Thanks to the influence of Retired Martin and Si BRAPA, on Friday night I found myself commencing a Good Beer Guide (GBG) ticking mission in Manchester. Why? Well, I want to get to know the city (and its people) better. My usual route of getting in with the local CAMRA branch (which worked wonderfully in Walsall, Birmingham and Blackpool) resulted in an epic fail. I posted a little introduction on the Central Manchester CAMRA Facebook Group and asked for their help.
‘Which pubs do you recommend?’
‘Well if you bother to read the posts in this group you’ll get a fair idea. And why are you posting your blogs on here anyway?’
I’m paraphrasing but that’s pretty much the response I got. So I thought well fuck you, I’m going to get out there and discover the pubs for myself and make my own mind up.
I’m not really sure what to make of Manchester so I’m looking forward to learning about it as I go.
Ahead of my visit to Wigan with my posh friend Dan, I asked if he had ever been to The North before. His response was ‘yes, I’ve been to Manchester.’ I chuckled at what he had in store that day in Wigan, because Manchester isn’t quite like other parts of The North. I overheard someone on the train recently describe Manchester as ‘like London’. It is big and cold and distinctly not Wigan or Accy or Blackpool or Colne. And yet it’s NOT like London. I have always felt more at home in Manchester. But not QUITE at the comfy slippers level of the quirky Lancashire towns. And I want that to change. I fell in love with Birmingham through immersing myself in its pubs and culture so this is the beginning of my mission to fall in love with Manchester.
This pub – one of two with the same name in Manchester – is just off Deansgate. I learned from the GBG app that it doesn’t serve food but you can take your own food in from the chippy next door. This already sounded like my kind of pub.
I managed to bypass the chippy – The Fish Hut, which had a fishy aroma, as opposed to the more vinegary aromas emanating from typical chippys – as I had just stuffed my face so wasn’t hungry. I battled with the double doors to the pub (I needed both narrow doors open to squeeze through with my rucksack on my back) and found myself immediately faced with these pump clips.
Ooh two dark beers out of the four on offer – great start, Manchester!
The bar staff didn’t seem to notice I was there, so I moved round to the other side of the bar – taking off my rucksack, so I didn’t get in anyone’s way – where I continued to not be noticed. There were plastic barriers between me and the staff, which didn’t help. And, in his defence, one barman was intently focussed on pulling pints. Eventually I was served and I ordered a half of the dark mild to warm me up. It was very nippy out.
(HELP ME!) pub tickers have stupid self-imposed rules. For example Si BRAPA has to have a pint in every pub and spend at least 25 minutes there; and Retired Martin has to take a photo of a random archway or something. I found myself already deciding that I would only have a half in each pub and I would photograph the pump clips / beer board and blog about the pubs visited and that would be the extent of my rules. I would also stick to my principles of excluding Shitbag Spoons. I’m still not sure whether I’m counting pubs previously visited or whether they will need a revisit.
I had a cursory look round the pub – which opened up into a larger seating area (possibly next door?) at the far end of the bar. No pub photos this time, I’m afraid, because all the pubs were busy and I didn’t feel comfortable taking them. I had spotted a sole vacant table in here right by the doors, so I plonked myself down there.
I earwigged on the conversation of the three men at the adjacent table. They were CAMRA and they were discussing plans for their AGM. I toyed with the idea of attempting to make contact but I was a bit scared, so I instead pulled my phone out and checked in on Untappd and Twitter, whilst keeping one ear cocked in their direction.
‘What pubs are we going to after the meeting?’ enquired one man.
‘Yeah because of course THAT’s more important than the meeting…’ replied another, sarcastically.
Well OBVIOUSLY that’s important. What was wrong with these (presumably) local CAMRA folk? They didn’t seem like my tribe at all.
Then the doors crashed open and two men came to the aid of a woman trying to get her pushchair through the tricky double doors. It was quite the ordeal but eventually the woman and her baby had made it into the pub. I sighed. I don’t approve of babies in pubs. Dogs? Yeah. Cats? Obvs. Children? Get in the bin.
Immediately, one of the bar staff ran (actually RAN) over to the woman, announcing:
‘Sorry, no under 18s allowed!’
Result! I liked this pub already. And what kudos for that baby, being kicked out of a boozer at their age.
This was a good start to my Manchester crawl. Next!
I am ashamed to admit this was my first visit to this iconic Manchester pub. I have been past it on buses and coaches and on foot but have always been heading somewhere else. But not tonight.
On my walk here, I passed another iconic Manchester pub, The Britons Protection, which I had also been keen to visit. But it’s not in the beer guide, so I had to walk past it. Stupid fucking rules. I much prefer Evo‘s rule of never walking past a pub without going in it.
As I approached the POTP, I admired its splendid green tiling without stopping to photograph it because I was still feeling slightly on edge in this strange city. There was a group of people congregated outside (possibly vaping) and I didn’t want to be identified as an outsider. I wonder if this slight anxiety is a hangover from lockdown. I recall feeling very uncomfortable on my first unsupervised crawl post-lockdown in Lytham. Now I come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve done an unaccompanied crawl since? But I used to do this sort of thing all the time. I was also keen to get this crawl concluded before it got dark. Why am I like this?
