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OutUK's Adrian Gillan ventures north to Blackpool the home of earthy kitsch, horny tack and cute young cock.
Brighton it is not: but none the worse for that. Blackpool's claim to be the gay capital of the North may be disputed by Manchester, but that doesn't stop hoards of gay day trippers and weekend breakers swapping stylish Canal Street for some seriously unpretentious end-of-pier camped-up fun.

This small town with a big heart - dominated by drag queens and marauding wannabe fag hag hen parties - sucks the queer spirit out of Liverpool and Preston and pulls punters in from London, Edinburgh and beyond. Blackpool's scene is largely down to one man called Basil who's built up a minor pink empire between Blackpool North station and the front, in the very shadow of the Tower.

Blackpool's towering erection is its most famous landmark.
When it first opened a few years back, few thought Vegas-on-acid trannie show Funny Girls - featuring a large cast of drag acts permanently dazzling in the old Odeon Cinema - would become the big hit it has today. Of course, it couldn't be gayer but the audience is mainly straights and hen parties, a haggish theme that runs though Blackpool like a stick of scrummy teeth-rotting rock.

Bar B next door and upstairs - named not so cryptically after the ubiquitous and eponymous 'Basil' - is a large and largely retro club, playing mainly mainstream 80s and 90s trash to a packed post-Funny Girl mixed-cum-gay crowd who couldn't care less as the DJ whips them into a frenzy on the floor below.

It's worth checking out Basil's newest venture Roxy's on Queen Street which opened very recently and towers over four floors in Gothic decor like a camp, gay-friendly Hogwarts, where bitchy witchy drags hold court. It's true: homophobes couldn't survive here. However, it has become a hen party trap and general hag haven. Fun of sorts.

Stroll around the block to the main gay street - Talbot Road - and dip into Pepe's Bar, a sprawling basement space - again, with a well-nigh hysterical DJ whooping it up, even to an empty floor, like some pier-end perma-grin coconut shire merchant drumming up business come rain or shower. Pepe's is popular and friendly and up for a refit soon, surely.

Local drag legend Stella Artois (right) rules the roost a few doors down at Mardi Gras, one of the few spots in town beyond Basil's power. This basement hub gets very busy and attracts masses with its winning mix of bar and disco and Stella's rolling, inter-spliced song-and-laughter show.

Many gather in The Flying Handbag - near the end of your Talbot Road crawl - to sip and stare at strippers or avoid one of several vicious drag queens who can reduce customers to tears in more ways than one with a single look and leave them scurrying for the door or loos. It's cruel but marvellous - and the last stop before the mega-club next door.

Mine's a Stella.
Last orders and Handbag opens up a set of internal doors as happy punters dutifully file though into the cavernous Flamingo's nightclub next door - the climax of Basil's supreme design. It's a huge club on - oh - at least four floors, towering up like some wedding cake around a central lower dance space writhing with an extremely attractive young crowd. It's trancy dancy through to the wee small hours.

And if you don't find what you're looking for, take a fresh walk along the front. From the War Memorial above the North Pier, follow the pathway northwards along the Middle Walk that runs between the Promenade and the Lower Walk - there's about a mile of colonnades where men meet men after hours, not least in summer. As ever, common sense applies. Acqua is the North West's longest running and busiest sauna complex for gay men, bi-sexual men and bi-curious men. It's situated close to the town center, gay venues and hotels and just 2 minutes walk from Blackpool North train station.

There's no shortage of rainbow-flagged B&Bs in Blackpool. For a selection of accommodation including hotels and flats check out the BAGS website, run by a local association of gay guest houses, hotels and self-catering businesses.

THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK

Acqua Sauna (25 Springfield Road; T: 01253 294 610)
BAGS Accommodation Website
Bar B (5 Dickson Road; T: 01253 294 109)
Flamingo's (176 Talbot Road; T: 01253 624 901)
The Flying Handbag (170-172 Talbot Road; T: 01253 625 522)
Funny Girls (The Old Odeon Cinema, Dickson Road; T: 01253 291 144)
Mardi Gras (114 Talbot Road; T: 01253 296 262)
Pepe's Bar (94 Talbot Road; T: 01253 626 691)
Roxy's (23 Queen Street; T:01253 622 573)

Revised February 2015.

 

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