Confidentials give you a well-travelled route round which to stagger

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Fortunately, while the Northern Quarter has in the past few years become a byword for trendy city centre living, it has also clung to its historic pubs like a regular refusing to leave their precious snug.

Here’s a suggested route for taking in the fine array of boozers on offer in that end of town…

If you manage all thirteen boozers in one go you're not only very drunk but have also sampled the past, present and future of the city centre pub

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 a different future for the English public house, mixing it with the best of the continental bar (but with added board games). There are two floors, occasional DJs and a cracking little beer garden, plus with 18 keg lines and seven cask it promises there’s “always something different every time you come in.”

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Port Street Beerhouse Image: Confidentials
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Upstairs at Port Street Beerhouse Image: Confidentials

Turn right out of The Port Street and then right down Hilton Street and left down Newton Street towards Piccadilly. Just before Piccadilly itself 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, before which 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 - a vision of a city pub in a working district before gentrification set in.

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Mother Mac's Image: Confidentials

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 - original along with the panels and fittings - 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. 

Oh, and they do three WKD for £8.

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The Unicorn Image: Confidentials
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Somewhere Confidentials would never be accused of sitting... Image: Confidentials

Leave the pub by the Church Street entrance and cross the road. Go straight ahead up Joiner Street, take miniscule Kelvin Street to Thomas Street, and pop into The Millstone, which has karaoke on every day from 3pm to 8pm, as well as “feisty bar staff.”

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Karaoke? Come on down Image: Confidentials

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.

There's a cute little smoking area in the backyard too, which can get a little squeezed for space on a Saturday night. The pub drags in a mixed clientele of trendy young and old, meaning at 4pm you could be chatting with long-standing (or long-teetering) locals, but by 8pm when the live room is often in use the average age has plummeted. With a fantastic jukebox in tow, like Port Street Beerhouse it points to a strong future for the well-run city pub.

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Upstairs at The Castle, the jukebox was playing LA Woman Image: Confidentials
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A rare Robinson's sign in the city centre Image: Confidentials

Over the road is The Castle’s sister pub, Gullivers. Also boasting a brilliant jukebox, it has the added enticement of a well-sized gig room upstairs with live bands every night. Add to that the occasional night for film, comedy and spoken word, and you’ve got a storied and much-loved city centre pub that seems to use every inch of space.

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Gullivers Image: Confidentials

Turn right up Oldham Road and over Great Ancoats Street to The Crown and Kettle (2 Oldham Road, M4 5FE, 0161 236 2923). It 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. It also has 10% off cask ales from midday to 5pm on weekdays, and fellow pint-pullers get industry 15% off draught on Mondays to help cast the weekend’s work to the back of your mind.

There's a good story about its 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?”

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One of the best pub interiors in the city centre Image: Confidentials
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A sign of the times Image: Confidentials

Now, I know it’s Ancoats, but take a gentle stroll past the former Robert Maxwell Towers and turn left onto Blossom Street to visit The Edinburgh Castle (17 Blossom St, Ancoats, M4 5EP, 0161 414 0004). From the outside an alluring and seemingly untouched corner pub in what was once the Little Italy of Manchester, it manages to feel unpretentious but very bloody fancy at the same time. Perfect for winter evenings getting pissed by faint candle light, but in the meantime its chip butties are much-lauded and the dining room, open from 5pm Wednesdays onwards, is picking up more and more acclaim.

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The cosy confines of the Edinburgh Castle Image: Confidentials
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Lots of corners to ensconce in Image: Confidentials

Back out onto Great Ancoats Street now, and follow it down towards Shudehill to Swan Street and The Smithfield Market Tavern (37 Swan Street, M4 5JZ, 0161 839 4424). A Blackjack brewery pub, it has rolling guest ales, Belgian beers and kegs, along with bar billiards and darts. There’s also monthly quizzes, acoustic sessions and Northern Soul DJ nights on the last Sunday of every month. It's been ripped out and refurbished on many occasions but outside you can still tell it's 200 years old. 

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Bar billiards anyone? Image: Confidentials

Turn left on leaving the pub and walk to the traffic lights and then turn right up Rochdale Road.

On 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 (header image above) and the tiled frieze of drinks on offer including 'gin' and 'whisky'.

As well as pouring its own Marble Brewery beer (once made in the basement, now upscaled to Salford), the food is very good and there's a decent jukebox in this fabulous boozer - as well as a beer garden. A stone cold classic of city pub life.

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The magnificent Marble Arch Image: Confidentials
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Slide down the sloped tile floor to the bar Image: Confidentials

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 cask ales, quiz nights on Mondays and although the ghost has been exorcised, it's a very spirited pub and a real Confidential favourite. The pub is on three levels and has been a boozer for a couple of hundred years. Like all good pubs it attracts a mixed age clientele.

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Now exorcised... Image: Confidentials

Return to Rochdale Road and turn right. After the lights the street becomes Shudehill 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 – usually taking the form of the ‘Free and Easy’ piano singalongs on Wednesday early evenings. Good period detail survives in the tiles, wood-panelling and etched glass.

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The historic Hare and Hounds Image: Confidentials

A little further down Shudehill is The Lower Turks Head (36 Shudehill, M4 1EZ. 07814 184384). 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 was occupied to create a Scuttlers bar,  named after the notorious nineteenth century Manchester youth gangs. One of the jewels in the Joseph Holts crown, it also does a great turn in Northern Soul, holding a ‘bring your own 7” vinyls’ after the record fayre every first Sunday of the month.

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The scuttlers bar Image: Confidentials

And that's it.

If you managed all thirteen 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.

It’s thirsty work putting such a comprehensive guide together, so it’s time for a pint. But where to start...

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