Jane Stuart – Writer

Writer on beer, football culture and Blackpool FC.

Manchester GBG Mission #4: Salford & Mild Magic

Now the clocks have ‘sprung forward’ and the evenings are lighter, midweek missions feel much safer. Thus on Friday night it was time to tick off Salford’s Good Beer Guide (GBG) pubs. I’d never been to Salford before so wasn’t sure what to expect. What I found was a wonderful variety of pubs, none of which was like another…

Seven Bro7hers Middlewood Locks Beerhouse (not GBG)

You may recall from my Northern Quarter mission that I had some trouble hunting down food, having been thwarted at Seven Bro7hers Ancoats after salivating over their menu all day. Well this time I took extra steps to make sure I’d get my tea with no drama. On Monday I messaged Seven Bro7hers via their website to check their kitchen was open at the time of my visit and they confirmed it was. Yippee!

Now this pub is not in the GBG but – as has been the case on every Manchester Mission so far – I am struggling to find GBG pubs that serve food, hence I was obliged to seek out an alternative pit stop tonight.

There seem to be loads of pavement closures in Manchester at the moment, making pedestrianning tricky at times, but I circumnavigated these to soon arrive in the Wild West of Manchester (NB it wasn’t wild – and I’m not even sure it’s technically Manchester – but it would get lively later).

I was pleased to find plenty of seating available and the kitchen open on my arrival here.

As I contemplated the menu I was surprised and pleased that I hadn’t been at all irked by the spelling of Seven Bro7hers. I think this is because I write my Ts like 7s.

Here’s the beers.

‘Can I have a Chicken Kebab and half a stout please?’

‘Do you want the Beer & Kebab Deal?’

‘Er I’d better not have a pint as I’m at the start of a crawl…’

I took a seat at a booth on the left hand wall and removed my coat, also taking care to put my hat somewhere I wouldn’t forget it when I came to leave. Despite my Fritidsklader hat being unlucky at the football, I am growing more attached to it the more badges I add to it. My latest addition is a lovely gold badge from the British Guild of Beer Writers, which I’m now a member of. Can you spot it?

I took a sip of my Sling It Out Stout and can confirm it to be delicious. I only discovered last night that you can enter your beer scores on the GBG app, which I think is brilliant. As I understand it, pubs are selected for the GBG based predominantly on their beer scores, so this is a really important part of admin when visiting pubs with decent beer.

What I don’t understand (or much care about, if I’m honest) is what beers are considered ‘real ale’ for CAMRA purposes. I am told that ‘bag in box’ beers don’t count (but how would I know that they are bag in box?) but I also understand that some keg beers are considered to be real ale. I appreciate that this is something that I might ask of the bar staff (which I would, if it particularly mattered to me and I understood anything about this). And I might simply stick to inputting scores for cask ales. As it is, I am inputting the brewery and the name of the beer and leaving this to the local CAMRA branch to administer. If they don’t want me to include ‘non real ales’ then they can educate me accordingly or simply reject the scores for the beer they deem don’t count.

Soon enough, my Insta-worthy food arrived.

I began by eating the salad. In my pre-SlimmingWorld days I would have likely left the foliage untouched but now I try to eat it first as it’s the best part of the meal for my diet and it’s the sort of food that I should be trying to fill myself up with. I then moved on to the rest of the dish. I’ll confess I didn’t request this dish to be served in a SlimmingWorld friendly stylee (without the oil and mayo) and soon wished that I had. The dish was drowning in oil, which made it quite a tricky eat for me. Still, I ate all the chicken, most of the veg and some of the bread. I was confident that would be enough to sustain me for the evening. I’d just have to make sure I worked off the excess syns on the static bike over the weekend.

As I ate, the bar filled up with fellow drinkers and diners, which was pleasing to see. This was a large, open-plan room with windows for walls. It’s in a nice location by Middlewood Locks.

Now, according to No 10 Ale House & Thai Kitchen in Blackpool, I have ‘a strange fascination with toilets’. I’d hate to disappoint them, so feel I need to quantify this statement with the following.

