Jane Stuart – Writer

Writing about real life Up North: football, ale, food and mental health – with a good dash of humour.

Manchester GBG Mission #3: The Northern Quarter

I had been planning Salford as my next Manchester Good Beer Guide (GBG) mission but my calendar instructed me otherwise. Some weeks ago I had booked tickets to see my favourite songsmith David Ford (remember him from our Barnsley/Sheffield trip?) in Manchester. I had no idea where the venue was when I booked but further investigation revealed it to be in the Northern Quarter. I had been wanting to save my visit there for when the evenings were a bit lighter but tonight it was.

Seven Bro7hers (not GBG)

I’m trying to be extra good with my SlimmingWorld plan to get back on track. I spent a lot of time studying the menus of pubs that the GBG app flagged as serving food in the Northern Quarter. I was also mindful of Martin’s recent Manchester blog, which featured some rather delicious looking food from Seven Bro7thers (sic). Imagine my delight when I saw they had a ‘beerhouse’ in the Northern Quarter!

I salivated over their menu and wrote this one down in my SlimmingWorld weekly food planner, satisfied that it was going to be yummy but relatively on plan.

I spent all day looking forward to this and finally skipped across Manchester to enjoy it. I was even veering away from my ‘GBG pubs only’ self-imposed rule in honour of this place. I felt like the shackles were off tonight. The GBG should only really be a guide anyway and not a rigid ‘you must only go here’. I was pleased I had liberated myself.

I paused briefly to admire some street art. Already everything seemed beautiful tonight. It was going to be perfect.

The beerhouse was a little tricky to find – the signage not so ‘in your face’ as the surrounding places in what was a pretty cool area – but further consultation with Google Maps revealed I was standing right outside it. Was I? I spun round and – ooh yes! – there it was. I skipped over.

Oh.

The hopeful/desperate voice in my head whimpered:

‘Maybe that’s an old sign they’ve forgotten to take down. You know, like all those ones asking you to check in on the COVID app that are still everywhere. You could go in and ask?’

But no. They’d broken my heart and I wasn’t for giving them a second chance. Well, not tonight anyway. Obvs I’d be back…

But I was in a quandary now. This was the one ‘must not miss’ place on tonight’s itinerary, which was why I was heading there first. I needed to eat and I really wanted to stay on plan with my food if at all possible. What to do? Where to go? I had no intention of being left hanging here in the street, so I set my Google Maps to direct me to the next pub on my list so I could consider my next move over a beer.

Cask, Ancoats

This is an outlying pub on the other side of the canal. There was a little bridge to navigate which I have to say I wouldn’t fancy tackling in the dark.

And here I was at the first GBG pub of the night.

You may recall I visited a Cask on my first Manchester GBG Mission – and this is its (her?) sister pub (although no relation to Cask in Layton). But they aren’t twins. This sister is a brighter, open-plan pub, with huge windows opening out onto a canalside view.

I studied the beer board.

I approached the bar, where the staff were lined up at the back, as far away from the customers as they could get. I caught the eye of one and he stepped forward so I could place my order through the sheet of plastic that divided us (I recalled the other Cask had this too).

As I waited for my half of mild (always mild if available), I nosed around for any signs that food might be available.

I considered this for a fleeting moment but NO! This would not only be terrible for my diet but pastry gives me indigestion so I’d be regretting it all night. I’d find something more suitable, surely?

I asked for the WiFi code so I could research suitable foody pubs.

Ooh that sounds supersonic.

I was excited to see that my friend Ian (of beermat fame) was in town, just down the road at the Marble Arch. Alas research revealed there was nothing healthy for me to eat there either. I sighed, supped up and figured I’d surely pass SOMEWHERE that was selling food I could eat on my travels between pubs tonight.

Although I’ll confess it wasn’t looking good…

I had seen someone eating tripe on Twitter recently and wondered where on Earth served that and what it was like.

Now I was faced with it as a real option – and after I’d been looking forward to that steak kebab flatbread all day – it didn’t seem remotely appealing. I do love offal but blimey if ever a food needed a rebrand…

Port Street Beer House

This was a revisit but I hadn’t blogged it before. Plus it had been years since I’d been.

Here are the beers on offer tonight.

Rather controversially, I avoided the porter in favour of the tropical oatmeal pale. There were three reasons for this.

1. I was conscious I was drinking on an empty stomach, so a lower ABV was more sensible.

2. I like Black Iris Brewery.

3. Tropical oatmeal sounded interesting.

There were no free tables in here so I stood by a shelf in the corner and put my coat on a pile of chairs.

