contemporary Japanese and Mexican. The result is surprisingly wonderful.
The next day I take a truly fabulous tour of the ultra-hip Northern Quarter. The tour is called The Modern History of the Northern Quarter As Told Through its Public Art (www.theskyliner.org/tours). I love having blogger and historian Hayley Flynn take me along to uncover the story of the Northern Quarter, from its humble beginnings as a hub of cotton manufacturing to one of the city’s best-loved bohemian areas, as well as home to the city’s best and brightest street art. She is wildly knowledgeable about the neighborhood and points out everything from major art installations to tiny pieces that most Mancunians would walk right by. The neighborhood is buzzing on this Saturday, too, and we walk into shops like Queer Eye’s Tan’s favorite clothing shop in Manchester (he lived here) Afflecks (52 Church St, Manchester. Tel: +44- 161-839-0718.), which is dubbed “an emporium of eclecticism, a totem of indie commerce” and has some of the best-curated stock of clothes I’ve ever seen.
That night in the Gay Village, everyone seems to be out enjoying the first warmer spring nights. Drag queens mingle with sashay-wearing 18 year olds who dance on the cobblestone streets in front of stag parties. I think about my entire trip to Northern England and I recall the flavors of the food, the sense of humor and love from the people, and the fascinating history of this exciting region. “Strong, flavorful, loud, a bit moody, colorful, with some spice thrown in,” describes it perfectly.