SIS7ERS, surely?
The King of Hand Driers.
Trough sink.

I have to add here that my feet didn’t touch the floor when I was sat on the loo, so I sat there swinging my legs.

Now it was time to move on to my first GBG tick of the night (not that I’m a ticker, you understand).

Union Tavern (GBG)

It was quite a walk to get here, into deepest darkest (well it wasn’t dark yet – it was quite sunny, in fact) industrial Salford. I didn’t think I’d have enjoyed this walk in the dark, although it was down a main road, which always feels safer for me as a lone woman. I was pleased to see the pub appear on my left.

As I entered, I was greeted with an aroma that immediately had me wondering if they had a pubcat (SPOILER ALERT: I didn’t encounter one). I was in a small room with a handful of older men with the bar straight ahead. If ever there was a pub that had just the one handpull of bitter, this was always going to be it.

I’ll confess I am somewhat confused as to why this Joseph Holts pub is in the GBG. How exceptional can a bitter be? It wasn’t as if I drank it and it blew my socks off. But whatevs. Vive le difference. I was still pleased that it afforded me this opportunity to visit this little corner of the 1980s. I thought I recognised Bonnie Tyler’s voice through the speakers but Soundhound confirmed it was Feargal Sharkey. Oops.

I retreated into the otherwise empty room on the left and took a seat.

Ooh a telescope…
This half was topped up without me asking and it was already full.
That carpet!

Just as I was beginning to baulk at the mysogynistic chatter from the next room, Lee called and I chatted with him for the duration of my half. I was glad of the company. Whilst I do love a traditional ‘proper’ boozer, this wasn’t a place where I felt particularly comfortable as a lone female drinker (much as I don’t in Spoons).

I returned to the street and retraced my steps a little before turning left towards the next pub on my list.

The New Oxford (GBG)

Woof! I was hit by a wave of heat as soon as I stepped into this thriving pub, full of drinkers of all ages but predominantly a younger vibe. And what a selection of beers too!

Not to mention the Belgians…

I was pleased to find a free table and nestled into the corner with my half of Thunderbridge Stout.

What were the lads at the next table drinking…?

This was a pub that I could well imagine returning to with friends. Meanwhile I was joined at my little table by an elderly man just as I was getting ready to move on. As I stood up to leave he said goodbye and I immediately regretted not taking a little time to talk to him. I don’t spend long in each pub I visit and, by the time I have taken photos, selected and supped my half, checked in on Untappd and Twitter, submitted my beer score on the GBG app and caught up on my socials notifications, it’s pretty much time to move on to the next pub. This excellent blog from Beernomicon about solo drinking really got me thinking about putting my phone down and engaging with people more but it seems I wasn’t putting this into practice at all and I really should. Why should I wait for others to approach me for conversation? Indeed perhaps people may be reluctant to approach a lone female drinker these days (which makes a refreshing change from the pitying ‘has he stood you up, love?’ which I often heard in the 1990s). I contemplated all this as I power-walked to the next pub on my list.

The Eagle Inn (GBG)

I was still in deep contemplation when I was hit in the face by this signage to snap my focus back to the task in hand.

I wish all pubs were this well signposted.

I remarked on the excellent signage to the barman and soon found myself chatting away about my mission at hand. What a friendly chap he was. I felt instantly at home in my second Holts pub of the night.

I ordered a Two Hoots, which I know from Blackpool’s Holts pubs to be acceptable quaffage, and headed off in search of a seat. This was a multi-roomed pub and I spied a couple of vacant tables in the front room, so headed in that direction. I was foxed by the door en route. I was sure I’d come in through something that now didn’t appear to look like a door at all. The sun was shining through the window, rendering the handle (was there a handle?) invisible. I paused to look around but I couldn’t see another option, so I risked it and pushed anyway. Mercifully it opened and I went through the door before turning right into the front room.

As I settled into my seat, I thought I saw a cat scuttle across the floor. Ooh would this be my first Manchester pubcat?

On second glance I realised that this was, in fact, a lively little dog. She was here with a man who parked himself on the table next to mine and she soon began nuzzling at his pocket in search of treats that he had left in the car.