This was Literature Corner and I was interested to see a brochure from Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which we’d recently visited and loved.

Aw baby herons!

There was no food available in here beyond bar snacks, which wouldn’t cut it, so I supped up and headed off to complete my hat-trick of GBG pubs.

Beatnikz Republic Bar

I’ll confess I had pre-judged this place on account of its name. It had ‘hipster craft beer’ written all over it. But I supposed it must have cask as it was in the GBG. Mustn’t it? Dispense methods and the definition of ‘real ale’ perplex me. All I know is I prefer cask and it’s better for me as I always feel fine the morning after and it’s USUALLY within a more sensible ABV range than stuff from taps (craft/draft/keg/whatever it’s called).

And look…

There were a couple of people ahead of me in the queue (yes, they were queueing in a socially-distant fashion) so I had plenty of time to study the beer board. It seemed a bit complicated. If you wanted a flight, did you have to have the four beers on the left?

Eventually I spotted this.

Ooh and this.

Finally at the front of the queue, I spied some sauce bottles on the bar. Did they serve food here? I was getting to the stage where I’d eat almost anything. Ooh there was a menu.

Jerk Chicken Pie! Yes! But before I ordered I had a question.

‘What’s a pizzette, please?’

‘It’s a mini 7” pizza. We’ve only got the Marinara left though. And we’ve got none of the pastries, either. Someone came in on Sunday and bought everything.’

Crestfallen, I slumped down at a table with my beer, brought back from the brink of tears by the dinky half pint tankard.

But do you know what? I really liked this place. And I could already see myself coming back for a revisit. It’s the kind of place I’d like to bring Wendy and Karina when they’re next in town. And hopefully I’ll get that pie next time.

You can even charge your phone here.

Meanwhile Beer Twitter was being sympathetic and helpful in my quest for food and I now knew exactly where I was heading next for my tea.

Bundobust (not GBG)

Well, when I say EXACTLY, that’s not exactly true. Google Maps puzzled me and I ended up walking down an alley before I realised this place was on the main road. I got there in the end.

Ooh it was a CELLAR bar/restaurant. I was loving this already!

I was immediately greeted with a sign instructing me to wait to be seated, so that’s what I did. A young lady soon appeared.

‘A table for…?’

‘One please.’

It was only in the last decade that I decided to smash down all the remaining self-imposed barriers to things that I wouldn’t do on my own. I went to the cinema and theatre on my own. I took myself out to dinner. I even went on holiday on my own. These days I have no qualms about doing any of those things. Although happily I have Lee to do stuff with these days. But I certainly have no qualms about asking for a ‘table for one’ when the need arises. Karina has a good term for this: ‘masterdating’.

I was seated at a ‘Wagamama-style’ long bench at the back of the room, handily situated right by the bar. I was told I could either order via the app or at the bar. Well you know I need my pump clip photos if I can get them, so up I strode to the bar.

I’ll confess I was not expecting cask (let alone their own mild!) here, so this was a lovely surprise. Here’s the full beer offering.

And here’s my mild in yet another dinky tankard.

In terms of food, I knew what I was having before I’d arrived. Indeed this had been my first eaterie of choice until I’d seen the healthier offering by Seven Bro7hers (sic). I was secretly very pleased I’d ended up here. It was clearly meant to be.

Paneer Tikka and Okra Fries.

Oh my word – the flavours! Dear reader, this was the most delicious Indian food I’ve had in yonks.

As I sat alone in a room full of people, my foot tapping along to the magnificent music, savouring this delicious food and beer, I was in my happy place. Bundobust has such a great vibe that it felt like a Friday night – but it was only Tuesday. What a wonderful, magical place that can make a Tuesday feel like a Friday!

I popped to the Ladies on my way out and just knew they’d be great too. I give you a high cistern with an old fashioned chain flush.

The night was yet young – and there was even better still to come…

Fierce Bar (not GBG)

Not even in any parallel universe am I EVER going to the Northern Quarter and not visiting the Fierce Bar. Fierce are my favourite brewery in the whole world. Why? Because their beer does exactly what it says on the can (or tap), with flavours that punch you in the face. If a Fierce beer says CHILLI, you’ll feel it burn all the way down to your belly. This is so refreshing in a world of so-called ‘chocolate’ beers that taste nothing like chocolate.

All the tables were occupied in this rightly popular bar, so I perched on a vacant stool at the bar, as there were others doing the same. From here I had this view of the beer board.

‘Ooh do you do thirds?’

