25 June 2007
Manchester's Trafford Bar: tolerated homosexuality
The Observer reminds us that 2007 is the 40th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Let's take a stroll down memory lane back to the early 1970s.
Back in thsoe days I was a projectionist for Rank Cinemas in Manchester. The Odeon stood on one side of Oxford Street, and the Gaumont and New Oxford on the other. The latter two took up a whole block to themselves, the Gaumont being massive and seating over 2,000 people.
Underneath the Gaumont was a bar called the Long Bar because, funnily enough, it had what was supposed to be the longest bar in Britain. Being a basement the Long bar had no natural light and maybe for that reason it tended ton attract some of Manchester's harder men.
In one corner a frosted glass wall had been constructed, with access to the area behind it via a double door. The sign above the door announced that this was the Trafford Bar, and a notice to the side of the door stated firmly "Gentleman Only".
The projectionists who were on duty at the Gaumont above were also responsible for the routine electrical maintenance of the two bars below the cinema, so I came to know both places fairly well.
The Long Bar was just lit by regular bulbs and a few neon tubes. It was the Trafford Bar that was the bane because it had pretty fairy lights behind the bar, the bar itself was lit by coloured neon tubes and the seating area had dim bulbs that were only used in that bar. Going down there to check the lighting was a major expedition because you could never be sure what type of lamp had burned out, so it was necessary to lug a ton of them just in case.
Customers tended to sit on the long bench type seats that ran along the wall, but there were some tables and stools in the middle of the bar area. Most sat alone, leaving plenty of space between themselves and the next drinker. Stoically they nursed their half pints of lager and lime, making each one last as long as possible.
In the evening the atmosphere was the same, it was just that more men were drinking down there. Very rarely would you get two men sat together - more usually, one would be sat on the bench and the other would be on the other side of the table, sitting on a stool.
The place had been one of the two or three homosexual bars that Manchester had tolerated even before 1967. The price of tolerance was no overt displays, hence the way the men sat, communicating by a raised eyebrow or discrete wink. It was all very sad...