‘You’re not going to leave me alone until I get them, are you?’

I could see who the boss was here, as he dutifully traipsed out of the pub and shortly returned with his bag of treats.

Enthralled by this engaging pair, I couldn’t help but strike up a conversation. The man was called Boomer and the little dog was called Storm.

‘I didn’t name her. She’s such a little livewire she was like a storm in a teacup and that’s where her name came from.’

I explained how I am traditionally a cat person but am beginning to fall in love with the dogs I find myself meeting in pubs and at non league football matches. Boomer explained that he had been the same and went on to rave about the joy of sharing your life with a dog. I must confess he made quite a compelling case.

‘During lockdown there were days I might not have left the house if it hadn’t been for her. Plus I get to take her to the pub on our walks.’

I explained that I was a blogger and asked if I could photograph Storm for this blog. He handed me a treat to aid with the photo.

Part whippet, part chihuahua.

Boomer told me there was a pubdog here called Rigsby (landlady Esther is a big Rising Damp fan, apparently). I was told that Rigsby has a keen eye for customers who are most likely to want to play. I found myself looking forward to meeting Rigsby and Esther.

Boomer said it was a shame I wasn’t here tomorrow, as the pub was celebrating the tenth anniversary of being a music venue. Apparently the terraced house next door had been converted into a live music venue and was now part of the pub. Like the Hairy Dog in Derby last week, this was a pub I fully intended to return to because I felt so comfortable here and wanted to experience and support its live music offering. Not only was this the pub of the night, but this could well be my favourite pub in Manchester so far – although it’s tricky to compare this with Fierce, Bundobust and City Arms, as these venues are so diverse. But I’m sure I’ll come up with some suitably quirky criteria for ranking them when I complete the set.

I could have stayed here for hours – and may well have done just that, only I was a slave to the clock this evening and was due to meet up with others (in another bid to be sociable) in half an hour’s time in a pub that Google Maps informed me was 23 minutes walk away. Regretfully, I drained my glass and moved on.

The sun was beginning to set now and part of me was keen to return to the perceived relative safety of the more familiar Manchester City Centre before it got dark. This made for some photogenic skies on my walk back into Manchester.

‘What are ‘meat beers’?’ I wondered as I approached this sign.

The Britons Protection (not GBG)

Now on to the second part of my night. I usually have an occasion for a night out in Manchester and build a pub crawl around it. Tonight’s occasion was the launch of Stockport & South Manchester CAMRA’s Mild Magic trail of 94 pubs serving mild (the beer of the moment) across April and May. As a long-standing lover of mild – and having been personally invited along by Chris from SSM CAMRA (who was the first person to speak to me in a Manchester pub on Mission #2 – how could I not join them tonight?

Tonight’s SSM meander had commenced in the Grey Horse, but I skipped that because of time constraints – plus I had already visited that pub on Mission #2. But there was no way I was missing out on The Britons Protection because, as you may recall from Mission #1, I regretted walking past this pub for no other reason than it wasn’t in the GBG. I mean, what sort of a stupid rule was that? Happily, I’ve since rewritten the rulebook and now simply use the GBG as a guide for a crawl, as opposed to the be all and end all.

As I trotted down Deansgate tonight – narrowly escaping being mown down by a Deliveroo cyclist – my phone rang. It was Chris, advising that they were just leaving the Grey Horse and heading to The Britons Protection. I confirmed that I was on course for a similar arrival time and would see him there.

I’ve been walking past this pub for years. Now it was time to finally go in.

I headed straight to the bar of course. Here’s tonight’s beer selection.

As I was considering the above, I spotted Chris arriving through the door across the pub and waved in his direction. He headed over (it helped that I was where the pump clips were) and kindly bought me a half of the mild (naturellement).

Chris showed me his beer card and the barman presented him with an impressive sticker to go on the card to evidence that he had had a mild in this pub. Collecting stickers on your Mild Magic card can earn you prizes along the way without having to complete all 94 pubs. Clearly a lot of thought, care and preparation had gone into organising this trail. However I made a point of NOT signing up for a card because I have an addictive personality and I knew I’d end up wanting to do all 94 pubs, which is most definitely NOT compatible with the SlimmingWorld lifestyle.

