Words: Markus Bidaux; pictures: author's own
For a short break from home my boyfriend Leigh, our dog Freddie and I head to Eastbourne, which is only an hour’s drive east of Brighton. We are at the Port Hotel, which only opened in May, but had already caused a stir among the locals before it had even welcomed its first guests.
The Port Hotel
The culprit was the fresh coat of black paint on the renovated Victorian building’s façade, which stands out among the otherwise pastel-coloured seafront like your goth cousin at Easter brunch.
Personally, I love the Addams Family exterior, though the interior is a complete juxtaposition, with mid-century furniture, pale wood and pink pastel accents giving the place a serene and airy atmosphere.
Port Hotel's Bar
Having checked in at the bar - there is no reception - we are escorted to the second-floor apartment, which is bathed in a warm glow as the sun streams in through the bay windows. We waste no time in stepping out onto the small balcony, which overlooks the restaurant’s terrace and the pebble beach beyond.
Leigh, Markus and Freddie
Back inside, the bathroom screams Bauhaus. There is a spacious rain shower in one corner, his and his sinks and a big bath smack dab in the middle of the room. Apart from the apartment’s generous size, another benefit is its record player and vinyl collection, which we play as we rest our feet on the end-of-bed sofa.
Exhausted, we are soon in the big bed watching the latest episode of Drag Race feeling like we are miles apart even though there are three in the bed (including the dog). The Hotel did provide Freddie with his own dog bed, water bowl, and treats, but he would rather sleep with his dads, obvs.
Freddie in the dog bed that the Port Hotel provided for our stay
In the morning, taking breakfast in the restaurant, the boyfriend enjoys Eggs Benedict, while I am tempted by the more adventurous Confit Duck on waffles with sriracha sauce.
Later, we explore the town. Eastbourne’s beach promenade is lovely to walk along and you could argue that its pleasure pier, with its golden dome glistening in the morning sun, is prettier than Brighton’s.
Eastbourne has benefitted from the addition of a modern art museum - and its Towner Art Gallery also enjoys a claim to fame as the largest purpose-built gallery in the South East.
In the afternoon, we venture further afield, to the sheer chalk cliffs of Beachy Head for a long stroll across the top. Below the cliff, the ocean stretches out endlessly.
As I attempt to take photos of the Belle Tout Lighthouse off the coast - camera in one hand and the lead of our frisky dog in the other - my stomach fills with butterflies as I inch closer to the cliff’s edge. The further east we walk, the more alluring the scenery, ending at the glorious Seven Sisters cliffs.
Freddie on Beachy Head with the Belle Tout Lighthouse in the distance
Back in Eastbourne, we make a pitstop at the local gay waterhole, The Hart. Its friendly bartender tells us that the town will always have a thriving LGBTQ scene because everyone moves there from Brighton when they want to buy a house, having been priced out of the city.
With this in mind, it’s surprising that Eastbourne only held its first Pride festival in 2017 - and they couldn’t even call it Pride. I am taken back to 2018 when I worked on Attitude’s Pride Awards. We gave Eastbourne Pride’s warm and outspoken organiser Betty Gallacher a trophy and she told us that some members of the council insisted it could not be called Pride, fearing it would end up like Brighton’s mammoth event, so Betty conceded and called it Mardi Gras.
Betty Gallacher's Attitude Pride Award video
Luckily, she wrangled LGBTQ activist Peter Tatchell to open the festivities, and in typical form, he asked the head of the council why it wasn’t called Pride — the following year it was proudly renamed Eastbourne Pride.
This year’s event has been postponed from July to 7 August 2021. Back at the hotel, the staff reveal that they will host a Port Bingo Brunch hosted by drag queen Shyanne O'Shea on the day of Pride.
If the food is half as good as our dinner, then attendees are in for a treat. The Port’s head chef is on a mission to champion Sussex suppliers by sourcing ingredients from within a 30-mile radius.
The modern British menu is tapas-style, with small plates of fish, meat, or veg. Of our eight sharing plates, the highlights are grilled nectarine Panzanella, scallops in a green Thai dressing, and salt hake croquettes with oyster mayo.
Freddie on Eastbourne beach
After dinner, we take another pass along the seafront as the sun is starting to set. I marvel at how quiet it is compared to our home in Brighton. Life may adopt a more sedate pace out here in the east, but, joyfully, it’s still very queer.
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