Jane Stuart – Writer

Writer on beer, football culture and Blackpool FC.

Manchester GBG Mission #6: The Final Countdown

Tonight I intended to complete the Good Beer Guide (GBG) pubs of Manchester. This was to involve a favourite little corner of the city that I purposely saved until last – not least because Karen insisted on coming with me, so we needed to arrange a mutually convenient time. That time had now come.

It was a scorchio day in Manchester – 32C – and I don’t deal with the heat very well (I can’t have a bath without getting a migraine or blacking out). Mercifully our walk to the first pub was partly in the shade and accompanied by a nice breeze and the toughest part of the crawl was already over.

The Marble Arch

This is an old favourite haunt of ours. I’m not sure when we discovered it but it was possibly around a Rochdale or Oldham match many years ago. This is the home of Marble Beers – and Karen and I were both partial to their Marble Ginger. There aren’t enough ginger beers around these days. I only tend to see them at beer festivals (and they’re even less prevalent there these days).

Stepping through the doors of The Marble Arch was like putting on a comfy pair of slippers. We were home. We received a friendly welcome from the barman who greeted us with a beaming smile and an expectant look, poised to take our order. Ooh but we weren’t ready! Look at all these beers we had to choose from:

Even the cider was exciting.

As I was contemplating the beers – and photographing the pump clips – Karen was engaged in conversation with the locals huddled round the bar and explained that I was a blogger.

‘I’m not in that photo am I?’ enquired a man who might or might not have been skiving off work. I assured him it was only the pump clips I was interested in photographing.

I eventually settled on the Marble Stout, despite the weather conditions calling for something fruity and light with a low ABV and ice in it. The cider would have been ideal, actually, but to be honest that was a tricky clip to photograph (my arm twisted around a drinker at the bar) so I didn’t actually see what it was at the time. This was probably just as well, as cider makes me feel rotten the morning after.

We had a choice of tables and took a seat at the closest one. It was loud in here because of the hard surfaces on the floor, walls and ceiling, so I took a seat next to Karen on the bench seating against the wall so I could hear her comfortably. However I found myself unable to sit comfortably as my feet didn’t reach the floor! Karen reminded me that the pub was on the wonk, so we moved to another table nearer the front door where my feet would reach the floor. This table also had the added benefit of a lovely breeze through the door so we settled here and contemplated the menu – and beermats.

I always like to get food covered early on in a crawl so I can make sensible food decisions not swayed by beer – and also focus on drinking for the duration. Having settled on our decisions, Karen headed back to the bar to place our order – only to be advised that food was ‘table service only’. This seemed a bit odd but we went along with it anyway. Our waitress soon arrived and we placed our order. Karen declared that it was far too hot for her to eat much – despite me insisting she properly line her stomach – so she just ordered a starter/small plate. I again defied the weather and couldn’t resist the curry.

Smoked mackerel pate, sour cream, lemon, chive, potato blinis.
Thai chicken & vegetable curry with asparagus, pak choi & sweet potato, fragrant rice.

I’ll confess I was terrified by whatever that was nestled on top of the curry so I set it to one side. The curry was delicious with a whole host of flavours and plenty of chicken. I couldn’t eat it all, there was that much of it. As our plates were cleared I did make an enquiry of our waiter.

‘What IS that thing?’

‘Er I’m not sure! Beer’s more my thing. I can ask, if you like?’

‘If you would, please. And is there ginger in this stout?’

‘No there’s no ginger in it. I’ll go and ask about the other thing.’

I loved that the curry had made my beer taste like it had ginger in it, as that’s what I would have wanted. So this was an accidental win on the beer and food pairing.

And the weird garnish? Well that was nori (seaweed). Of course. I’ll brave it next time.

But we were on the clock tonight – with a set train home booked – so needs must head out to the next pub on the scheduled crawl. We could easily have remained here all night though. Top boozer and so friendly – a proper locals pub just on the edge of Manchester city centre.

The Angel Pub

On our last visit to this end of town, we’d actually preferred the Angel – largely due to the fabulous range of beers (they had Saltaire Triple Chocoholic – as it was then known – AND Raspberry Blonde). On arrival today it was busy with customers seated outside as well as a good number inside. We approached the bar and contemplated the pump clips.

One of those beers I can’t resist.
‘Don’t complain when this comes out cloudy.’
Note barman in vest.

We gauged the temperature outside v the temperature inside but that proved pointless as there were no spare seats outside so we found a table deep inside the pub.

In here Karen continued regaling me with tales of her recent holiday from hell kayaking in Alaska (I can’t think of anything worse) so I was more focused on this than my surroundings – although I did notice a framed photo of a dog on the nearby mantelpiece. Also the nooky layout of this pub and presence of customers would have made it tricky to photograph for you. I also became restless and uncomfortable when something dawned on me.