‘We do indeed.’

‘Can I have a third of the Indian lager and a third of the SQURL please?’

‘Oh. Just the two?’

I was feeling rebellious tonight. Who says you have to have three thirds? And who says you have to stick to GBG pubs only? Not me!

Oh my word – the flavours! Again! The cardamom lager was the perfect drink to enjoy on the back of that glorious Bundobust scran. They should stock this in every (licensed) Indian restaurant – hang the Cobra! It’s the product of a collab with famous chef Tony Singh and it is exquisite. I couldn’t have sampled this beer at a more perfect moment.

Oh Fierce – you never fail to whisk me off my feet! And there’s me flirting with Thornbridge and Vocation in recent months. Damn there are some fucking amazing beers out there at the moment. What a time to be alive!

I was expecting the SQURL (a hazelnut beer) to be MAYBE on a par with the Mad Squirrel De La Nut (one of my faves) IF I was lucky. Dear reader, this was the most sublime Fierce beer I have ever tasted. It was like liquid Ferrero Rocher. This has to rival the Vocation Naughty & Nice Black Forest Stout as best beer ever. It was all the better for me being able to order another one.

In the throes of my love for Fierce, I couldn’t resist the merch behind the bar. After all, I did need a scarf. And I’d been green with envy at Karina’s Fierce hat in Wigan last week.

Before I left, I popped upstairs to the Ladies. Ooh there was an upstairs bar here too – who knew?

The barmaids here were lovely too and, as I skipped out to my final venue of the night, one called after me:

‘Enjoy your gig!’

What a delightful evening this was turning out to be. As I strolled along something dawned on me: my anxiety had not been shadowing me tonight. How wonderful was that? This was my first solo crawl where this had been the case. Was I finally beginning to feel at home in Manchester? Or had the book that I’d recently finished – The World of Yesterday by Stefan Zwieg – affected me in a surprisingly positive way? Was I now even MORE grateful to be alive and free? Who knows but it was a beautiful feeling.

Gullivers (not GBG)

I was here to see David Ford. I’ve been to see him loads over the last 20+ years and he just gets better and better.

But first let’s check out the beer.

Yay more cask! I had the MPA and it was top notch (NBSS ☺️).

I also loved the straws.

Although I was a bit scared of this.

I was advised that the gig was in the room upstairs but that news came with an apology that I’d have to climb the stairs.

At the top of the stairs, my hand was stamped with an invisible stamp (no idea what that was all about) and I headed into the room. I sidled my way to the front and took position at the side of the room right at the front. I’m so short there’s really no point me standing anywhere else.

Tonight I got to enjoy the opening act, Annie Dressner, who you may recall I missed in Sheffield because I was nattering in the bar with Martin and Christine. Although I was mistaken for her in the bar on more than one occasion.

Before the gig and during the interval (or whatever the bit between the acts is called) I got chatting with another couple of Ford fans down the front. My notes are telling me they were both called Andy which I’m starting to doubt now, but one was from Morecambe and the other from Rotherham. Now it’s quite hard to make complimentary small talk about either of those places but I think I did ok. They were both still speaking to me at the end of the night anyhow. I must have raved about Pride & Ride in Morecambe and can’t have been THAT rude about Rotherham, despite it being on a par with Whitby for one of the most hateful places I’ve ever visited (although I promise to look on it with fresh eyes when we return for the Football Tourist’s Guide).

Anyway on came David and he was excellent as ever.

I stood and leaned against the wall and lost myself in the music. What a night this was.

I was encouraged to visit the merch stall on my way out. Of course I wanted to support my favourite songsmith as much as I could – but I was also intrigued by the novel method of payment.

I picked up a few items and headed out without paying for them, which felt a little bit naughty, but in the knowledge that I would when I got myself settled on the train home. As I walked across to Piccadilly station, I calculated how much I thought would be a fair price for these items.

When I logged on to pay for them, my made up amount tallied perfectly with the listed prices. You can’t say fairer than that. And what a civilised method of payment this was. It’s so lovely to be treated like a grown up.

Back at Piccadilly, the train to Blackpool North was delayed by half an hour. I called Lee to let him know then stuck in my AirPods and blasted out David Ford until my train finally arrived.

On the train home I watched our Football Tourist’s Guide To Cardiff, which Lee had just uploaded to YouTube.

I finally made it back to Blackpool around 0035. It was a late one but a great one. And now I can’t wait for my next mission to Manchester.

Up Next: Blackpool v Swansea City & Waterloo Music Bar & Twisted Indian

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