Manchester's alright. It does a job as a city. It's got a bit of music based history if that's your bag, and it has managed to house two of the biggest football teams on the planet - ergo the two most annoying fan bases in sport history - within its metaphorical walls. It didn't have a huge impact on the country until the 19th century but is now (using population of the metropolitan counties as a marker) the third biggest city in England.
It's alright. It is convenient to get to. The major artists do concerts here and there are plenty of theatres. It serves a great purpose from an entertainment perspective.
And the beer's pretty good too.
I couldn't tell you exactly why I feel no affinity towards the place, being as foolishly loyal and emotionally nostalgic as I am about everything else. I've spent 70%+ of my life with this being my nearest (or at least most accessible) city, including my formative years. Perhaps it is the fact that in that time I've lived in Cheshire, Lancashire and Derbyshire, according to the envelopes through the door, rather than Greater Manchester. Perhaps it is the silly local tribalism that has led to insults being directed towards my Liverpudlian mother. Perhaps it is the fact that neither of my parents come from the area so there is no local lineage.
Whatever the exact reason, it led to Connor Murphy telling me during one Manchester Beer Week, when I refused to call the place the Best Beer City in the UK, "You're a wasp - not a bee." And nothing could be more accurate.
It's always been a good beery day out though. Some herald it as the best in the country. New places continue to open in the city. Other places thrive or adapt. You can't truly get a measure on a place without constant revision. Whilst I never intended this to be a pub crawl blog, it is evolving into one. And I'm here for it.
So here are my findings on a recent visit to three new Manchester venues and three places I haven't been to in over eight years.
North Taproom, Circle Square.
Much ado about something, Leeds' own North Brewing Co have opened their latest bar in Manchester, following on from others in Birmingham and...well, Leeds. These differ slightly from the bars the brewery were already affiliated with but a recent trip to the original North Bar in Leeds suggested that there was a central aesthetic theme going to run through all of them, with that place having had a facelift to bring itself in line. It didn't have me skipping down Oxford Road in excitement but I still had to check it out.
This southern part of the city is one that I rarely find myself in. It was a problem that the recently lost Font Bar - an absolute favourite bar of mine for 16 years - suffered from. I loved Font but it was a long way for a casual punter, especially after the TPExpress service changes cut out Oxford Road. Food focused venues like Society, Bundobust Brewery and Hatch may help attract others.
The place is nice enough but also exactly as I expected before arrival, from the back wall beer list aesthetic to the long and high tables. Not a single seat that I can see has any kind of back support. Solo drinkers or couples are not heavily catered towards in the Wagamama style seating arrangements.
The service is friendly. Staff are on alert to offer table service to anybody with an empty glass, although bar service is the norm. The Pale Ale that I have is decent. There are two cask pumps available that I didn't even notice before ordering. It is alright - just like the city that it finds itself in.
The unisex toilet situation is also done very well with plenty of individual stalls available to all. And the lighting in them is akin to that of my work toilets - it makes me look fabulous. I wish I truly looked like North Taproom Manchester toilet mirror Mark.
It is barely past 12.30 and the place is filling
up, so much so that I feel bad occupying space for ten between two. Despite my
worries about its location, it is doing well. It isn't my favourite place in
the world but is certainly very good at what it does do. One of those "if you like that sort of thing" bars.
The Molly House
Any questions about the present relevance of the
Good Beer Guide can be answered by the increase in mentions of The Molly House
that my social media timeline is seeing. This can only be attributed to its inclusion
in this year's guide, as I hadn't seen mention of the place for a few years before
the book's publication. I haven't been either for at least 8 years.
Situated on Richmond Street, parallel to Canal Street, the pub itself is most famous amongst Mancunians for its outside mural. It is a Manchester landmark.
Inside the pub is nothing like I remembered; a single room with limited seating and an open kitchen. There are four cask beers on and I opt for a Mallinsons Centennial, which is kept well. The service is just wonderful.
It is just lacking something for me. Weird pub lovers like myself can just soak in atmosphere as a form of entertainment but I don't really feel it here. Everybody is whispering, even in the kitchen.
It transpires that there is an upstairs bar to the Molly House and this may have enhanced my visit. Still, it was good to be reminded of a decent pub in this part of town, should I ever be in need of a pint whilst in the area.
Another place in this city which is just fine.
Sureshot Brewing Taproom
I walk over to Sheffield Street via the secret shortcut and happen upon a bit of a surprise. Sureshot have fronted their archway taproom with glass doors, to create the feeling of entering an actual building rather than a workshop.
