Manchester, England was made famous for LGBT Americans by the original Queer as Folk, a one-season show in the United Kingdom, with the first-ever depictions of raw gay sex ever to hit the telly there. The 'dears' (older, conservative church-lady types) were up in arms but lesbian, gay and progressive Brits were smitten.The show is long over but its affects still resonate in this, the 10th anniversary year of the show's debut.
The city proper is in England's top 10 in terms of population but in the top two or three in terms of the extended metropolitan area. This makes for a great urban experience, with lots to do in a relatively small easily navigated area. With the large nearby population the small city can also support numerous cultural institutions, including museums, galleries, opera, theaters and more. There's also great shopping and lots of interesting sightseeing.
This city was founded around 100 AD by the Romans as a fort but gained prominence during the cotton trade and industrial revolution of the late 1800s when it catapulted to the front of the world's cities as a rich, important crossroads where raw American cotton wasprocessed into finished thread and cloth. Numerous Victorian-area buildings were constructed in neo Gothic and faux Tudor styles, and many still exist today, their original purposes as factories and warehouses given over to posh stores and spiffy, modern apartments.
The city went into a long decline after the collapse of the cotton economy and flight of manufacturing to other areas. As recently as 1995, the population of the city center was a mere 500 souls. Today that numbers is closer to 30,000 and with these urban pioneers there are restaurants, pubs, parks, events, and interesting architecture to experience. Surprising to many the city is near much open green space, hills and small mountains, affording locals and in-the-know visitors easy access to the verdant, wide-open spaces.
This is northern Europe and it's rarely super hot even at the height of summer though it's not super cold during winter. Still best time for Americans to visit is in the June to September timeframe. If you can, plan your trip to experience Manchester Pride, a 10-day cultural celebration that takes place the last week in August (to coincide with a bank holiday the last Monday of August) with all sorts of events from the raucous (post-Pride, standing-room-only outdoor parties along Canal Street) to the moving (candlelit vigil for victims of HIV and AIDS).
WHERE TO STAY
To be closest to the Gay Village, centered along Canal Street, you have several great options within steps of the gay scene, including The Malmaison Manchester, which offers a rich black and red color scheme and plush banquettes in the lobby, a gay-popular lounge, Malbar, worth a visit for its sexy interior, and restaurant serving modern takes on regional specialties. The rooms are comfortably equipped. Some are small: Be sure to ask for a larger unit when booking. The Internet is free as long as you are willing to keep logging in every 30 minutes, though it's inexpensive to pay a per-day rate. The City Inn is lighter and airier with a glass-fronted lobby area, which is great for people watching and a very bright, modern bar-lounge just off the lobby, the Blue Bar, offering a vibrant, sophisticated option. Bedrooms include Macs and free WiFi.
WHERE TO EAT
Like the eponymous hotel it's housed in, the Malmaison Brasserie features a rich, dark palette of colors along with flickering candles to produce a sophisticated and romantic atmosphere. Locally sourced ingredients are put together with creativity. Cheshire is a source for much produce, and you can't leave this region or this restaurant without sampling some of the cheeses famous the world over.
Elegant and cosmopolitan, Albert's Shed is located in the Castlefield section of the city along a picturesque river -- a former warehouse district transformed into a chic quarter of upscale restaurants, shops and galleries. There's also a replica of one of the original Roman fortifications nearby and well worth a visit. Here you'll find upscale and modern takes on Italian and other cuisines.
The Modern is a slick, sophisticated restaurant occupying the top two floors of the landmark Urbis building, a marvel of modern architecture, which should be on your list of attractions to visit. Have a drink upstairs before dinner downstairs. The views are stunning almost any time of the year or day, but it's particularly nice when the sun is setting since the restaurant faces west.
Serving exciting and innovative regional cuisine using locally sourced ingredients, the Michael Caines Restaurant and Champagne Bar makes a good choice for lunch or dinner. It's located on the entrance level of the chic aBode Manchester Hotel.
WHERE TO PLAY/MEET
The compact city is packed full of gay and lesbian bars mostly concentrated along Canal Street, the famous pedestrian-only street depicted in Queer as Folk and running, appropriately enough, alongside the scenic old Rochdale Canal. To start your evening and also possibly to end it, just head to "Anal Treat" as it's affectionately known among Mancs, and meander up and down popping in and out of all the different bars. Each has a different feeling and atmosphere. You can get to-go cups and carry your party with you.
Hip and chic but friendly and inexpensive, Manto Bar was also one of the earliest bars, opening in 1991. Its name comes from Manchester Today and it was known for its floor-to-ceiling glass front windows, affording views inside and out, a radical notion back then.
Queer is a fun, friendly relaxed spot during the day but becomes a popular bar-club at night. Vanilla is a vibrant, popular women-only option in the Gay Village just off of Canal Street.
WHAT TO DO
Art and design
Known for its excellent collection of pre-Raphaelite paintings, the Manchester Art Gallery boasts a world-class collection of fine and decorative art. The stunning Lowry is both a work of art and a collection of art of the famous Mancunian painter, LS Lowry. Enjoy the view of the Urbis from afar, its modern yet sensual shape constantly changing depending on the amount of sun or clouds. But do step inside to explore the experience of urban living through interactive galleries and interesting programming.
Artists, designers and crafts lovers will love the Manchester Craft and Design Centre, in its cleverly converted fish market in the Northern Quarter. Before or after your visit, explore this Bohemian neighborhood with its music stores (so much cool old vinyl!), cafes and unique boutiques.
Discover the largely hidden gay side of Manchester on an Out in the Past Heritage Trail tour (+44 (0) 871 222 8223; firstname.lastname@example.org), where an openly gay guide will take you to one of the many sites around the city marked with an embedded rainbow glass tile marker and discuss its historical interest to the LGBT community. The tiles are still occasionally defaced, demonstrating sadly that homophobia is still alive despite the strides made in the progressive city of Manchester (and elsewhere in the world).
Every August, Manchester Pride hosts many tens of thousands of visitors from the world over to a 10-day program of music, dance, arts, films and more.
In May Queerupnorth is Europe's leading queer arts and entertainment festival celebrating. Also held every May, Manchester's ManBears sponsors the fun Great British Bear Bash, four days of furry.
WHERE TO SHOP
The Trafford Centre makes for an enjoyable visit with a wide range of stores and designers available in one convenient location. No visit to Manchester for shoppers would be complete without checking out Harvey Nichols, which has a great men's department. Have a drink in their restaurant and enjoy the great views. On Saturdays Harvey Nichols offers mixology classes, which is really just a way to enjoy a few really tasty and innovative cocktails for cheap while learning how to properly mix drinks and shake a cocktail. When you're finished your shopping and exhausted, nip into Harvey Nichol's Urban Retreat for a rejuvenating facial.
Mancs or Mancunians as they are known locally are friendly and welcoming to all visitors and it seems like they have a special affinity for gay and lesbian travelers. They even have a section of their official website geared towards the LGBT market.