London Stories and Tips

Manchester: "There's nowt so queer as folk.."

I bet you have never thought of having a holiday in Manchester? Well, you would be missing something - it's an extraordinary city. Of all the cities in Britain that have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps (and thats going against much-applauded renaissances in Glasgow, Leeds, and Cardiff)- Manchester has to be the most successful. It makes a fantastic base for touring Liverpool, north Wales, Chester, the Peak and Lake District and even the Yorkshire moors. And you can come back after all that quaint scenery and hit some of the best nightlife in Europe. It's where the groundbreaking drama "Queer as Folk" was set and the "gay village" is now massive and is based around Canal Street and its trendy bars. Rather then giving it a miss - you will be cursing yourself why didn't you discover it sooner.

Of course I am biased, its where I went to university, and that institution gives it a youthful feel and much more tolerance than other cities of its size. Accommodation is cheap and cheerful and as it doesn't get many tourists you will be more of a novelty then in jaded London or York. Train connections with the capital are fast and frequent and direct flights from America and the continent means it is now very easy to get there. But you are asking yourself what is there to do? All I have seen are pictures of back-to-back terraces and smoky chimneys. Well, I shall tell you...

Manchester, there is no denying it, is a child of the industrial revoloution. It did not evolve naturally like Oxford or Salisbury and so it has thousands of tiny back-to-back narrow streets and a cityscape of chimneys. If you have ever seen the longrunning soap 'Coronation Street' you will know what to expect. But it is a very wealthy city and the designer shopping down St Anns Square is worth a look. A colossal IRA bomb ripped the guts out of the city centre and allowed them to redesign it with a huge plaza, major shopping centre and wide vistas - Manchester town centre now looks rather modernist and attractive. But the city is probably best used as a base to visit the surrounding area, buses from Chorlton Street bus station head in every direction

Apart from the Science museum I would make for the Grenada Studios tour and theme park. Its rather small by American standards but is wonderfully inventive and friendly. Grenada makes some very popular dramas including 'Coronation Street' where you can wander the set and poke your nose into the 'Rovers Return' inn, but also Sherlock Holmes, The Jewel in The Crown and the like. But most enjoably is a recreation of the House of Commons where you take up the seats of the MP's. You are involved in a mock debate where you are either the government or the opposition - and the result can be hysterically funny.

But most importantly it is a massive gay centre especially around Canal Street. Due to the success of the television series the area has become very trendy amongst straights as well as gays. And summer nights sees crowds of hundreds of people moving between the bars. There are countless bars and clubs; below are some of the most popular.

'Mantos', 46 Canal Street, Sat-Sun 4.00pm-6.00am

The bar which started it all. Very stylish multi-level bar with bottled beer and up-to-the-minute music. Patrons look down on others from a balcony and the food is very good including Cajun chicken breast and speghetti al pesto.

'Velvet', 2 Canal Street,12.00pm - 11.30pm

Velvet outtrends the trendiest. The place has had a fortune spent on it. The staircase has a fishtank embedded in it and in the toilets are the QVC shopping channel. The rest of the bar is full of red curtains and pink and blue chairs. It's surprisingly friendly and that Manchester speciality, Boddingtons is on tap - what more could you want?

'Via Fossa', 28-30 Canal Street, 11.00am to 2.00am

My favourite bar in Manchester. Its decked out on many levels like a German gothic cathedral with lots of nooks and crannies. The place does tremendous business and several scenes form 'Queer as Folk' were filmed here as the evening warms up the crowd gets friendlier and local office workers are often here to join in the fun.

'Paradise Factory',112 Princess Street, 10.00pm-6.00am.

In the fickle world of Manchester clubland 'Paradise' may have gone already. But if is still there then you are in for a good night. Housed in an old warehouse and on five levels each with a different type of music - house, techno, handbag, rave etc - the place is amazing! It gets very packed and sweaty and if you aren't into drugs maybe not worth a look. This place was one of the instigators of the Madchester craze in the early nineities - and after a visit you can see why the city is so well loved...

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