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From its beginnings as a gay rights demonstration in 1978, Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras has grown into a fortnight of culture and debauchery writes OutUK Australia correspondent Christopher Kelly.

It's now upon us: the largest, most fabulous, most diverse queer celebration in the Southern Hemisphere - Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras which is running through until Sunday 1 March. Full details can be found here mardigras.org.au.

Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is one of the oldest continuously operating LGBTQI organisations in Australia. It was built on the foundations laid by early community activists who fought for equal rights in a time of wide-spread oppression and discrimination. They aim to be a global leader in the promotion of LGBTQI diversity, inclusion, equity and social justice through culture, creativity and partnerships.

Photograph by Mazz Images.
Unless you're the Energiser Bunny, you'll be hard pressed to attend everything, but there are a couple of perennial events you should try not to miss. The annual Mardi Gras Parade is on Saturday 29 February 2020 and is a bustling extravaganza that brings Sydney to a standstill and shines a global spotlight on LGBTQI lives, culture, communities and creativity. With spectacular floats and thousands of participants, the Parade showcases the glitz and glamour of the community.

Every year before the event, a mean-spirited group of God-botherers pray for rain. Imagine the horror on their faces when, one year, after a brief shower, a rainbow appeared! Come rain or shine, the Mardi Gras Parade is a dazzling affair featuring around 10,000 people marching, dancing and generally whooping it up through the streets of Darlinghurst.

After the Parade, the Official Party is both spectacular and raunchy (Hordern Pavilion and surrounding venues; 10pm-8am). It's a time for the community to come together en masse, glam up and go hard. And being Sydney, there's no question that we'll be mad at it for days on end.

2020's Party will feature a brand-new adult play land, bursting with music, light and performance. Headliner Dua Lipa is joined by pop sensation KESHA, Brazilian drag superstar Pabllo Vittar and special guest superstar Sam Smith! The Party features a line-up of local and international DJs filling the atmosphere with pulsing techno, tantalising house and euphoric gay anthems.

Photograph by Mazz Images.
During the fortnight of events there are also Pool Parties, a Family Fun Day, Laugh Out Proud events, minus 18 Queer Formal, Queer Arts After Hours Celebration, Queer Screen's 27th Mardi Gras Film Festival, a Thick 'n' Juicy night, Same Sex Salsa Workshop, Pervert Matinee Closing Party, and even Darlinghurst's Life Drawing LGBTI Naked Model Art and Nibbles Class.

SYDNEY SIGHTS

One thing you should definitely do is catch the Manly Ferry. Seriously. It leaves from Circular Quay, and takes you to Manly Beach and back. And it's one of the best (and cheapest) ways to enjoy a cruise with the locals on Sydney Harbour. At Manly, wander down The Corso to Manly Beach, pick up some fish and chips, and enjoy the sun, sand and surf. It's magic.


Ferry arrives at Manly Wharf, Manly.
(c) Destination NSW
A less-touristy alternative is to catch the ferry from Circular Quay to Old Cremorne, then take an easy walk along the foreshore to Cremore Point and pick up the ferry on its return to the Quay ... wonderful views, without the crowds.

One of the most successful additions to Sydney's "must do" list is BridgeClimb. So get your gear on, strap up, and join a small group climb over the top of the ultimate Sydney icon, the Harbour Bridge. The views are to die for. Contact BridgeClimb on 61-2-8274 7777.

You can't come to Sydney and not enjoy lunch while gazing out over the Pacific at Bondi Beach. Bondi's main drag, Campbell Parade, is lined with cafes and restaurants: try Sean's Panorama at the northern end; Yulla or Fu Manchu at the southern end. By the way, alcohol is no longer allowed on the beach itself. After lunch, go for a walk along the cliffs to Sydney's gay beach, Tamarama, renamed Glamarama in honour of the beautiful people.

It may not be an obvious choice, but as a Norwegian visitor put it "leaving Australia without trying to surf is like visiting Norway and not going skiing." And where better to have your first surfing lesson than at Bondi Beach? The local surf school caters for beginners who have never ridden a board before, and for 16 provides boards, wetsuits, and two hours of friendly tuition in small groups of about six. The experience is loads of fun, and those wet suits can be very sexy. Contact Let's Go Surfing on 61-2-9365 1800.

