One thing can be said about British people and seaside cities: Inevitable bad weather will not stop them from having a good time. This is especially true in Brighton.
My weekend in the gay capital of the UK on the southern coast of England truly lived up to the British expectations of weather. It was grey, and it was windy.
However, my weekend could not have been any sunnier as I was treated to a weekend sampling of Brighton’s best bars and restaurants, and learning about its surprising history.
First stop after my train journey from London was, of course, food and drink. I was lucky enough to have my trip chaperoned by Visit Brighton and Oliver PR who between them know perhaps every bar and restaurant in the city.
Terre à Terre is a vegetarian restaurant dedicated to the ethical sourcing of food and catering to any kind of dietary requirements. We chose the brand new afternoon tea option, which is a twist on traditional English afternoon tea.
Sandwiches and pastries are replaced with delicious and inventive bite-sized sweets and savory delights. Knowing where to start is quite the challenge! From chocolate gateau topped with vodka-soaked cherries and halloumi/wasabi buns, to a spiced cornbread and smoked yoghurt hot pot, it was a treat for eyes as well as the stomach.
Brighton is a haven for those who love thoughtful food, as every street is crammed with independent coffee shops and cafés, but Terre à Terre was like nothing I had eaten before. For someone who used to think a meal was not complete without some meat, I have been somewhat converted to vegetarian cuisine. The flavors of the dishes, the friendly staff and the experience satisfied me more than a restaurant has done in a long time.
I was promised Brighton has a lot more to offer than countless gay bars and one way of getting to know the city better is a historical tour aptly names Piers and Queers. Led by tour guide Ric Morris we were taken back in time to the incredible characters and untold stories that Brighton has to offer. From the seafront to tiny, winding ‘twittens’ (a word Sussex locals use to describe small alleyways) we saw old gay pubs, historic hotels and the grand Royal Pavilion.
It was the stories about women that fascinated me most. The story of Colonel Sir Victor Barker, an incredibly suave-looking man who duped everyone into thinking he was a high-serving colonel was, in fact, a woman called Valerie Arkell-Smith. Barker came to Brighton after suffering an awful marriage and decided to live her life as a man. Her convincing cross-dressing and masculine style led even army officials to believe her stories about the military. Women of the time fell in love with her.
This fascinating story captured the tour group, and for me, I realized Brighton has a long history of being a place where people come to escape or to find themselves. It remains that way today, something that makes Brighton especially unique.
The cherry on top of my Brighton cake was the fabulous Royal Pavilion. More of a modern art lover I’ve never been interested in interiors, but this changed that completely. The sumptuous seaside retreat of King George IV is a visual treat like no other.
With an exterior inspired by India and an interior emulating China, the Pavilion is a treat for the eyes. More chandeliers than you can shake a stick of Brighton rock at to be precise.
My favorite room was the music room. Dragons snaking along the walls, intricate, hand-painted wallpaper and a ceiling adorned with thousands of hand-painted cockle shells make it a room unlike any other I’ve seen in any museum in the world. Unfortunately, photos are strictly prohibited and my blurry phone photos don’t do any of the rooms justice, so the Pavilion really is a place you must see with your own eyes.
The spirit of ABBA, the Swedish Eurovision quartet that the UK took to their hearts, was back in the Brighton Dome where it all began, just next to the Pavilion. Celebrating 40 years since they took the crown, fans both young and old arrived decked out in their best 70s outfits for an evening hosted by superfan Christopher Green who peppered the evening with funny anecdotes from the 1974 ceremony. At the end, the stage was swamped as the crowd leaped from their seats to dance along to the winning song ‘Waterloo.’
Last weekend the city was more abuzz than usual as the Brighton Marathon was taking place. I was really impressed with the way people rallied around the runners. Crowds cheered on them on for every inch of those 26 miles. For me, this really summed up the spirit of Brighton, especially seeing medal holders wrapped in foil being congratulated as they crammed into the various pubs and bars for a well-earned drink once they had finished.
I left my two-day fling with Brighton feeling like I’d seen a new side to the city, and I knew I had only scratched the surface of what it has to offer, so I’m looking forward to many trips there to impress my friends with my historical knowledge of the UK’s most diverse seaside city.