Going to Manchester after having lived in London the majority of your life is like going to a friend’s house party after just having left a massive, overpriced club.
I like the club, I can definitely have fun at the club. It’s big and impressive and the place where everyone “wants to be”. But after a while the £8.50 vodka and cokes and complete lack of space gets old, and you’d rather be at a mate’s house party drinking cheap wine and not having to worry if you’re wearing the right shoes.
For me, Manchester feels friendlier, more spacious and simply easier than London. That’s probably because it is. Housing prices are almost half that of London and the streets on average feel about twice as wide.
During a recent trip up to Manchester I decided to check out the LGBT+ nightlife, in order to gauge which was better, London’s Soho or Manchester’s Canal Street.
*Disclaimer* I literally only spent a weekend in Manchester and have lived my whole life in London, so obviously my knowledge of London’s queer scene is heavily skewed……….
In terms of bar hopping, both London and Manchester have many of their gay bars conveniently located within walking distance of each other. The main gay-meca of London can be found in Soho, where you’ll find an array of different places including G-A-Y bar, G-A-Y Late and the infamous Heaven. You can go out here on a Monday night, bar-hopping to your heart’s content and stay out until 3am, without having to get a bus or tube between bars. However, one disadvantage is that this area can get insanely busy (not to mention expensive) on the weekend, and unless you’re loaded and able to live near Soho, you will probably looking at a long night bus ride home.
Travelling in Manchester is much cheaper and easier overall. Pretty much everything in the city centre is walk-able, and the ease of having all the major gay bars on one street means you won’t lose your friends. Night time travel is limited to buses and uber (unlike London, which has the amazing night-tube on the weekends), but is fairly reasonably priced and easy to use.
London has some of the best gay bars in the world, that you simply can’t get anywhere else in the country. The gay scene has begun to expand far past Soho in recent years, making it more accessible for those who live further out. Dalston Superstore, RVT and The Glory are a few examples.
The bars in London also feel a bit more inclusive, probably because of the increase in population. Going to G-A-Y bar in Soho vs G-A-Y in Manchester’s Canal street, I felt that Manchester was very much more gay male-centric, and seemed a bit more exclusive. This feeling makes a huge difference to your going-out experience if you’re not a gay, white cis man, and was something I definitely felt more of when going out in Manchester.
That being said, Manchester does have a fairly large range of different queer clubs and events, including a lesbian bar, Vanilla, (!!!), various drag nights such as Birdcage and two universities with active LGBT+ societies, Manchester University and Manchester Met.
Okay, so, obviously Manchester is going to trump London on this one. London is one of the most expensive cities in the world, and everyone knows it. However, if you know what you’re doing you don’t have to break your bank on having a good night out.
As previously mentioned, Soho conveniently has all of its gay bars in one area, making getting around much easier. Plus, if you want cheap drinks, G-A-Y bar and G-A-Y Late offer £2 drinks Sunday-Thursday, a price which is frankly unheard of in any pub in Soho.
Most places in Manchester offer free or cheap entry, with Taurus offering £4.50 cocktails 4pm and 7pm and Kiki offering a bottle of fizz for only a tenner. BarPop is another favourite on Canal Street, which has a great range of reasonably priced drinks as well as having two floors and a performance stage.
There is definitely a wider range of alternative nights available in London: Bar Wotever in RVT, a whole host of drag performances (including BoiBox, a rare drag king night every month at SheBar), and the super-club Heaven hosts huge names in music, in the past Carley Rae Jepsen, Lady Gaga and a tonne of big names from Ru Paul’s drag race have performed there.
London’s gay scene is also host to a diverse crowd. Many LGBT+ people from around the world travel to London for its queer scene, which means you’re bound to meet people from all walks of life any given night of the week.
One downside of London’s ever-expanding population is that there is not much of an immediate community feel within London’s gay scene that may be easier to find in a smaller city such as Manchester. With all of your friends spread out across the capital, it can take longer to find a group to fit into. However, I’ve found that London’s gay bars are home to some of the friendliest people, and I’ve got not qualms going out on my own if I’m feeling up for something a bit different (you have to be careful getting home though).
When it comes to Manchester, I’ve mentioned that it seems pretty male-centric, but as everyone knows, northerners are notoriously friendly. I had no trouble going out alone, knowing that I’d be able to start up a conversation easily with anyone. Manchester also seems to have a more relaxed door policy than London (at least the weekend I was there). There have been a few instances of people not being let into gay clubs in Soho for questionable reasons, but the staff and bouncers I encountered in Manchester’s centre all seemed lovely.
Really, I need to go back to Manchester for a longer period of time to fully soak in the queer scene in its fullest. There were some venues and nights I didn’t have time to see (my big regret was not managing to see a Mancunian drag show
So, if you want a cheap night out to dance and be around gay people, Canal Street is a great option, but if you are looking for something a little more alternative, and are able to stay in the capital for a while for have a proper look around, then head to London, where the queer scene is ever-expanding across the city.