First Published: December 2003
       This is an OutUK Archive Item and so some of the links and information may be out of date.
It’s that time of year when us Sydneysiders are queuing round blocks to reach our gay hangouts, writes OutUK correspondent Christopher Kelly . And once there we have to fork out to get in. Still, mustn’t whinge.

It’s, literally, the price you pay for living in the city that hosts arguably the biggest gay shindig in the world, The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Besides, we’ve got to be grateful the Gras’ still going. Only a couple of years back it looked as if the party was over. After almost a quarter of a century, Mardi Gras went belly up. But New Mardi Gras was formed and the day was saved, not just the day of the parade either but pretty much the whole shebang.

From its beginnings as a gay rights demonstration in 1978 Sydney’s Mardi Gras has grown into a month-long season of assorted arts.

Photograph by Mazz Images.
’04 highlights include Dionne Warwick singing the classics at the Opera House, the Australian premiere of Jonathan Harvey’s ‘Out in the Open’, the Mr Gay Oz Grand Final pageant, Evolution – an under 18s dance party for GLBTQ youth, Duckie - a showcase of cutting edge queer cabaret from the UK and Aussie trolley dolly Pam Am’s one woman comedy show, ‘Busy, Busy, Busy’. Which sums up this year’s calendar. In all, over 100 events taking place between now and March 8. Full details

Running alongside Mardi Gras is the Film Festival. What started as a sideshow has become a main event all of its own. Presented by Queer Screen from February 11–22, the programme promises a fortnight of sex, fun, irreverence, tenderness and drama. There’s a hundred-plus films from around the world to view. Check

Then there are the perennial favs: Fair Day, the Parade and the Party.

Held in Victoria Park (cnr City/Paramatta Rds) Fair Day is a free community event featuring cabaret, DJs, stalls, crafts, games, sports and entertainment for all the extended family. Bring the kids, bring the dogs and bring a picnic.

Cheeky, colourful and provocative, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade precedes itself.

Billed as a powerful civil rights march and the biggest game of dress-up ever played, the Parade delivers dazzling satire and outrageous celebration. Thousands of participants from around Australia and overseas will march, dance and generally whoop it up in the name of love, pride and acceptance.

Starts Liverpool/Elizabeth Sts, up Oxford, along Flinders, ending Fox Studios.

Photograph by Mazz Images.
And after the Parade, the Party. Spectacular and raunchy, the Mardi Gras Party (Fox Studios, Moore Park) is a time for the community to come together en masse, glam up and dance hard. And, of course, being Sydney we’ll be mad at it for days on end. Recoveries will be on all over. Check local press, as they say, for details. Oh, and save us a space in the queue.


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.

The Manly Ferry in Sydney Harbour.
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.


Gay Sydneysiders circulate and degenerate around Darlinghurst. Known as Darlo, darling, the area’s main drag, Oxford Street, has more goings-on than you can shake a glow-stick at.

The Colombian (cnr Oxford/Crown) is the new bar on the block, and for many, has fast become the place to hang. Attracts punters almost as fabulous as the décor. It’s oh so trendy it hurts.

The busiest and most notorious of Sydney’s gay bars is the Midnight Shift (85 Oxford St). Folklore has it there’s more beer sunk here than in any other city bar – most probably due to the fact the place somehow manages to be open more hours than there are in a day. The club above packs ‘em in of a weekend. Don’t feed the fish.

A hop and skip away is the Stonewall Hotel (175 Oxford St). Expect gelled hair and spanky shirts. Main bar has live shows and hot food on the go. Funk lounge and dance space on the floors above. Watch your head.

The Oxford (134 Oxford St) has been around forever, although these days it’s half the place it was. Since refurbishment, 50% of the bar space has disappeared, clearing the way for pokie machines. Friday nights are for those into the bear necessities.

Formerly the Barracks, the emphasis at Manacle (Patterson Lane, Taylor Sq) remains much the same, men. There’s a leather/fetish flavour to the place but management insists all-cumers are welcome.

Arq (16 Flinders St) rules. Upstairs you’ll find wildebeests of brawn strutting to beats. Down below there’s more groove than corrugated iron. Over 30s will appreciate the soft furnishings; acting laid back couldn’t be easier.

If Darlinghurst gets too much, head to Newtown, where not so long ago shoes were optional. These days the grunge ghetto has smartened up its act. And as the Newtown Hotel (174 Kings St) testifies, it’s not necessarily a good thing. Once an unpretentious space, today the Newtown attracts boys wearing beanies in the middle of summer. To its credit, the Newtown is one of a dwindling number of venues to showcase drag. Pool-bar out back, a lounge upstairs.

In nearby Erskineville you’ll find the Imperial Hotel (35 Erskineville Rd). Still milking its ‘Priscilla’ cachet, the show bar can be a bit of a tourist trap. As for the main bar, it attracts such eclectic clientele it’s known as the ‘Star Wars’ bar. A room the size of a beer-mat acts as a cabaret bar. Downstairs there’s a no-frills dance space. Despite being billed by new management as four venues in one, the only real change is a door charge.


If you want to play down ‘n’ dirty Sydney has no shortage of saunas and sex clubs. Investigate Headquarters (273 Crown St, Darlinghurst), Sydney Gay Steam (357 Sussex St, Darlinghurst), Kingsteam (1st flr, 38-42 Oxford St, Darlinghurst), Bodyline (10 Taylor St, Darlinghurst), The Den (1st flr, 97 Oxford St, Darlinghurst), Signal (cnr Riley St/Arnold Place, Darlinghurst) and Ken’s at Kensington (83 Anzac Parade, Kensington).

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 mischief to be had. As you’d expect from the party-pig capital of the Southern Hemisphere, Sydney’s scene is full-on and in-your-face. Expect to be chewed up and spat out. It's also very easy-going. Australians are famous for their "no-worries" attitude (particularly once the Tassie’s kicked in). They’re also unconcerned about a person's class. And trust me, when it comes to Oxford Street the less you have the more at home you'll feel.


Like any big international capital you've got a big choice. are an agency who specialise in gay accommodation. 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.

Skinny Dips at Avoca Beach offers intimate gay accommodation an hour's drive north of Sydney.


Arq (61 02) 9380 8700 Website
Body Line (61 02) 9360 1006 Website
Headquarters (61 02) 9331 6217
Midnight Shift (61 02) 9360 4463 Website
Manacle (61 02) 9331 2950 Website
Ken’s at Kensington (61 02) 9602 1359
Kingsteam (61 02) 9360 3431 Website
Signal (61 02) 9331 8630
Sydney City Steam (61 02) 9267 6766


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