Want to shut out the city and curl up with a book? Here are the best spots in Manchester for bibliophiles...
FINDING somewhere to curl up with a book amidst our Mancunian metropolis isn’t easy. Peace, comfort, light, refreshments, somewhere to lurk indefinitely... the list of necessities goes on.
With a little patience and perseverance, however, sanctuary can be found; and sometimes in the unlikeliest of places.
Whether you want a quick lunchtime escape from the office or an afternoon-long appointment with your favourite author, our literary locales have you covered. Book yourself in...
Dark, dingy and the preserve of drunken din... pubs aren’t the most obvious choice to indulge your inner bookworm. The Briton’s Protection, however, is an exception to the rule. With its comfortable snugs, shiny tiled walls and plush red decor, it has the welcoming aura of a great reading roost; and, if your visit is well-timed, you can find some peace and quiet in a cosy corner with little trouble. Add to that log fires and over 200 whiskys to keep off the winter chill and Bob’s your uncle.
Best feature: Freshly-baked pies from the local butchers (£2.95) for when you get peckish.
Briton’s Protection, 50 Great Bridgewater Street, M1 5LE
This aptly-named new cultural gem really is a home from home. Spread out over three light and spacious floors and crammed full of arty goodness, HOME is the perfect place to sit and while away the hours. Vast, floor-to-ceiling windows let in tonnes of light whilst the stylish ground floor cafe has comfy armchairs aplenty and generally isn’t too crowded. Grab a coffee and a cinnamon bun for under a fiver and make yourself at HOME.
Best feature: The sunny little terrace upstairs (currently only available during functions but soon, we are told, to be opened to the general public).
HOME, 2 Tony Wilson Place, M15 4FN
Talking of places that ooze character, Chapter One bookstore most certainly qualifies. The once desolate, disused storefront on Lever Street has been transformed into a gorgeous, inventive space that melds contemporary and classic influences to stunning effect. Greek Goddess-like statues adorn archways, a water feature plashes tranquilly and fairy lights drape over sleek modernist bookcases fronted with snug seats galore. Elsewhere, typewriter booths invite you to let flow those creative juices, whilst the cafe also extends an invitation... to munch and slurp to your heart’s content. Lovely jubbly.
Best feature: Carefully-curated stock that showcases lesser-known talent alongside mainstream titles.
Chapter One, 19 Lever Street, M1 1BY
SCULPTURE HALL CAFÉ
The sign describes it as a hidden gem, and with good reason. Tucked away in the town hall's loins, this enclave of splendour doesn’t get its just desserts in the attention stakes (although boasts some rather delectable ones itself, generally for under £4). Indeed, despite an interior not dissimilar to a sumptuous Viennese coffee house, the prices are actually quite modest; even champagne afternoon tea is under £20. The leather seats are of the welcoming sort and, perhaps because of its grandiose connotations, the café is often quiet; perfect for a good booking.
Best feature: Magnificent marble busts of Mancunian heroes exude age-old elegance.
Sculpture Hall Cafe, Town Hall, Albert Square, M60 2LA
JOHN RYLANDS READING ROOM
Flying buttresses, embattled parapets, blind tracery... it’s little surprise the John Rylands is considered one of the world’s finest libraries. Basil Champney’s late-Victorian masterpiece is the last great flowering of British neo-Gothic. Inside, the place is one dramatic space after another, the stairs, the reading room, even the toilets. Arguably the jewel in John Rylands’ crown is the reading room, where stained oriel windows illuminate reading alcoves lined with ancient tomes. Such spectacular spaces aren’t often open for casual public use so make the most of it (finish off any consumables first though, they’re not allowed).
Best feature: Wow factor – no expense was spared during the building’s ten-year construction and it shows.
John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, M3 3EH
With a generous sprinkling of bottom-friendly sofas, not to mention beanbags and now even table football, Waterstones bookshop encourages you to loiter. Indeed loiterers abound on every floor so there’s no need to worry about staying put for a while here. Conversely, as people do so like to linger, it can be hard finding an empty seat, so get in there quick, then don’t move until nature calls; at which point, the requisite bookshop cafe is on standby.
Best feature: Knowledgeable staff for personalised recommendations on your next great read.
Waterstones, 91 Deansgate, M3 2BW
Founded in Russia as an attic commune for aspiring poets, Ziferblat now has fourteen branches worldwide. Secreted away upstairs behind a nondescript NQ facade, this quirky venue turns the typical cafe business model on its head: here, it’s not food and drink that’ll cost you, it’s the time you spend. Never mind pay-as-you-go, at Ziferblat it’s pay-as-you-stay. For only 6p a minute, you can help yourself to a pleasant (if largely unhealthy) buffet of sweet and savoury snacks plus hot and cold drinks. Not one for the weak-willed...
Best feature: Gorge yourself silly for £3.60 an hour.
Ziferblat, 23 Edge Street, M4 1HW
A little more effort is required for this one; the hours are slightly restricted and, due to the music school’s young clientele, modern health and safety means you have to be escorted to the library (which, having been in public use since 1653, is the UK’s oldest). It’s well worth it, however: as one of the North West’s most complete medieval complexes, Chetham's is particularly charming, a cloistered haven that bespeaks wisdom and a world now locked away in manuscripts. This magical space is free to use but accessing its extensive collections requires advance permission.
Best feature: Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx studied together at the bay window in the reading room.
Chetham’s Library, Long Millgate, M3 1SB
Whilst the Wolfson reading room may be impressive, boasting Deco features and a striking Byzantine oculus, it admittedly isn’t the best place to indulge in a casual read. With the long tables typically occupied by students amidst piles of textbooks, and a heavy silence that’s grave rather than golden, it can actually feel quite claustrophobic (don’t even bother going there if you’ve got a sniffle). Opt instead for one of the building’s myriad nooks and crannies; the chairs are there, you just have to seek them out.
Best feature: Fantastic facilities – it is one of the UK’s leading lending libraries after all.
Central Library, St Peter's Square, M2 5PD