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Manchester - City of Irony (Or "Wine served in Tumblers")

Perhaps I'm too uncool these days to get "it." Perhaps my cynicism is the antidote to irony making my relation to the current trend in Manchester distant.

For Manchester, my beloved home city that I have seen grow up and mature so in the past few years, has become the fresher year student of cities. No, I do not mean that it focuses on actual student nightlife, I mean that it is arrogant, sarcastic, rebellious and too cool for cool. It is a city that has found its own freedom and identity for the first time and is using this new found independence to put a proverbial middle finger to the rest of the cities. We are different. We are not compliant. We are irony.

My new vision of Manchester has begun to form slowly over the past six months but was confirmed by a recent visit to Gorilla down the Oxford Road end of the city last Saturday night; my first to this bar. Gorilla is owned by the gurus behind Trof for whom I have a fondness for as well as their siblings. I am certainly impressed with the Def Institute providing the greatest hip hop night in the city and serving it with Magic Rock’s High Wire and Red Willow’s Soulless (on last visit.) The original Trof is situated in the Northern Quarter, an area well known to beg to be different but one that has long since won my affections. You know what to expect from the Northern Quarter bars; an ironic, indie, non-conformist, unshaven experience.

Now, before its ironic growing phase, Manchester was once nothing. Having spent three years living in Leeds enjoying the pleasures of North Bar and Dr. Okell’s (now Mr. Foley’s), I longed for Manchester to compete or at least have a place of resemblance. But, aside from the Belgian offerings in Bar Fringe and the quality ales at Marble Arch, we had little to appreciate.

The boom came late. The revolution began in 2011 with the opening of the ineffable Port Street Beer House; a second home I discovered rather late due to being a little out of the game. It’s brother, Common, a bar I had long loved, upped its game in competition (it was the first place I ever had BrewDog on keg.) Marble’s “quirky” Northern Quarter housed bar 57 Thomas Street provided a different approach to ale drinking and soon many followed. Then, in the middle of last year, we received our own BrewDog bar in the city centre. The dream was realised. Manchester was finally a brilliant drinking centre.

But to just be that is not enough for Mancunians it would seem. We are a sardonic, cathartic group who can’t simply settle for being good. We don’t want to be good. We want to be different.

Goths want to be different. Their rebelliously dark hairstyles, pierced faces and apathetic attitude to everyone is their attempt at individuality. But when everyone you know wants to be just as diverse you are, inevitably, identical. Such is Manchester. Too many places want to stick a stud through their tongue, which brings us back to my experience of Gorilla.

Perhaps this is a place that shows why I am not a successful bar manager myself, because I found plenty to criticise here. I can’t quite understand the reasoning for an enormously wide bar that made leaning over to speak to the (heavily tattooed and poorly presented) bar staff impossible. I shouldn’t criticise her appearance, it’s her choice, but what I can criticise is ordering a Punk IPA and being presented with a Dandelion & Burdock. Not only could these drinks not sound any dissimilar – three syllables difference – but the young lady behind the bar was not remotely apologetic about her genuine error. “Well what did you want then?” she growled when I pointed out her mistake. Perhaps politeness is too mainstream to be available here.

But the biggest gripe, possibly the greatest irritant I have found in any bar EVER, was the presentation of the wine. Yes, the good lady’s wine was served in tumblers. Maybe they are busy and out of wine glasses? No. They are always served in tumblers. Why? Why not wine glasses? Why tumblers? Why not just pour the wine on the floor and ask us to lap it up? Why not stick a straw and some freshly ground cinnamon around the edges? Why do I bother to sleep in a bed at night when the driveway is so non-conformist? IRONY. How ironic of us. How uncouth we are. How rebellious. We don’t need to serve drinks as they were intended. F--- you establishment!