‘Did we pay for our food in the last place?’

‘Er…no we didn’t.’

Pesky table service! What a stupid system that was. We’d have happily (and more conveniently) paid at the bar on ordering. I wonder how many people accidentally forget to pay with the current system? We’d even said a cheery goodbye to our waiter on the way out. Thankfully we weren’t that far away so it wasn’t far to scurry back bearing apologies.

‘We forgot to pay!’

‘Oh we were just saying that you’d probably be back.’

Was that REALLY what they’d been saying? And what if we hadn’t remembered? I’d have been mortified if they’d read this blog and commented that we’d left without paying! I recall walking out of a lovely pub in Huddersfield for similar reasons and they’d come out into the car park chasing after us. We’re simply not used to table service in pubs in this country. But they were lovely about the whole situation and it was quickly resolved with a card payment (they didn’t take cash).

Right now back on with the crawl!

Ooh no time to explore this today but my curiosity was piqued. Perhaps another time?

Hare & Hounds

This traditional pub is at Shudehill, conveniently situated for the trams and the Megabus (which I used to travel on frequently from Birmingham at a bargain £4). The beer choices were more traditional, too, with the following two cask ales on offer:

As we took a seat in the back room, I gazed around the room and appreciated my surroundings.

Ooh was this a little button to press for service?
Love all the glass – and this fan, which we sat in the direction of.

We do love a traditional boozer and this was a classic example. I’d had a conversation with Si last week in which we disagreed about the inclusion of Union Tavern in the GBG (see Manchester GBG Mission #4). He had insisted that one good beer was enough to warrant the inclusion of a pub in the GBG. I had disagreed that neither the beer nor the pub had been THAT good in that instance; however the opposite was the case here at the Hare & Hounds. This was a stunning heritage pub – and the beer was spot on too.

Enjoying my Dizzy Blonde. Look at those lacings, Martin.

Again, no time to linger here, so we doubled back on ourselves in search of our final three pubs.

Striking, unusual and impressive advert for NatWest.

Jack In The Box

This was a pub I hadn’t visited before – but my research had revealed it was in Mackie Mayor, the place that many people had recommended I visit for food when I was having my food crisis on my Manchester GBG Mission #3. I hadn’t eaten there on that occasion for similar reasons to tonight – I was unable to find menus to study online beforehand, which is something I prefer to do to ensure I can stick to my SlimmingWorld plan (shush, ignore the beers – they are factored in as ‘flexi syns’ on my weekly plan).

I had seen from the map that this was next door to the subsequent pub – which we could see quite clearly – so where on earth was it? It turned out we’d walked straight past the unassuming (yet large) dark building.

We entered into a huge – and HOT – food hall. This reminded me of Society (see Manchester GBG Mission #5) but with many more options for food and drink.

The food smelled amazing and this would be a lovely place to return to when it was not stupidly hot. I imagine its warmth in the depths of a Manchester winter would be most welcoming. I was surprised to stumble across a little creche in here too, with toddlers happily playing in a little den.

It took us some searching but eventually we located the GBG entry we had come here for: Jack In The Box. This was a Blackjack Brewery bar and we were overwhelmed with choice here.

Oh what’s that, now? Imperial ginger cake stout? Oh yes please! But NO! It’s 11% and in a bottle/can and it’s soooooo hot and there’s still two pubs to go. Step away from the bottles and cans (just clap your hands) menu. Move along to the cask and keg…

Ooh exciting pops too!

I plumped for the Blackjack Summers Porter – again defying the heat. I simply had to try a Blackjack beer and it’s always going to be the dark beer, isn’t it?

We took a seat in the window (hoping it would be cooler there) and I was pleased to find a map of the venue on the table.

Some food – in huge bowls – was delivered to the next table and the aroma was tantalising so I immediately got up to explore exactly what food was on offer at Mackie Mayor. I was happy to find a few offerings that I could fit into my SlimmingWorld plan.

That Pad Krapow with Fried Egg!
A fine example of why I need to eat before I’ve had a few beers.
Hmm steak or chicken with a couple of sides, methinks…
Wine here, too, if that’s your thing.

Right. It was way too hot in here. Next!

The Smithfield Market Tavern

I had been looking forward to this one, as I knew it was Central Manchester CAMRA’s Pub of the Year. However, as we approached the bar, we noticed there was overlap in terms of beer range with the place we had just visited next door.

I was beginning to feel the beer a bit now and was under the misapprehension that I’d just had the stout next door – when in fact I’d had the porter – so my eyes were drawn to the fridges for fruit beers I could have with ice. I really was hot now!

I asked Karen if she was up for sharing either of the above (as I was conscious I was nearing capacity now, with one pub still to go) but she was insistent on sticking to cask. She did, however, point out this little beauty:

Oh my word I love Abbeydale too!