CLUBBING & BARS

Despite the closure of a number of iconic gay hang-outs, Darlinghurst is still the place to circulate and degenerate. The main drag - Oxford Street - is home to some of Sydney's busiest gay bars. One of the oldest is the Universal Sydney (85 Oxford Street). Once a dingy, smoke-filled space where you could perv on blokes playing pool, these days it has a more universal appeal and is not exclusively gay. There's a club upstairs and a bistro next door. They call it "a safe place for all humans to connect" and you can expect the place to be heaving.

A hop, skip and fandango away you'll find the Stonewall Hotel (175 Oxford Street). Featuring three floors and four bars, Stonewall is twink central and one of the very few places in Sydney to still showcase drag.


Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade,
Oxford Street.
(c) Destination NSW / Steven Yee
Another mainstay of the Oxford Street strip is the Oxford (134 Oxford Street). The Oxford exudes a chilled vibe offering grub, cocktails and a range of entertainment with live bands and DJs, in a stylish hangout with 3 bars and a lounge that's great to relax in.

Across the way, off Taylor Square, you'll find Arq (16 Flinders Street). For 18 years, this spacious multilevel club has been packing them in.

Upstairs you'll find wildebeests of shirtless brawn strutting to beats, while down below there's more groove than corrugated iron. Over 30s will especially appreciate the soft furnishings where acting laidback couldn't be easier. They stage regular drag performances and DJs spinning house.

If Darlinghurst gets a bit too much, you can always head to Erskineville where you'll find another gay icon of the scene: the Imperial (35 Erskineville Road). The Imperial hosts drag, cabaret, and top-notch DJs, there's also a cocktail lounge and terrace. In nearby Newtown, while not exclusively gay, both the Bank (324 King Street) and the Newtown (174 King Street) are lively spaces that attract a mixed bag of punters. The Bank offers cocktail jugs and hearty food in a bar with an open street view, plus a vibrant, leafy beer garden. The Newtown meanwhile has Sydney Drag Icons on Fridays and Disco heaven on Saturdays which stars Minnie Cooper, Decoda Secret & Tora Hymen.

Both Erskineville and Newtown have the advantage of having escaped the city's notorious 'lockout laws'. In response to incidents of alcohol-fuelled violence, the NSW government has introduced laws preventing bars and clubs from accepting patrons after 1.30am - so it pays to think ahead about where you want to be spending the latter part of the night.

DOWN UNDER'N'DIRTY

If you want to play down 'n' dirty Sydney has no shortage of saunas and sex clubs. Investigate Trade Club (273 Crown St, Darlinghurst) - it's a large gay cruise club & dance bar with a wide range of facilities including playrooms, cruise area, video lounge, private cabins, bar, cubicles and refreshment facilities.

Those who like to take in the baths should head for Sydney Gay Steam (357 Sussex St, Darlinghurst), Sydney Sauna (1st flr, 38-42 Oxford St, Darlinghurst), Bodyline (10 Taylor St, Darlinghurst) or The Den (1st flr, 97 Oxford St, Darlinghurst).

Being Sydney, there's also a beach scene to explore. Obelisk, Tamarama, Lady Jane and La Perouse are all good for a cruise.

Above is just a microcosm of the carry on to be had. As you'd expect from the party-pig capital of the Asia Pacific, Sydney has something for everyone. So enjoy, stay safe and happy Mardi Gras!

WHERE TO STAY

Like any big international capital you've got a big choice. If you're looking for great deals on apartments and gay-friendly hotels check out the special offers in real-time with OutUK's online service Bookings.



Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade,
Oxford Street. (c) Destination NSW
THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK

ARQ (16 Flinders Street; T:+61 2 9380 8700; Website)
Bodyline (10 Taylor St, Darlinghurst; T:+61 2 9360 7451; Website)
Oxford (134 Oxford Street; T:+61 2 8080 7080; Website)
Stonewall Hotel (175 Oxford Street; T:+61 2 9360 1963; Website)
Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (Website: mardigras.org.au)
Sydney Sauna (1st flr, 38-42 Oxford St, Darlinghurst; T:+61 2 9360 3431; Website)
The Bank (324 King Street; T:+61 2 8568 1900; Website)
The Den Club (1st flr, 97 Oxford St, Darlinghurst; T:+61 2 9332 3402)
The Imperial (35 Erskineville Road; T:+61 2 9516 1766; Website)
The Newtown (174 King Street; T:+61 2 9557 6399; Website)
Trade club (273 Crown St, Darlinghurst; T:+61 2 8068 1915; facebook)
Universal Sydney (85 Oxford Street; T:+61 2 8080 7065; Website)

Revised February 2020.

 

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