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Sugar at Vanilla

You don't have to be a gay girl to enjoy a girl-only club, says Laura Marsden

Published on November 27th 2008.


Sugar at Vanilla

Vanilla is Manchester’s only all-girl gay bar, located just off Canal Street in the heart of the Village. In the 1970s it was an Armenian restaurant, then in the 1990s it became ‘Dot’s’, a very late night gay bar complete with a big white piano and obligatory singalongs.

Steph Kay got the lease in 1998 after striking a private deal with the landlord. Prior to this she had worked as a general manager at Manto and thus had plenty of experience with which to launch her vision. In 10 years, Vanilla has won over 20 LGBT awards: Bar of the Year, Woman of the Year, DJ of the Year and Clubnight of the Year.

The secret to these successes, Steph explains, is the team’s true belief in creating a brilliant gay scene for women. Everyone is committed and gives 100 per cent to the cause, striving to be innovative and listening to constructive criticism.

I go along to Sugar, a monthly indie-pop night with DJ RIZ. I’m not into V on V action and don’t go out in the Village much at all. Having never been to Vanilla, at first the lack of lads strikes me as a tad surreal. Not since Brownie camp have I been surrounded by so many girls. It’s cool though – everyone smiles and there aren’t any smelly boys.

The bar itself is intimate and has posters collaged onto the walls like a teenager’s bedroom. Tonight there are live acts, so tables and chairs have been arranged in front of the small stage. I get there in time to see Tiny Tin Lady, an all-girl band from Merseyside who are aged between 16 and 22. They perform delicate sea-shanty folk melodies accompanied by acoustic guitars, clarinet and (strongly ska flavoured) bass. Sugar policy warrants that they do at least one cover, so they rather cannily link together about 30 hook lines from various nineties songs like a manic medley. Everyone is entranced. The girls sing gently without mics which means everyone has to be really quiet and listen with intent. It’s quite magical.

After they finish, I speak to Steph who tells me more about her experience growing up as a gay girl in Manchester. She was always very confident about her sexuality but she says, for those who weren’t, it could be a very lonely and intimidating place.

Things have changed dramatically in the last 10 to 15 years. Social attitudes are way more accepting and there is obviously nothing to be afraid or ashamed of. What strikes me about Vanilla is the hugely open and friendly atmosphere. Steph explains how a big support network has built up via staff, ex-staff and clients – it’s all so positive and celebratory. Being in there really makes you feel aware and glad to be a girl.

There is also a fanzine for the night called ‘Girl Parts’ which features interviews with the bands, tracks of the month (Pink, Kings of Leon, Santogold, MIA), cartoons and a problem page. There is an article entitled ‘TOPDYKE’ in which Topman is celebrated as being a shopping Mecca for lesbians. This is evident at Vanilla where there is a definite prevailing style of asymmetrical haircuts, eyeliner, checked shirts and skinny jeans.

As well as there being no men in Vanilla (except one who is obviously gay) there is zero seediness. Unlike in gay bars where there is a very obvious sexual subtext, here in Vanilla it seems a lot more innocent…gentle. There is definitely no sexual aggressiveness, which you often get when men are present, flinging their dicks around, like er, total dicks.

Not only that, the girls all seem a) really nice and b) not insecure. There is definitely no one who feels threatened by other women. Okay, maybe there are a couple of bitches who are insecure and act like idiots (I didn’t detect this) but mostly, it seems there is a big emphasis on friendship and laughter. I have never seen so many girls having a good time together.

For young gay girls Sugar is a wicked night out. I imagine it is an important part of life for those who haven't come out to their parents yet, or who feel weird or mixed-up about their sexuality. As I hurtle towards 30, I probably won’t be there every month but I’d certainly go back and check out other nights at Vanilla for a totally girlie, positive affirmation of womanhood. The drinks are cheap too.

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33 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousNovember 27th 2008.

im a straight man and got dragged in by a girl pal. The bar staff are friendly and the atmoshere is great. Im suprised they havent moved to a slightly larger bar.The music was good too!

scoteeeNovember 27th 2008.

the music is always good in gay bars!!!!nothing better than a bit of george michael classing it up just before the club fills up!!!....no one will go with me anymore though...:(

Tippi VNovember 27th 2008.

Bruisers! Hmmmm, a little harsh.

johnthebriefNovember 27th 2008.

I'm not in a bad mood at all Avo, I just don't like the fact that there's a bar full of women, at least some of whom must on the law of averages be worth looking at, and I'm not allowed in! And for your infromation, I don't bother with DJ's, I only do the glamour stuff ;-)

WTF!November 27th 2008.

Wayne you sound like the type of butch gal they like down there so get out the face paints al la pic 3 and head on down for a good old ho down!

AnonymousNovember 27th 2008.

Good to see the under 19, lesbian ManCon readers getting something to read here! Who gives a s**t about Vanilla?! Surely Manchester had something better to review than these bruisers all modeling the same hair cuts!

