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Canal Street U-turn

Mike Wolfe, gives a personal account, of an improved Village: part one of four articles

Published on March 2nd 2011.

Canal Street U-turn

I sit writing this in the civilised peace of a window seat at Taurus. Slightly above Canal Street, I can watch the world go by on this uniquely queer street. I can even cruise the prettier bits.

Two years ago I wrote an article calling for planning guidelines to protect the character of Canal Street from the onslaught of post ‘Queer as Folk’ hen parties, Brewery greed and hettie popularism.

That was the situation until about a year ago. But thankfully, since then the tide has turned. A revolution has taken place amongst the gay entrepreneurs. A queer fight back has begun.

I pointed out that the street had become a jewel in the municipal crown, not through any cleverly conceived policy of the Councils, but rather because of good luck, the entrepreneurialism of gay business owners and the enthusiasm of lesbian gay and transgender people. I worried that, without protective policies, this could just as easily disappear.

Following my article, things got even worse. The move towards being a Butlins-style Saturday trash party for straight and mixed groups accelerated. Brewery power dominated where once independent businesses had set the tone. Bars found the management issues of choosing who they should serve became increasingly impossible. Even the long established and mighty Rembrandt (the Rem) filled its bars with cheap beer and opened its doors to even cheaper people.

At the same time there were rumours from the Town Hall of a new bus station on Bloom Street which would have demolished everything up to the back of our street. It would have destroyed much of the Village, to say nothing of our ability to hold Pride Weekend here. This was the planning nightmare which many had sought to prevent and would have made Canal Street an isolated row of cheap bars at the back of the bus station. Even if this had all turned out to be just rumour then it seemed symptomatic of a general malaise in the Village.

I didn’t want to be right in my doomsday prophecies, but it seemed that I was. At least, that was the situation until about a year ago. But thankfully, since then the tide has turned. The recession has made the huge and costly new bus station seem like an unrealisable pipe dream. It is certainly on ice if not dead and buried.

More importantly, is the revolution that has taken place amongst the gay entrepreneurs. A queer fight back has begun. Eagle and its Black brother now attract the type of crowd that once drank and cruised in The Rem. The testosterone is interrupted only by an occasional blast of poppers and it is a great place to drink real ale and have a real conversation.

The Rem itself has done an amazing job of rebranding itself to create a new upstairs showbar. This is similar to the old Hollywood, but better. It sits above a new men only traditional and comfortable space on the street. The pub is working hard to make this gay men’s space appropriate with a range of events which include Thursday`s sportswear night and Sunday strippers.

The newest kid on the block is the Molly House. This has a rural chic that you associate more with Cheshire than Canal Street but is a fab place to meet your friends and be yourself. Its rear balcony is the best smoking area in the street.

Of course there’s always something which doesn’t work out. Parlour, a hairdressers that became the quirkiest of retro bars, has sadly bitten the dust.

But, as I reach the end of this article, I can have another drink at Taurus. I can have a snack and chat to the relaxed clientele, but, I no longer need to stay all night. I can leave my island and go for a cruise.

It’s just like the old days. There are now enough smaller independent venues run by committed queer people determined to serve the area’s needs. They are serving good food and drink and working hard to get to know their customers. We may have moved up to one end of the street and spread to the back alleys, but we have rebuilt a real Village. Well done to everyone who has risked their cash and spent their energy to make this happen.

We didn’t need planning policy to protect our queer heritage. It is unstoppable. At the same time, however, we would be wise to recognise that it might be easier to protect our Village if it had some clear place in the policies that govern city centre development.

We have fought our way out this time, but it may not always be thus. There needs to be some clear strategic thinking to reinforce and cement our future in this distintive and important part of Manchester.

This is the first of several articles on Confidential in February during LGBT History Month. There'll be interviews, reviews and other articles.

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

Ed DansonFebruary 7th 2011.

"hetty populism"?

ThistleFebruary 7th 2011.

I think she was in the first series of Corrie back in '60.

John HarrisFebruary 7th 2011.

@Thistle - Genius - PMSL

As a proud hettie who lived by Canal Street for 11 years, I agree that the ambience of the village changed for the worse over that time, but I do not think you can cast it as a consequence of a straight invasion.

It was more a flight to cheap and tacky by some of the venues, and proximity to a deteriorating Piccadilly.

I hear good things about some of the newer venues - especially the Molly House - and I hope the street finds its way back to what made it special.