As I entered Pub #2 I was greeted with a selection of doors, which confused me. I opted for the one on the right, which led to a busy bar area. I had to remove my rucksack to squeeze past the customers to get to the pump clips.
Obvs I had the Plum Porter.
I managed to find a vacant table and parked myself down there. Phew it was warm in here!
From my seat I observed a woman leaning on the bar in a slinky shift dress and decided the right thing to do was to avert my eyes (difficult, as she was straight ahead). Eyes right and there was a couple snogging the face off each other next to the table football (which there really wasn’t room for in this tiny room). Probably best to not look over there either. Eyes left – oh bloody hell a BABY was being passed around. Was that the same one from earlier on a GBG ticking crawl?
I pulled out my phone and resolved to look at that instead. I would have loved to have looked around this stunning pub but it was too busy to fully enjoy. I made a mental note to return on a quiet afternoon.
A couple arrived and hovered over my table, so I offered it to them, supped up and moved on.
I got lost on my way here, which isn’t surprising because it’s by Manchester Oxford Road station, where I always get lost (see The Big Bash). I ended up approaching the man at the pizza stall and asking for directions. He was most helpful and pointed to some stairs that I hadn’t spotted and directed me down there, where the pub was apparently at the bottom of the stairs and on the left. And indeed that was the case.
I had been intrigued by the ‘mixed clientele’ indicated in the GBG (which I think is code for something, but I’m not sure what). Anyway this is a rock pub and I do like a rock pub. However I always feel I need to dress appropriately when I’m in rock pubs and at rock gigs. And tonight I was wearing my Blackpool FC gilet (what they call bodywarmers in cities). Underneath that, I was wearing my Hotpots CHOOSE PIES tee because I had been planning to go to an 80s night at the Waterloo tonight but I’d somehow ended up on this road to pubticking hell instead.
I approached the bar.
Now in the past I might have viewed this as a boring selection. Indeed I almost turned around and walked out before I had a word with myself. How often do I see Boltmaker and Old Pec these days? And I do have an affection for Camerons since my Hartlepool visit. I opted for the Old Pec and it was lush.
Again I struggled to find a seat in this busy pub. Eventually I found one facing the wall by the entrance to the Ladies toilets. I knew it was the Ladies because it didn’t have that aroma that Gents have (I once drunkenly walked into the Gents at the BCA in Walsall and realised my mistake instantly because of the stench).
As I battled in vain to get enough internet connection to check in on Untappd and Tweet a photo, I became aware of the death metal now blasting out of the jukebox. I’d tell you what it was but I couldn’t muster up enough connection for Soundhound. I smiled because this was totally unexpected for a GBG pub. But I was also conscious I had a headache forming, so I supped up, made use of the unremarkable facilities and headed back out into the evening (now warmer, with my beer coat on).
This was a more open, modern pub. I strode towards the bar – an inverted L-shape – and was immediately offered service. There was someone standing in the way of the pump clips, so I explained that I needed to wait to study them more closely before placing my order.
Well the Citra can get in the sea, as that’s my least favourite hop (it burns my throat). Hmm I’m seeing a lot of Wily Fox lately but that pump clip is telling me nothing about the beer. I tilted my head. Chocolate…and…Marshmallow…Milk…Stout. Oh yes! What a perfect dessert beer for my last pub of the sesh!
There were no free tables in here so I stood by a ledge at the side of the room, getting confused by the wall art.
I pulled out my phone to check my trains home. Next one cancelled, but I wouldn’t have made that anyway. I checked how long it would take me to walk to Piccadilly and realised I had comfortably enough time to stroll to the station, have a strategic wee and board the Blackpool North train with no stress. Which is exactly what I did next. I didn’t even get lost en route, as the pub pretty much put me out onto Princess Street. Although I MIGHT have got lost getting out of the pub itself…
On board the train, two men struck up a rather loud conversation about their shared memories of the Blackpool pub and club scene from the 80s and 90s. It might have made for great blog content – one seemed like a terrible gossip – but I couldn’t be doing with it. I had just wanted to read my book (The Evening And The Morning by Ken Follett) and this was impossible now. I dug out my AirPods and watched an episode of Calls on AppleTV before switching to Corrie on ITV Hub, which entertained me all the way back to Blackpool North.
And that, dear reader, is the start of my Manchester GBG Mission. Will it stop at Manchester or will ticking begin to consume my life? Will anyone in a Manchester pub ever speak to me? Will I overcome my anxiety of pubbing solo on unfamiliar territory? Will I fall in love with Manchester? Will I find THAT pub that scoops me up in a warm embrace and holds me so tightly that I want to stay for the night (a la Shipwreck in Cleveleys and Craft House in Lytham)? Well, there’s only one way to find out:
FIIIIIGHT!!! get subbing to my blog and all will be revealed. Just enter your email address in the box on the right (if you’re on a desktop device) or below (if you’re on a mobile). You can also follow me on Twitter @blackpooljane.
Some very generous readers have kindly bought me pints recently (thank you Doug, Mike and Sacha). If you’ve enjoyed this blog and would like to do the same, here’s the link where you can do so.
Next Up: Blackpool v AFC Bournemouth