AnonymousNovember 27th 2008.

I've had some very mixed nights in Vanilla, some fun but I would disagree that it's unthreating the whole of the time. I've been there with my girl and been openly 'perved' on by women. Sometimes I think some women think it's ok as we're all girls in a way they would not accept if it was the same type of attention coming from a man!

WayneNovember 27th 2008.

Anonymous you idiot. It's a snapshot of an element of Manchester life. Articles like this are what Confidential's about. I found it interesting.Wonder if they'd let a hetero man in?

DigNovember 27th 2008.

I think Liv Con have done an article on Miss Grace and her real name is Natalie Russell.

jousterNovember 27th 2008.

Anonymous,just out of interest,who is your god?I'm not sure I have read about many who support gays?only wondering

BernardMatthewsNovember 27th 2008.

Is that Janette Krankie i can see in the background? brap! only jesting, love you gays, i mean guys, i mean girls. god dam it, i do!

viva chris ronaldNovember 27th 2008.

Really? I would have put money on the girl in the hat (top pic) being the one and only miss grace!

ZabzyNovember 27th 2008.

They should close this place down and open up a traditional pub with darts and cards. bloody lezzers!!

AnonymousNovember 27th 2008.

Just so people know... they do let men in vanilla. I've even taken straight males friends there. They just keep the bar safe for gay women.

WayneNovember 27th 2008.

No, I'm a feller all right. But Anon are you very very worried about your sexuality? Leave these poor dears alone.

BringBackSandyToksvigAllIsForgivenNovember 27th 2008.

OOOOO I WANA TAKE YOU TO A GAY BAR GAY BAR GAY BAR!!!!!! ITS JUST A TREAT TO SEE HOW MEDIA AFFECT PEOPLE'S INDIVIDUALITY SO MUCH. A.K.A SHANE ANYONE. THOSE CRAZY ROCK AND ROLL KIDS!

emma graceNovember 27th 2008.

No, I dont go to clubs and bars. They won't let me in. You can normally find me round the back going through the bins looking for used water bottles :)

DigNovember 27th 2008.

Nope just illustrated it. Anyway it was just a wee joke. Oh forget it!

AnonymousNovember 27th 2008.

are we in 2008/9 or 1808. my god, i cant believe so many people disrespect the Gay community. We are human and have feelings and believe it or not we have professional jobs and are part of a the human race. Have a fab new year 2009 and dont let cave men get us down we are better than that... xx

AvoNovember 27th 2008.

So John, did you get out of the wrong side of the bed this morning, get an adverse Order from a doddery DJ or fall foul of the inept service at the Yang Sing again to get you into such a mood? ;)

AnonymousNovember 27th 2008.

Wayne are you sure your not Waynetta and your the iron woman in the last pic? be honest luv?

AnonymousNovember 27th 2008.

Can't believe how homophobic people are being here... "wow an article about a lesbian bar in the gay and lesbian section of Mancon!". Who'd have thought it?! If you're not interested about gay/lesbian life then I suggest you don't read about it and don't make stupid comments about it! Johnthebrief, take note, lesbians like other women so certainly won't be looking at you. Also as far as I'm aware anyway Vanilla don't refuse men, the just don't let big groups of leering men in to perve on the "lezzers".

emma graceNovember 27th 2008.

Haha sorry Scoteee...can't say I've ever heard of this place!

johnthebriefNovember 27th 2008.

I shall be issuing a Court action for damages against Vanilla for denying me my human right to enter this bar purely on the discriminatory basis that I am a man.

viva chris ronaldNovember 27th 2008.

Fair play Johnthebrief, you have a good argument and its bang out of order that fella's get knocked back on the grounds that its bruising heffers only but take a look at the sample of women in there? who in their right mind would enjoy a night looking at these lumber jacks?!

scoteeeNovember 27th 2008.

Ms G...please reveal yourself!

scoteeeNovember 27th 2008.

ouch !

roseNovember 27th 2008.

would a slim, attractive pre-op (hopefully post-op soon) MtF transsexual be welcome there?this transsexual definitely does not like the blokey bars around canal street

AvoNovember 27th 2008.

Hmmm I like your way of thinking re the bar full of women. DJs / CJs they're all moody old gits with an axe to grind against the people who come before them.

AnonymousNovember 27th 2008.

Sadly we are in 2009 and some people consider even the possibility of a single sex venue acceptable. As a gay man I expect to be welcomed into ANY pub, bar or club I chose to frequent. As such it seems massively hypocritical that the gay community may deem it acceptable to exclude anyone on the grounds of sex or sexuality.....

AnonymousNovember 27th 2008.

I just don't understand why so many lesbians try so hard to look like teenage boys. Must be a generation thing

scoteeeNovember 27th 2008.

Really Dig? didnt she write Hamish the Highland Cow?!

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