The pub tour below takes in several pubs so if you drink in them all you're going to get very dizzy. Perhaps split the tour. All the places mentioned serve a range of cask ale in ever-changing combinations.
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THE NORTHERN QUARTER
The trail has a gallon plus two of pubs, ten, and includes some of the most splendid interiors in Manchester with the Crown and Kettle, The Castle, The Hare and Hounds and The Marble Arch. We've cheekily added in a bar/pub of the newer generation and we'll be doing a Northern Quarter Bar Crawl as a follow-up to this piece.
Eat at The Angel or The Marble Arch, they provide far and away the best food although The Lower Turks Head is decent at lunchtime.
The crawl begins...
Start at The Port Street Beerhouse (39-41 Port Street, M1 2EQ, 0161 237 9949). This is a modern pub, with mixed age clientele. It points the way to different future for the English public house, one that mixes the best of the latter with the best of the continental bar. There are two floors and a cracking little beer garden. It has up to seven guest ales but also specialises in American and import beers. Traditionalists might not approve but maybe they should try the 'traditional' pub next door, The Crown and Anchor, before they worry. This boozer has an interior - like an eighties nail-bar - that can curdle beer.
Turn right out of The Port Street and then right down Hilton Street and left down Newton Street towards Piccadilly. Just before Piccadilly inself there's a filthy but utterly urban alley called Back Piccadilly.
Here'll you find Mother Mac's (33 Back Piccadilly, M1 1HP, 0161 236 1507), the very definition of a 'backstreet boozer'. The name comes from a former landlord, it was originally the Wellington. For the morbid, the history of the pub includes a gruesome and notorious murder from the 1970s. This is a hardcore pub experience with Hydes beer available, plus bar snacks, all in smallish L-shaped room. The toilets are never going to win any prizes. Mother Mac's is so authentic its Dickensian, a vision of a city pub in a working district before gentrification set in.
Carry on down Back Piccadilly where in the nineteenth century it was said the prostitutes were 'too old, too ugly or too young' to the junction with Tib Street, turn right and cross the car park left to The Unicorn.
The Unicorn (26 Church Street, M4 1PN, 0161 834 8854) is faded but handsome multi-roomed pub with an interior that dates from the 1920s although the licence has been on this site much longer. The two rooms on the right as you enter from Church Street are particularly good, whilst the magnificent bar is like a ship in full sail, bearing its two or three ales. The atmosphere inside is very local, a favourite of many of the older folk who used to work in the markets that formerly enlivened this area. Manchester Jazz Society meet regularly upstairs. It's a shame that the wooden details and veneers are starting to deteriorate.
Leave the pub by the Church Street entrance and cross the road. Complicated this but go street ahead up Joiner Street, take miniscule Kelvin Street on the right of Solita Restaurant, to Thomas Street and next to Teacup keep an eye out for 57 Thomas Street (M4 1 NA, 0161 832 0521). This tiny beer bar is from the Marble Arch people, see below, and delivers four cask ales, over sixty bottled beers, platter food and ploughman's lunches. There are board games too but best of all a convivial atmosphere in one of the new generation of pubs cropping up across the country run by locals on a more modest scale than those offered up by the big brewers. Micro-brewery micro-bars.
57 Thomas Street
Turn left out of the bar and walk to Oldham Street. Turn left up Oldham Street until you reach the eighteenth century/ early nineteenth century gem that is The Castle Hotel (66 Oldham Street, M4 1LE, 0161 237 9485). Behind the crazy skewed Art Nouveau lettering on the façade, you’ll find an elaborate mahogany bar smack bang in front of you. This is the only tied Robinson’s pub in the city centre, often stocking the full range of ales from the Stockport brewery. Immediately behind the bar is the old snug and behind that down a corridor is a beautiful performance room with a glorious timber skylight.
There's a cute little smoking area in the backyard too. Food is basic but to use that most over-used word in the pub food lexicon - wholeseome. The pub drags in a mixed clientele of trendy young and old but suffers from turning up the music volume too high in the evenings - if you can't comfortably chat in a pub then it ain't a proper pub. Still if the run down nature of the previous two pubs lowered the moosd this will give you a lift. Like Port Street Beerhouse it points to a strong future for the well-run city pub.
Turn right up Oldham Road and over Great Ancoats Street to The Crown and Kettle (2 Oldham Road, M4 5FE, 0161 236 2923).
En route you pass The City with its panel of The Glorious Revolution of 1688 with William III being welcomed by Britannia - there's a vicar with upraised arms celebrating the triumph of this Protestant pub. However for most of its history the pub has been Irish Catholic, Confidential is surprised the panel still survives.