Whilst still standing at the bar, I observed a quirky serving hatch at the back of the bar, where customers could order their beer from the other room.

It was into said other room that we headed. Here the other SSM CAMRA members were congregated. To say there was some lack of diversity amongst this group would be an understatement, but I was assured that there had been a woman amongst their party in the Grey Horse. I was viewed as quite the curiosity by one man who was intrigued as to how I was into football and real ale as ‘they’re more men’s things.’ I was introduced to many people whose names I can’t remember, including two Port Vale fans. I learned that the Port Vale / Walsall rivalry dates back to when Walsall was in South Staffordshire. Ultimately it was nice to be so warmly welcomed by a friendly CAMRA branch.

It was soon time to head out to the next pub on the trail. It was now getting quite dark and I marvelled at how different Manchester looked in the dark.

As I paused to photograph this stunning building, Chris reverted to Tour Guide mode.

‘That’s the Midland Hotel. That building opposite was the old Manchester Central Station and this was the station hotel. It was in that hotel that Mr Rolls first met Mr Royce.’

He also pointed out the site of a former pub decorated with ladies panties which was demolished the day before its listing was confirmed.

City Arms (GBG)

Next up was a return to my favourite pub from Mission #2 – and indeed the place where Chris and I first met. It was just as packed tonight and I headed directly for the beer board, as the pump clips were proving tricky to read because it was dark and there were people in the way.

I chuckled at the description of the Plum Porter and salivated at the sound of the Thornbridge oatmeal stout. I knew this was a mild trail but mild wasn’t compulsory, right…?

I sidled my way through to the bar as it was my round this time. I was disappointed to see that the oatmeal stout wasn’t on – so the beer board was again not up to date (this is twice now in two visits). I can’t grumble about this too much (she grumbled) because the staff were clearly busy serving thirsty customers, but it wasn’t particularly helpful. It also meant that I now felt compelled to photograph those tricky pump clips to give you an accurate representation of the beers on in here tonight.

I ended up having the mild and very nice it was too.

It was sweltering in here and seating was again at a premium. There was one spot available on the bench seating by the bar and Chris offered it to me but I insisted he took it, remembering he had complained of a bad back and a specific requirement for bench seating on our previous meeting here. I did, however, add my coat and bodywarmer to the coat pile next to him to save me from fainting. Soon a stool came available and I was able to take a seat at the table. It was still very hot and Chris held the door open for a while before a kindly barman came over and wedged it open, allowing some much-needed cool air to circulate through the hot pub.

I managed to amass quite a haul of goodies courtesy of my new SSM CAMRA friends, including a pub map of Stockport, a SSM CAMRA magazine, a rare beermat (you may recall from Wigan that I’m collecting beermats for Ian from Clitheroe) and a volunteer form for Stockport Beer Festival.

As this was my sixth pub of the night, it was soon time for me to call it a night. I’d done some walking (14k steps) and I had an early start tomorrow for Blackpool’s 1230 KO against Nottingham Forest. I bade Chris farewell and headed (via the Ladies) back to Piccadilly station.

Happily, I’d just missed the (cancelled) train to Blackpool North, which afforded me time to nip to Sainsburys for some snackage. Apparently eating half that kebab hadn’t sustained me for the night after all. Perhaps I ought to have asked for a doggy bag to eat on the train home? That said, I suspect any leftovers may have ended up in Storm’s belly in the meantime…

These tasty morsels did the trick. There were five skewers in the pack and they were tasty and filling.

Soon enough, I was aboard the train home, where I pulled up Corrie on the ITV Hub app, which (with adverts) lasted exactly the duration of the journey. Lee collected me from the station and I was in the Land of Nod before too long, ready to do it all again tomorrow…

Next Up: Blackpool v Nottingham Forest & Micropub Crawl.

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Thank you to Chris for the beer in The Britons Protection tonight.

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