paint the town pink

In the heart of every city, a Village... Up and down the country, lesbians and gay men are coming out into the light, creating vibrant, American-style communities. Out and proud or just going shopping?

the manager wore a toga. Flanked by gold-painted muscle men and lissom young women scattering flower petals in his path, he progressed in a stately if somewhat awkward manner through the streets. He was greeted by the Lord Mayor, Joyce Keller, in all her finery, and a bevy of celebrity guests - Mrs Merton, Vera Duckworth, Reg and Maureen Holdsworth, Curly Watts, Des Barnes and Cobra from The Gladiators. A television news crew was in attendance; floodlights lit up the neighbourhood. In Manchester that mid-November evening, all eyes were on the Gay Village.

The occasion was the opening of the Village's latest gay pub, Via Fossa, on Canal Street. The warehouse premises have undergone a remarkable transformation at the hands of the rising star of Irish pub architecture, Frank Ennis, and at a cost to Boddington's brewery of pounds 1.5m. Using bits and pieces rescued from Victorian churches and other public buildings - pulpit rails, hymn number boards, old bicycles and stained glass - Ennis has created a splendid folie de grandeur in the centre of Britain's third city. With the opening of Via Fossa, Manchester's Gay Village (the capitals are de rigueur these days), an inner- city area bounded by Whitworth Street, Princess Street, Portland Street and Sackville Street, now comprises a dozen gay pubs, several gay restaurants and cafes, a gay solicitors office, a gay bookshop, a gay dentist, barber, doctor and taxi firm.

Boddington's investment in Via Fossa is a measure of the confidence in the permanence and viability of the Village. Once a run-down, near derelict warehouse district, the Village has become one of the jewels in Manchester's civic crown, featured proudly in the city council's tourist brochure. Other businesses are investing heavily in the area. Lesbian property developer Carol Ainscow and her business partner Peter Dalton - who were among the first to promote the notion of a "village" - opened the area's first open-fronted, continental-style gay bar, Manto, back in 1990. They now own two nightclubs and a gay record label (Out on Vinyl), and are on the verge of completing the conversion of yet another warehouse on the edge of the Village into a block of 29 luxury flats to be occupied largely by lesbian and gay residents.

Gay villages, in the sense of an agglomeration of gay venues, are not new. As Bill Short, Gay Times's lifestyle editor, says: "The concept of the village is based on the belief - or the need to believe - that a gay community exists." But what is new, at least in this country, is the visibility of these communities.

It wasn't so long ago that lesbians and gay men socialised entirely in secret, in what the tabloids loved to call "the twilight world of the homosexual". With the emergence of the village, at least part of the gay world stands proud for all to see. Phil Burke, manager of one of the Village's gay bars, says that eight years ago, when the area was still run down, gay men would venture there only at night and straights would avoid it all together. Now, although still gay-dominated, the Village attracts a mix of people, from families with kids to lads with their girlfriends. Women, both lesbians and straights, seem to find the area safe and welcoming.

The "village" is, perhaps, really an American concept. Since the early 1970s, San Francisco, the gay capital of the world, has been home to the Castro, a district centred on the charming, if twee, Castro Street, and consisting almost entirely of lesbian and gay businesses and properties. Greenwich Village in south Manhattan has a long tradition of being a magnet for lesbians and gay men. And its social venues have become known worldwide as a crucible of political action for lesbian and gay rights.

Europe has been slow to take to the idea. Amsterdam has several concentrations of gay bars, clubs and cafes and yet has never really warranted the village sobriquet. Similarly in London from the late 1960s onwards, Soho, Earl's Court, Brixton and Islington have all gone in and out of fashion with the capital's lesbians and gay men without ever really being considered a "village".

Soho has only had "village" pretensions for the past few years. And yet, the area has long been synonymous with the underworld: here, in the 1950s and 1960s, were sex clubs, all-night cafes, prostitutes, rent boys, strippers, gangsters, down-and-outs, drop-outs, thrill seekers, sailors on shore leave, lesbians and gay men. But in the late 1970s, Westminster Council began a drive to "clean up" Soho and the heart was ripped out of the capital.

