Outdoor seating, day drinking, what fun! But there's still something missing.
So you want to have a drink and some food outside, do you? But civilised, like, not eating a salad off your knees in the park while ducking frisbees. You want the same treatment you get whenever you visit a city on the European mainland, where the al-fresco dining experience is taken just as seriously as the indoor one.
Whether it’s pintxos in a square in Bilbao or Aperol spritzes on a pavement in Verona, the Europeans do not mess about. Squares, courtyards, riverbanks, rooftops, pavements, even car parks – if a table and chairs will fit, a table and chairs will sit.
Drinking late is fine, but getting some decent food to soak it all up is a right pain
But what of your options here on home turf? Until recently, your best shot at a decent seat outside involved a scuffle over tables in Castlefield. There’s the odd sparse beer garden, like The Angel, with its faded plastic seats and views over fourteen lanes of traffic, and a few cramped courtyards where you can bathe in sun for about 23 minutes a day (if you scoot between chairs to chase rays). Sitting near an open window was close enough, but if you really wanted direct access to Vitamin D and a drink at the same time you had to grab a can and a patch of public green space.
But oh, the times they are a-changing. And as it so often does these days, Ancoats is leading the way.
Ever since Rudy's opened in 2015, Cutting Room Square’s had a decent enough atmosphere. Hour-long waits for tables usually led to people sprawled all over the concrete with bottles grabbed from Steph at the corner shop. Now Seven Bro7hers and Second City, as well as Rudy’s, have shoved pews outside and the square’s a solid place to hang out, even if you’re not treating it like Rudy’s waiting room.
Down at the marina, which always sounds way more swish than it actually is, Pollen are the first to throw open their doors to the new waterside development. Once they’re joined by craft beer bar Cask, Cotton Field Wharf’s going to be quite the destination, a baby version of those waterside stretches in Amsterdam or Berlin or Rome.
When you look at the new openings in the last two or three years – the Pilcrow, the renovated Corn Exchange, Impossible, 20 Stories, and, more recently, The Creameries - they strive to have the same thing in common. They open their doors and shout, “Look, everyone, we’ve got tables OUTSIDE, in the FRESH AIR, you can take your beer out there, it’s fine.”
It's leading to a nicer drinking culture, too. Instead of getting black-out drunk and making a tit of oneself, people are pacing themselves. The stimuli of being outside, where you can people/dog-watch and sit comfortably in relative nature, has slowed the drinking pace significantly. Bingeing out, sipping in.
So that’s one big thing off the tick list, but there’s still a huge barrier getting in the way of our status as a bona fide all-weather round-the-clock city like our counterparts across the channel.
It’s the complete sodding lack of late-night food. Drinking late is fine, but getting some decent food to soak it all up is a right pain. In fact, when you consult Google for late-night eating spots in Manchester, the first suggestion is Leo’s Fish Bar. You can usually find something to fill a hole in Chinatown, and there’s always Crazy Pedro’s to fall back on, but that’s about the extent of it.
There are a few admin-shaped hurdles for the city's restaurants to clear before they can serve food later than 11pm. In order to serve hot food and alcohol, they'll need a premises licence - that's an additional licence to the one you already need to operate as a food business before those hours. If you're a bar open past 11pm, it shouldn't be a problem, but you can see that the extra paperwork could deter restaurants from extending their opening hours.
When Yard & Coop opened on Edge Street though, late-night feeds were one of their selling points. Fried chicken in a brioche bun with homemade dipping sauces, served right through until midnight. Ace. But we recently wandered into Yard & Coop at about 9.45pm, only to be told that the kitchen was closed. The kitchen was… what? Turns out their midnight deep-frying was scrapped pretty quickly - just not the demand for chicken after about ten o'clock, apparently.
Why isn't there a demand though? Are we all too busy scrambling home to watch Love Island before hitting the hay at exactly 10.30pm, ready to leap out of bed at dawn the next morning to get back to work? Not everyone in Manchester is constrained by a 9-to-5 and an early bedtime, so where are our shift workers supposed to get a nice feed with their colleagues?
It explains why Crazy Pedro's is so full of hospitality workers late at night, why you'll find slices of pizza being stuffed into familiar faces from across the city, this time on the other side of the bar.
Elsewhere, late-night haunts pack the kitchens and cutlery away in favour of darker lights, louder music, and more cocktails, leaving you to pick up a portion of limp, sweaty chips in orange polystyrene on the way home.
Manchester's taken a giant step in the right direction. It's growing up, sobering up, developing a bit of a tan on its dull grey skin. It just needs to stop having it's tea before 7pm every night.