January 23, 2015 / 9:54 AM / 3 years ago

Saucy and scandalous? It's so Brighton

BRIGHTON, England (Reuters) - Briefly it was a hit on YouTube: a clip of chubby comedian Matt Whistler sliding down a snowy city street on a tray, naked and cheered on by his neighbors.

A woman carrying an umbrella walks through The Lanes shopping area in Brighton, southern England, in this January 8, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Luke Macgregor/Files

Very Brighton, thought many residents of this seaside resort which revels in its reputation for the saucy and scandalous.

It’s an image that lures thousands of visitors every year, along with a combination of nightlife, boutique hotels and quirky pubs that travel guide Lonely Planet recognized in naming it among the world’s top 10 beach cities.

Boasting distinctive attractions such as the candy floss and fish ‘n’ chip-festooned Brighton Pier, the city is an hour’s train ride south of London and enjoys one of the sunniest climates in Britain. As well as the pebbly beach there are bars from bohemian to upper crust and eating-out options aplenty.

Thirsty visitors in search of a taste of old Brighton can head for the Colonnade Bar, which revels in its theatrical links being sited next door to the heritage-listed Theatre Royal.

Hungry? For seafood fans English’s on the edge of the Lanes, a huddle of former fishermen’s cottages now housing jewelry shops and fashion boutiques, is a good choice. Its velvet banquets and suggestive murals recall the city’s reputation as the home of what the British call the “Dirty Weekend” - a tryst by an unmarried couple.

Brighton, also famed for its gay and lesbian scene, organizes the largest Pride event in Britain and hosts its own “Gay Village” around St. James’s Street near the city center.

Architecture buffs have plenty to admire in one of the finest collections of Georgian buildings outside London, its sweeping stucco-fronted crescents having lured actors such as Laurence Olivier as residents.

Pick of the bunch is the Royal Pavilion, transformed between 1815 and 1822 into an exotic seaside getaway by the future King George IV and standing as a mock Asian extravaganza topped with minarets and domes.

On the seafront stands the glitzy Grand Hotel, rebuilt in all its white-fronted splendor after a 1984 bombing by the Irish Republican Army targeting Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet. Five people were killed.

Yet for all its architectural charms and its creative, chilled-out self-image, Brighton has its fair share of detractors who see it as scruffy, tacky, noisy and expensive.

Queens Road leading from the train station toward the seafront, for instance, should be the city’s proud gateway but remains tatty despite a few attempts at beautification. The city is also home to a clutch of out-of-town housing estates as deprived as any in Britain.

Nightclub-laden West Street is, on Saturday nights in particular, a magnet for rowdy, barely clad teens and not for the faint-hearted. Revelers from hen and stag parties, draped in matching feather boas and worse, stagger between the bars.

But many Brightonians enjoy negative depictions of their town as a kind of badge of honor, welcoming any endorsement of guidebook clichés about its laid-back, bohemian vibe.

Lovers of all things bohemian can seek out a coffee shop in the Lanes named The Marwood after one of the main characters in the cult film “Withnail & I”, about the travails of two unemployed actors.

When to come? A good time is May, when the weather brightens and the city hosts England’s biggest arts festival.

The 2015 edition, guest directed by prize-winning “How to be Both” author Ali Smith, will feature entertainments ranging from classical music to Fringe events along the lines of what last year’s program describes as “surreal walkabout performers”.

Now that is very Brighton.

Editing by Michael Roddy and Gareth Jones

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