Back to The Crown and Kettle which has one of the most astonishing pub interiors around dating from an undetermined time in the 1840s or 50s. Huge Gothic timber pendants hang down from a ceiling alive with crazy quatrefoil (fourleaf) tracery. The pub was closed for 15 years after an arson attack prior to re-opening in October 2005. The interior shows the distressed but cleaned ceiling in the lounge and how it originally might have looked when painted in the vault. Shame that all the rooms have TVs but at least there's four or five cracking ales. There's a good story about three entrances. In 1950 when a drunken journalist from the Daily Express next door tried to get in the landlord threw him out, he tried in the next entrance and then the next with the same result. At the third he asked the Landlord, “Do you own all the pubs round here?”
Leave the pub, locate Swan Street, at the western end of the junction here and follow it to The Smithfield Hotel (37 Swan Street, M4 5JZ, 0161 839 4424). This has a bewildering number of beer festivals, pool and doubles as a B&B if you’re feeling exhausted. It's been ripped out and refurbished on many occasions but outside you can still tell it's 200 years old.
Turn left on leaving the pub and walk to the traffic lights and then turn right up Rochdale Road.
Mosaic detailOn the left at the junction with Gould Street, you’ll find The Marble Arch (73 Rochdale Road M4 4HY, 0161 832 5914).This is a beauty built in 1888 for McKennas Harpurhey Brewery but became known as The Marble, because of its exuberant design. It's now home-base for the wonderful Marble Beers. The original interior details of tile and mosaic are spectacular, note the red roses for Lancashire and the tiled frieze of drinks on offer including 'gin' and 'whisky'.
Some the beers produced by the Marble include Marble Bitter, Manchester Bitter, Ginger Marble, Lagonda IPA plus seasonals. The beers are all vegan and all organic. The food is very good and there's decent a jukebox in this fabulous boozer - as well as a beer garden.
Now backtrack down Rochdale Road a little way until you see The Angel (6 Angel Street, M4 4BR, 0161 833 4786) on your right. This has been progressively renovated over recent years and is now one of Manchester's best pubs. There's food, live music, real fires and although the ghost has been exorcised, it's a very spirited pub and a real Confidential favourite. The pub is on three levels, restaurants above the bar area, and has been a boozer for a couple of hundred years. Like all good pubs it attracts a mixed age clientele.
Return to Rochdale Road and turn right. After the lights the street becomes Shude Hill and just before the tram lines you’ll see on the left hand side another atmospheric pub, the late 1700s Hare and Hounds (46 Shudehill, M4 4AA, 0161 832 4737). Outside the pub has a handsome yet slightly austere green tiled façade whilst inside it splits into four if you include the function room upstairs. There’s a lounge, a basic but comfy vault with TV and darts, and a long lobby doubling as the live entertainment space – if there's no older Mancunians on the karaoke it's only a matter of time before the singing begins. Good period detail survives in the tile, wood-panelling and etched glass. Food is simple, snacks, sandwiches, homemade pickled eggs and the like. Beers include Holt’s bitter.
A little further down Shude Hill is The Lower Turks Head (36 Shudehill, M4 1EZ. 07814 184384). Since you have to cover your ears in certain areas of British cities to drown out the noise of pubs being demolished, it's good to have one re-open. This place claims to date from 1745 which maybe the case, but it definitely features another marvellous 1920s' tiled facade. Inside if you dream of trad boozers as room after room of intimate spaces, preferably low-lit to encourage wit, flirtatiousness, rhetoric, ease of mind, then this is the place for you. The next door shop has been occupied as well to create a Scuttlers bar (picture top of the page) named after the notorious nineteenth century Manchester youth gangs. There's a food room on the first floor and seven bedrooms above. It's good to have The Lower Turks Head back.
Lower Turk's Head
And that's it.
If you managed all ten boozers in one go you're not only very drunk but you've also sampled the past, present and future of the city centre pub. We like to think of our crawls as both educational and rewarding.
Jonathan Schofield regularly leads pub tours around the city - Book here.
HUMOURIST Hilaire Belloc decreed in the early 20th century that ‘once you have lost your pubs, you will have lost the last of England’.
There’s perhaps some truth in this. If a country is defined by qualities which are uniquely their own then pubs are an item that reaches to the core of Britishness.
Indeed if a visitor wants to leave behind the tourist sites and hotels for a while and reach under the skin of the nation then a visit to the pub and a chat with the locals is the most accessible and quickest route.
But pubs are in crisis, squeezed by tiny profit margins and changes in society and particularly its male drinking habits. Only in city centres does there seem a future for the urban pub - that's why the Northern Quarter crawl works so well.
What makes a good pub? Is it that atmosphere of age, the frisson of time passing? Is it beautiful fittings and fixtures? Is it talkative locals and a friendly landlord or landlady? Is it finely kept real ales?
It’s actually all of these. The really good pub should tempt you in for a quick half and make you feel so comfortable you stay all night.