When you think of Newcastle, gay isn’t the first word that comes to mind, but according to Neil Geraghty, it’s the perfect queer weekend destination.
The first recorded Viking raids on Britain took place in 793 on the Northumberland coast, just a few miles from Newcastle. Substitute Viking helmets for spray tans and you might think that the Vikings have returned as raucous hen parties maraud their way through the city centre on a Saturday night. However, bar the odd expletive as 10-inch heels snap off, the rampaging hen parties are generally good natured and just a small part of a legendary nightlife scene that has long made Newcastle one of the UK’s favourite short break destinations.
Few cities suffered more from the decline in British industry in the 1980s than Newcastle, but ever optimistic and forward looking, the city authorities embarked on an astonishing programme of urban renewal that has transformed the derelict shipyards of the Tyne into a glittering showcase of contemporary art and architecture. Pride of place goes to the Baltic Centre of Contemporary Arts, an enormous Art Deco flour mill which has rapidly become one of the world’s coolest exhibition spaces. From Yoko Ono to Damien Hirst, A list artists queue up to challenge and provoke visitors in ground breaking exhibitions.
Just next door, Norman Foster’s curvaceous Sage Gateshead concert hall, affectionately nicknamed The Armadillo, clings to the banks of the Tyne. From its stylish café you can enjoy stunning views of Newcastle’s seven majestic bridges, including the fascinating Millennium Bridge, which tilts like a winking eye every time a ship passes underneath.
Over the river, Newcastle has a surprisingly good-looking city centre. Built largely in late Georgian times, classical terraces sweep through the town and make an elegant Jane Austen backdrop to some seriously hip cafés and boutiques. Further afield don’t miss Anthony Gormley’s giant sculpture, the hauntingly beautiful Angel of the North, which became an instant modern icon when its jumbo jet sized wings were unfurled in 1998.
Northumberland is home to some of Britain’s finest beaches, so if you’re there next summer there’s no better daytrip than hopping on the metro and heading to Tynemouth. Here you can enjoy rattling bone china cream teas by a Dickensian village green, a brooding medieval castle and when you’ve finished with all the history, grab a Mr Whippy ice cream and stroll down to the beach to admire the hot Geordie surfer lads riding the waves.
Back in town, Newcastle’s lively gay village is located in and around Times Square, just a stone’s throw from the station and a safe distance from the hen party hordes. The square itself is an early evening suntrap, where after work local gay guys and gals come to The Yard for a lingering pint or two with mates. After dinner Scotswood Road is the place to head to, where a smattering of good old fashioned boozers and trendy lounge bars cater to all tastes of the gay spectrum. Choices range from the super stylish Switch Bar to the unfortunately named Dog Bar, which over the years has been the butt of many a cruel gay joke.
For leather lovers, chaps raise barely an eyebrow in this hedonistic city and in The Eagle you’ll find plenty of friendly Hairy Bikers stuffing much more than a Sunday roast. Northern drag queens are legendary in the UK and for a show that’s more New York than Newcastle head over to Boulevard where Betty Legs Diamond and Co kick their legs higher and wider than any other queens in the business.
Geordies like their clubs loud, trashy and big. Lording it over the gay village is The Powerhouse, which covers four floors and is by far the city’s biggest nightclub. Crammed with young glamour pusses that make Cheryl Cole look like Joan Rivers, this slice of retro club heaven has posing, pouting and sticky carpets galore.
Finally, no late night out is complete without a visit to Sanjay’s chip shop. Serving until 5am, Sanjay is a godsend to the gay community, mopping up countless pink hangovers with his legendary melted cheddar cheese covered chips. It might not be Barcelona, but for sheer fun and friendliness a gay night out on the ‘toon’ in Newcastle is hard to beat.
For more information on Newcastle visit www.newcastlegateshead.com
The Very Best:
Hotel: Jury’s Inn Gateshead South Shore Rd, newcastlegateshead.jurysinns.com
Age of austerity prices with up-to-the-minute style and comfort.
Restaurant: Café 21 Trinity Gardens, Quayside, www.cafetwentyone.co.uk
Good value, Michelin starred classics. If only British food was always this good.
Café: Ernest 1 Boyd St Ouseburn. www.weareernest.com
Organic, locally sourced, recycled, fairtrade… It ticks all the boxes and the coffee’s not bad too.
Bar: Switch 4 – 10 Scotswood Rd www.switchbar.co.uk
Bar club duo, awash with fashion faux pas and terrible hair. Oh, to be a student again!
Sauna: REM 85 – 89 Blandford St, remsauna.co.uk
Happy shiny people holding more than just hands.
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