However sense prevailed and I ordered the red ale (Dearg Dawn). I had tried a taster of one of the kegs but it wasn’t to my taste. I had actually felt anxious about asking for this taster which was clearly PTSD after having been refused one because it was ‘too expensive’ in Hop Shoppe in St Annes (which I promptly walked out of) over the summer (not blogged).

We wandered around the pub in search of somewhere suitable to sit.

We chorused ‘SOFA!’ in harmony and plonked ourselves down there. By this point I felt I was drinking for the sake of it. Karen had actually suggested not stopping for a drink here and I’m not sure what kept me from doing just that. It wasn’t as if I had a self-imposed rule to have a drink in every GBG pub like Si does.

I realised I hadn’t been for a wee all night (despite having had a drink in five pubs now) so made a point of going in here even though I still didn’t really need to – more to get in a loo review for you than anything else.

Bonus points for hand cream.

As we stepped out of the pub and I pulled up Google Maps, I realised we were only two minutes away from my fave Fierce Bar. It was Karen who had introduced me to Fierce beers several years ago after she’d come across them at some food fair in Scotland. We’d also visited the Fierce Bar in Aberdeen (where Karen lives) together and loved it there. I had planned for us to visit The Crown & Kettle (another old fave) next but that wasn’t in the GBG so that wasn’t a ‘must visit’ – I’d now completed the GBG pubs in Manchester. But how could we resist Fierce when it was so tantalisingly close? So that was decided. And it was two minutes away. But how did we get there? We realised that we were too drunk (or hot…) to read the map! Karen asked a friendly man on the street who was more sober (or cooler) than us and he set us on our way.

Fierce Bar Manchester (not GBG)

What a perfect way to end this series with a visit to my favourite bar in Manchester!

Check out the Twitter feed at the top.

I’m afraid I only photographed half of the tap list – largely because my faves weren’t on there and my attention was very quickly diverted to the fridge menu. This had LOTS of my favourites on it – so much so that choosing just one beer was difficult. I went for this one because I hadn’t tried it before and wanted to.

KitKat beer!

Even though I’m not drinking at home these days (the main reason I put on my lockdown weight) I could not resist buying the other beers I wanted to take home with me – urged on by the bar itself…

So here’s my little carryout selection:

The two on the left I’d tried and loved on my previous visit here (see Manchester GBG Mission #3). The third one was another collab with Indian chef Tony Singh which I NEEDED to try. And Fuego Feroz is one of my all-time Fierce faves so I also needed to try the Fuego Sour to see how it compared.

I also really loved the I LOVE FIERCE BEER tee our barman was wearing and wanted to buy one but sadly there were none of those particular ones in stock. I was advised that they’d probably be available on the website if I wanted to take a look there – and indeed they are on there. Hmm…

Fierce (like Marble) is a card only establishment. They explained that the vast majority of their post-COVID transactions were card anyway, but they got an added bonus of cheaper insurance from having no cash on the premises – a point I never would have considered.

Sadly (or happily, as we’d had more than enough to drink now and this place is notoriously difficult to leave) we now had to leave for our train back to Blackpool. I wanted to make sure we were sensibly stocked up for the train journey home, so I popped to Sainsburys on Piccadilly station for a bottle of water (Karen already had one) and then went off in search of some food for Karen (who’d only had a starter/small plate earlier on, remember). We headed to Upper Crust, where I excitedly pointed out the black bread (a European fave of mine that I’ve rarely – if ever – seen in this country).

Happily Karen bought a sandwich here. She also entered into negotiations to secure a free bar of chocolate, as the ones on the counter had all completely melted, but the man behind the counter wasn’t having any of it.

After a strategic loo visit (I assume, but don’t remember), we were soon on the train home to Blackpool North, nattering away – whilst sobering up – all the way home. Having downed plenty of water on the journey, another loo stop was needed at the rather grim toilets at Blackpool North (would categorically NOT recommend on a Friday night). I shouted to Karen in the next cubicle:

‘Are you sitting or hovering?’


I could understand that in these particular toilets.

Having not believed Gladstone Pottery Museum’s statistic of 90% of women hovering in public toilets, I conducted my own poll this week on Twitter, with the following results:

That seemed more realistic – but still surprisingly high – to me.

So that’s my Manchester GBG Mission completed! It has been so much fun and I’ve made friends and found some distinct faves on my travels. After a slow start, I have fallen in love with Manchester in getting to know the city through its pubs. And I’ve already spotted a number of other pubs that I plan to visit. So this isn’t the end of my Manchester missions. Watch this space to see where I end up when I have a little more freedom to create my own crawls…

Next Up: Blackpool v Swansea City.