This causes two reactions. The first is incredible warmth, the like that it's brewery predecessors in Manchester railway arches have never achieved. My glasses instantly steam up.
The second is the concentrated inescapable stench of damp.
It is a lovely space, occupied by many different people around the tiled bar and seats with actual backs to them. My Monty Don themed beer is tasty. My mate asks me to be his best man here and so now it will always hold a special place in my heart.
But more than my personal experience it is a huge improvement on the familiar archway set-up. I hadn't been excited by Sureshot's arrival because I had assumed it was going to be another one of them but it has successfully made an effort to be something different rather than an addition.
There’s no escaping that damp smell though.
Confession time. When I read about a number of people revisiting The Molly House I had my pubs mixed up. I thought that they meant Mother Macs. "Crikey I'd forgotten about that place" I had internally thought and looked forward to revisiting it in its new pomp.
When the penny dropped that I’d mistaken my mother for my Molly, I was still determined to revisit Mother Macs, a Northern Quarter venue I hadn't visited in around 10 years. When I had last visited, it was so rammed with City fans on a matchday that I hardly made it through the doorway before being handed a beer and bundled out again.
That wasn't the case on this football-less Saturday. Mother Macs is a small L-shaped pub that had one group of older-than-me guys in. The cask ale is unavailable and so macro lager was the order and served by friendly staff.
It is a boozer. An unmistakable boozer. There’s an 80s music channel on the TV. There’s plenty of chat happening amongst the other visitors. It is so terrific to find somewhere like this still going in this high footfall area, now becoming synonymous with new-wave and high-end bars. And the toilets... I’ll be honest I preempted a mouldy hellhole before emptying my bladder, but they are probably the nicest pub toilets in Manchester.
Sometimes you can doubt your memory. When I worked in the [newly named] Green Quarter area 12 years ago I can recall visiting The Wheatsheaf after work on a couple of occasions. I was convinced it was exactly where it is.
But I hadn't seen it since. In all the years of bouncing between Odd Bar and Bluu and TV21s and Mint and Barcelona and Mackie Mayor's and The Smithfield and Cord and (original) Common and NoHo I had never passed by The Wheatsheaf again. Where was it? Why had we not passed it at least once and thought "let's grab a pint in here."
The answer is that The Wheatsheaf lands in the middle of the residential area of the NQ but in a place unoccupied by other bars. But it is here. As I remember. As I imagine. And it is heaving at 5pm on a Saturday.
I'm instantly in love with this pub. We are the youngest people in the place by at least 10 years but it is packed. There are Disco lights going on and a couple of people get up to dance for a few numbers when the fancy takes them.
Everybody else is just warming up for the night. It is friendly, alive and everything that a Saturday pub should be, here in the middle of one of Manchester's bar heavy areas. The Guinness is good. Get a beer writer with more followers than me to talk about this pub and it would be filled with beer wankers drinking Guinness within the week. I don’t know how quickly I’ll be back but as somebody who just likes pubs I am delighted by its existence.
I depart from my pal here to wander through the ARCHES of Manchester's GREEN Quarter. What would you call a newly formed bar here anyway?
The Green Arches is a relative newcomer from a pair who had been involved in the recently closed Beatnikz Brewery. They've turned the archway into a brewery and event space - and it is another example of how these spaces can be usefully utilised without feeling overtly industrial.
The entrance is unassuming but the place is bold in its attempt to give a warm and welcoming feel. A nearby beer festival has recently concluded, and many of the attendees have converged here, but the queues are short and the room is... roomy.
The experienced brewers are doing a good job with the simple beers too. If you like Pale Ales/IPA they are named 'West' and 'East' to make your choice a little simpler. However I find the inventively named 'Pale' to be the best that I tried and characteristically quite similar to another favourite city centre brewed Pale.
It's alright. Actually, I prefer it to the other alright places on the day and stay for three drinks.
In fact, I was really beginning to enjoy myself in Manchester now, with its wide array of places. Maybe I could become a bee. Not a bumble bee of course, more like an Ivy Bee. The sort of bee that makes others scream “There’s a wasp in here” and no amount of explaining that it is in fact a species of bee will change their mind. That sort of bee. Okay, I’d rather just be a wasp.
Manchester isn't a bad place for drinking. In fact it's alright. I suppose you can expect nothing more from a place whose main cultural icons are Morrissey, Liam Gallagher and Mick Hucknall. Only unfounded loyalty could make you think anything more of it. But in terms of quantity, it certainly has a good beer scene that is worth exploring. Quantity with a bit of quality in there too.