The gay village in Manchester has been around for many many years now. I first landed in 1996 when I was brought over by a friend for a day round the shops and then hit a few bars in the village.
I’d been to Manchester many times before this, but never realised the village was 30 seconds behind what was then Chorlton Street bus station.
It was a sunny weekday afternoon as I’d got a day off college. The bars were bustling, we went into the New Union and New York New York, and you couldn’t move. We didn’t go to any other bars, but we went for a walk down Canal Street and lots of people were having a great afternoon, sat outside enjoying the sun.
Roll forward a couple of years, and I decided Manchester was the place for me. The city was big enough for me, but not overwhelming coming from a semi rural background. I thought the gay scene was great, all in one place, and on my first day in this big city, I got a job in what was then called Castros (The small bar below McTuckey’s)
I worked there for a while, over pride ’98 and thoroughly enjoyed it, even if we did end up sleeping on the floor of the bar, it was all a bit of a laugh. I moved on to work in the Union for a while, which was a laugh at the time.
Once I left working in the village, I continued to be involved in various different events and occasions, from painting and decorating inside the Rembrandt, handing out safer sex leaflets, stuffing free condoms and lube into packets and there was a great sense of, whoever you are, wherever you’re from, we’re a community, you felt part of a whole (I said Whole not hole!)
Roll forward to the summer of 2000, and things had started to change. Queer as Folk had not long finished on TV, and the village started to get flooded by hen parties, presumably because they felt safer down the village, which I understand.
This however, started to bring other sorts of people in, people who wouldn’t normally go into gay bars. More bouncers had to be employed to deal with the extra rowdiness, and some bars, didn’t do proper background checks on their bouncers (I’m looking at the Rem here). I was having a drink with my ex, and his ex, a drug dealer, took exception to this fact and had the bouncers physically throw me out of the Rem, my back landing right on the opposite kerb edge, which left my back scarred for many years.
Shortly after, I was mugged a couple of times, and worse (I won’t go into detail here), so I left Manchester and moved down south with what fond memories of Manchester I had.
Long story short, I moved around a bit, didn’t settle, and nowhere came close to what I knew of Manchester, so in 2006, I moved back. For a time, things were mostly good. The Union had had a face lift and your feet no longer stuck to the floor, the Rem was no longer the bar it once was, (proper bouncers, but had lost it’s core customers due to wanting to attract the younger, twinky crowd like the Union)
Luckily there was still the likes of the Outpost, which I newly discovered, and good old Company bar hadn’t changed in the slightest.
I was living at the bottom of Sackville Street at this time, so I would be out in Company Bar till gone midnight every night it was open, and still made it into work the next day.
But things were changing. I don’t know if you can blame the economic downturn, the smoking ban, the rise of gay dating sites and apps, or maybe it’s all three.
Roll forward again to the start of 2010, when I met my wonderful husbear. We still went out every Friday after work to the outpost, and back down there again on Sundays for Bearaoke, and yes, I did take part, without fail.
Legends still held it’s usual appeal, and we went to Alert etc… but that was all about to change, as plans were afoot to demolish both the Outpost and Legends. Both of which held many happy memories and are missed by most.
So, we returned back to our haunts, we tried the Rembrandt (Or Rem Bar as it was now called), and found it was deserted. A couple of people dotted here and there, but that was t. Nobody talking to anybody, trying to start a conversation or make new friends.
It’s the same story next door in Via. This was another old favourite of mine, as it was suitable to take my mum in for a meal (1998-ish), where she promptly asked a couple of things “Are you top or bottom” (Didn’t answer that one) and “What type of men do you go for?” (So I took her in to the Rem). Today, there is nobody sat outside, empty chairs at empty tables.
That leaves one place, Company Bar, where at one point, before I’d finished walking down the stairs, my drink was poured ready and waiting for me at the bar.
Again, the same fate has befallen it, mostly deserted, had an attempted refurb, (Probably to try and get rid of it’s core customers yet again) is now serving piss poor flat beer (I’m entitled to my opinion before you start!), and when this was pointed out to them, their customer service was without question, the worst I have ever experienced in the village. We haven’t been back since.
So where is there left, for men, rather than twinks? If someone would like to tell me, drop me a line @monkeypigs on twitter.
Canal Street itself, can look beautiful when empty, in the morning or late evening sun, however, it now looks tired, scruffy and unloved. Even the Beacon of Hope in Sackville Gardens is overgrown.
At an average price of £3.45 a pint, plus a tenner in the taxi each way, I could just about tolerate that for a night out, if it was worthwhile and going to be enjoyable.
The last few proper nights our we’ve had have left us thinking “What the fuck was that” with an empty feeling at the loss of community.
Will any of this old village ever come back? I doubt it. I think it’s gone too far down that road now.