Gorilla are not the only ones guilty of trying too hard – though they are the only ones I’ve found who serve wine in tumblers. I loved BrewDog Manchester so much on its opening I was becoming a regular. But now they’ve succumbed to the Mancunian irony. Now their cheapest beer is £4.05 despite its very low gravity and the fact that it’s brewed and owned by themselves. Pricing items reasonable must be for squares. My largest grievance here though is the lack of bottle menus in recent months. I used to love scouring the bottle menu and being tempted by everything on offer. Now I have to ask (and inexorably get offered Nogne Pale Ale or Hitachino Nest Sweet Stout) or peer over the bar to try to figure what’s available for myself. Is having menus with your current stock not for “punks?”

Then there is Almost Famous. Where to begin? In fact, no, I don’t have the time. I’ll just give them a few sentences.  If you’ve not heard of Almost Famous it is a “secret” burger joint “hidden” up a flight of stairs in the Northern Quarter. On my first visit I succumbed to its charm, ideology and food. Since then I have been unable to go as they insist on having a bouncer on the door who judges customers based on appearance (sorry – why?) and occasionally tell you that they are too busy, although if you tweet them to convey your anger you are instantly offered a seat. The food is undeniably enjoyable, but I’d rather visit a restaurant that makes me feel as though my custom is welcome. Being disrespectful to your potential customers – how very Manchester.

I accept that much of this rant stems simply from wine served in tumblers. But I could give further examples if the length of this post weren’t reaching breaking point. I just can’t understand why bars can’t just serve great beer without controversy or precedent. We all know that great beer drinkers are multifarious and assorted. It is arbitrary to target a specific clientele. Bars of Manchester, I ask you two simple questions; Can we just have a good drink without the bullshit? And Can we have wine served in wine glasses?

Comments

Anonymous said…
Sounds like a dose of Rochdale Road might be in order? A wander between the Marble Arch and The Angel ought to be pleasantly down-to-earth and if you really want to get back to basics there's always the Smithfield Hotel around the corner for a decent pint in utterly unpretentious surroundings?
the watcher said…
I concur, Darren. part of the joy of exploring Manchester's latest bright new things is learning which to avoid and which are worth revisiting. I'm a grumpy old get so one poor experience is enough to put me off a place for life and with so much choice, why would you need to? I agree about miserable staff and pointless 'edgy' drinking receptacles of course, but that's the sort of crap marketing schtick business students love.
You mention half a dozen really good reliable boozers, bless them with your custom and leave the wacky places to students and the painfully hip.
Mark Johnson said…
Agreed, I've found myself back along the Marble Arch route much more frequently recently. However I did have a (extremely rare) horror visit to the Smithfield in December. The plus side to today's rant has been me falling back in love with traditional, no nonsense pubs once more
Mark Johnson said…
It is time to go back to basics. Whilst I always hoped Manchester would have at least a couple of the new wave establishments, I never was unhappy drinking at the pubs available. Now I find myself having things to complain about on afternoons out. "Careful what you wish for" seems applicable here. I will be returning to the "reliable" pubs as you say
Anonymous said…
Another really good pub in a potentially unexpected location - The Wharf, Castlefield. Used to be Jackson's Wharf (best forgotten, probably) but it's under the management of Brunning & Price now and they seem to know their stuff. My lady wife and I nipped in round about New Year's Eve and not only was the food excellent, but they had 10 different cask ales across 11 pumps (two of their house beer). We ended up chatting to the chap who buys the ales and he was knowledgeable and a big supporter of the local breweries, too. A bit of an oasis, just a bit further on from the Knott Bar, although it can get hammered on Fri/Sat, by all accounts.
Mark Johnson said…
this sounds terrific and is news to me. If the NWAF proves to be a damp squib Saturday (as they often are come the weekend) I may well venture down for a nosey. Cheers
Anonymous said…
The Manchester Beer & Pubs Meetup Group is heading down there on Feb 8th if you're in the mood for a sociable pint: http://www.meetup.com/Manchester-Beer-and-Pubs/events/93887672/

NWAF for me tonight, tomorrow booked off work :)

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