EditorialFebruary 7th 2011.

Hetty Popularism is probably better than populism. Although it turns out Ms Popularism was in the second series of Corrie in 1961, when transgender issues became a massive part of the plot.

AnonymousFebruary 7th 2011.

The Molly has only just got its entertainment licence so we will have to see what happens.
It proved impossible to have long lasting upmarket bar Spirit in its very early version , Mantos (in one version ) and Gaia. have all gone.
Complaints about hen parties go back at least ten years. Now we have students.
But actually what has changed is Gay Life. You don't go to the Village to pick up Dance is dead and no new music. There is no community, creativity uniqueness.

Smyth HarperFebruary 7th 2011.

Interesting article Mike, glad to see that finally hear something positive about Canal Street from someone vocal in the gay community. It makes a pleasant change.

The Molly House is one of the best bars in town, never mind the village, but now that people have found out about it sometimes difficult to get a seat.

Also Mancon, Mike's views are very male-focused. Are you going to get a female perspective?

Eddy PopulismFebruary 7th 2011.

How about getting a Hetty Populism perspective?

Jonathan Schofield - editorFebruary 8th 2011.

Smitty watch this space

M30February 8th 2011.

Chiming in with Smitty, the Molly House is a fantastic addition to the village, although I can see the clientel being mostly straight...

The problem with the Village these days is that it seems to appeal to the lowest common denominator. When I was a student, Manto was THE place to be and to be seen. It was cutting edge, and by far the best bar in the Manchester. Now it's somewhere most people steer clear from. For varying reasons.

This conlflicts with what I've previously said about the Northern Quarter, but the Village has become a victim of its own success, and now most of the bars down there feel more "straight" than gay.

I'm not saying for one second that "I don't want any Printworks type people down the Village", but the village is more than just an area of Manchester City Centre.

It's raison d'être is to provide a safe area for the city's lesbian and gay community to socialise. This is made difficult when large groups of straight people come to gawp, laugh and point at the pink punters.

Hen parties were the beginning of the end...

MagzFebruary 8th 2011.

"a fab place to meet your friends and be yourself"

For the majority, it seems more a place to be the same as everyone else.

Individuality hasn't been a strong point of the canal street inhabitants (distinction there from casual visitors, of course) for a very long time.

ConfusedFebruary 8th 2011.

I fully support anyone's right have a "safe area... to socialise". I think though that trying to keep straight people out of canal street, or blaming them for it's potential is dreadful. If the policy were reversed we would all, quite rightly, be up in arms about it.

EugeneFebruary 8th 2011.

Agree with M30 here re lowest common denominator. I have long ranted on various platforms that the village only seems to serve one purpose - to get sh1tfaced on alcohol or drugs.

If this continues to be the reason for its existence, then sooner or later the place will deteriorate, decline and end up as the arse end of the city centre, which it arguably has been for some time.

Agreed there has not been much stimulation, almost no day-time trade that does not revolve around alcohol licences - no shopping..few community events, very little public art, not much culture...it has become a vacuous space, populated by a lot of undesirables (i don't mean straight people, i mean rough people of all persuasions) and it's a very me-me-me culture.

Admittedly i have not helped this but on the other hand, i am not in this line of work and do not live or work in this area.

I am however a keen proponent of independent businesses and do support them where the offering they give is adequate

M30February 9th 2011.

It's a difficult one, Confused.
Yes, I feel that a large portion of the blame for Canal Street going to the dogs lies at the feet of the Hen Party.

I personally don't buy the "Queer as Folk Killed Canal Street" line trotted out frequently on these sort of debates, in fact, it encouraged many people in my situation to settle in Manchester.

There will be always be gay and straight venues, and venues which sit somewhere in the shades of grey in between. The endless hen parties who come down to gawp and groups of scallies from Gorton rocking down to kick off are wholly unappropriate and as completely unacceptable as a dark room in a Wacky Warehouse.

Unfortunately, unlike Soho or Kemptown in Brighton, the Village still revolves around night time activity. This really needs to be looked at before the culture of the village (which IS a very me-me-me culture where doleys on the cadge outnumber office workers having a drink after work)

I'm amazed that no-one's ever opened a coffee shop, as the Nero on Old Compton Street in Soho is always packed.

AnonymousFebruary 9th 2011.

Sometimes as a gay man I think pershps we want to go back to this (I own the publisher copyright if you ask)


Some of it feels quite contemporary

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