For a while, Soho stagnated. But the recession of the late 1980s saw leases on properties become available at low or no premium. Two new gay bars opened, one on Wardour Street, the other off Oxford Street. These were not your usual type of pub, these were cafe-bars: Village Soho and Village West One. Astute marketing of the "village" concept by their then owner, Gordon Lewis, coupled with media interest in the fanciful notion of "the pink pound", started a bandwagon rolling. More pubs opened in and around Old Compton Street, new businesses moved in. And the Soho Village was born.

In the past month, three more bars have opened with several more in the offing. And Compton's, one of the last surviving relics of the old Soho, has now been redesigned in the modern gay style. The spit and sawdust has made way for shiny surfaces. Bass Charrington, the brewery, which has a big stake in many London gay venues, is thought to have spent close on half a million on the conversion.

Stuart Linden, a photojournalist who has reported on Britain's gay scene for many years, is not alone in believing, however, that Soho lacks the friendly, community atmosphere which the rather cosy term "village" implies.

"Compton Street is still predominantly straight," he says. "In Manchester everybody feels they belong to the Village unlike in London where people are less communicative and less friendly, more hesitant about talking to each other. The businesses have failed to bring people together in the way that's happened in Manchester." Chris Bryan, chair of Manchester's Village Charity, the Aids fund-raising organisation that has done most to cement the village identity, agrees. "There's more to a village than just a grouping together of pubs and clubs," he says.

"The area must feel safe and comfortable to lesbian and gay people, particularly in the summer when people stand outside the bars, as they do in Manchester, drinking in the street. You can't achieve that if gay places are beside non-gay friendly places. In Manchester we're lucky in that our gay venues are close together; in the evenings and at weekends there's nothing else between them."

Those few non-gay venues in the Village have gone out of their way to support the Village Charity's annual August Bank Holiday Mardi Gras festival, which this year raised pounds 62,000 for Aids organisations throughout the north- west of England. The Lord Mayor has sponsored the Village Charity as her favoured charity organisation. "Her work for the charity," says Bryan, "is just one indication of how the city council expresses pride in the Gay Village and views it as an asset to the city."

Westminster Council may soon give its blessing to the Soho "village" by pedestrianising Old Compton Street in the evenings and thereby allowing the pavement cafes really to come into their own. But Soho still lacks its own equivalent to the Village Charity. In February 1993, to mark St Valentine's Day, the gay activist group OutRage held a ceremony to rename Soho's Old Compton Street, Queer Street, but their plan for a Valentine's Day carnival got little support. The annual Soho Pink Weekend which followed is more of a promotional event for drinks companies than an expression of gay pride or community spirit.

Soho also lacks any significant local gay and lesbian residential population. In Manchester, even before the opening of the new block of flats, hundreds of lesbians and gay men lived within walking distance of a night out in the Village. The London and Manchester villages will probably always have different characters, and different futures. Where the Manchester Village seems certain to remain the focus of lesbian and gay life in the city, the Soho village will only ever be a showcase and a tourist attraction. To walk down Old Compton Street can be a thrilling experience for a gay man. Here we all are: out, proud, on the streets and looking fabulous. But it can be a depressing experience too. As gay film-maker Terence Davies told Tilly McAuley in Gay Times recently: "If I walk down Old Compton Street, I feel about 300 years old."

Just as the centre of London has been prettified, so the Soho village represents the yuppification of the gay scene. The sleazy, down- to-earth gay venues will never be part of this; they will most likely stay forever out of sight.

8 David Smith and Colin Richardson are editor and deputy editor of 'Gay Times'

Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Sport
Yaya Touré has defended his posturing over his future at Manchester City
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
News
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
news
Life and Style
beauty
Sport
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

    £60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

    Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

    £75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

    Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

    £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice