Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Manchester

Manchester is one of my favourite places to visit in England. Laid back but with an lively energy to it, it's a great place to spend a weekend. Exploring the back streets of the Northern Quarter before vomiting with the students at the many bars and pubs along Oxford Road is always a pleasure. Manchester is also home to a splendid range of pubs, and I recently spent a day there visiting some highly rated pubs which I hadn't actually been to before. Curse my pub ignorance.

They're not kidding. It's pretty small. Actually they are lying a little bit, I didn't see any vines or leaves.
First up was the Micro Bar, which is not really a pub but more of a stall in what is known as the Arndale "Market." This area is basically a tiny little market shoved into a back corner of the Arndale shopping centre. One half is full of tantalising food stalls, the other half packed full of stalls selling all the tat imaginable. Although if you want real tat you have to go to Afflecks, a five storey monstrosity which is basically like Camden Market packed into a building. Although it has its fans I find it a dreadful experience, trudging up floor after floor looking at more shiny spiky boots, neon necklaces and t-shirts with odd foreign words like "Slipknot" and "Man-o-war" printed on them, surrounded by gormless goths and excitable 14 year old girls with hair the same colour as my bathroom towels. Not my idea of fun.

Although the Micro Bar is small it packs a punch. An outpost of the Boggart brewery, there were a couple of Boggart brews on offer plus a couple of guests. I tried the Boggart Cascade, a sturdy bitter which didn't set the world alight but was a pleasant pint. I also tried the Great Orme Brewery Cambria which was much better,  a pleasent and light session ale with an excellent crisp, hoppy taste. Both ales were in good condition and the service was friendly if a little scary. But as a Southerner I find all Northerners terrifying with their friendly attitude, chatty humour and frequent eye contact. The Micro Bar also had a well stocked off sales section, including a magnum of Chimay Blue which I was tempted to buy but for the safety of my mind and body I decided not too. The Micro Bar has obvious shortcomings due to its market location, such as there's not really anywhere comfortable to sit, the atmosphere is non existant and the places is restrained by the Arndale opening times so it closes ridicously early, especially on a Sunday. The plus is that it's in a food market, so plentiful curries, meats and cheeses are just round the corner (or next door if you get cheese) to accompany your tasty pint.

One of the best pub interiors I'd seen. Fantastic.
Next up was the Marble Arch, a historic pub on the outskirts of the city centre. The interior is tremendous, perfectly preserved with a sloping floor leading to the bar, the way a pub should be. Food is a strong focus here although I didn't get the chance to try any. The cheese selection in particular looked brilliant but I was stuffed full with a Wetherspoons breakfast so didn't stand a chance of eating any. Luckily beer is also has a strong focus here. This pub is an outpost of the Marble Brewery, whose brewery is located behind. There's plenty on offer, although sadly I wasn't able to try the Marble Pint as it was off. My dream of ordering a half pint of Pint was shattered. Instead I plumped for the Bitter, which was surprisingly fruity and light. It was a top notch pint. All of Marbles ales are organically brewed, although unlike most things labelled organic it didn't taste of a hippy's socks. This pub is a must visit for the interior alone, and the wide selection of ales is just the icing on the cake.

The Angel is located a stone throws away from the Marble Arch, although it's a different beast, a modest and cosy local. On a lazy Sunday afternoon there weren't many punters in, although I imagine it get's livelier in the evenings. There were plenty of ales on offer and I went for a pint of the Three B's Stokers Slates, a rather good mild with a very pleasent chocolate taste. It looks like I'm not the only one who has enjoyed this pint as it has amassed a rather sizeable collection of awards. It deserves them as it's a great example of a mild.

What my readers have been waiting for:
another fabulous picture of TLJ's nails! This
time holding a Welsh ale.
In between the pubbing me and The Lovely Jemma enjoyed a good meal at Dough!, a pretty decent pizza place in the Northern Quarter and not a Simpsons tribute restaurant. Although it wouldn't surprise me if Manchester does have s Simpsons tribute restaurant. Or at least a bar. It's that kind of town. Our last pub before heading on the Virgin Train to London was The Castle Hotel, a pleasant little pub deep in the Northern Quarter. A Robinsons pub, it had a fair range of Robinsons ale on offer. You don't seem them too often in London so I went for a pint of Unicorn and Crusoe. To be honest neither were that memorable, probably why I'm not too fussed that you don't see Robinsons in London that often. The pub itself was a bit of a charmer, with a small open area at the front and a cosy little room behind the bar. Behind this room was a intimate little gig venue. The small back room packed in an ecelectic mix of punters and the atmosphere was jolly. A nice little pub.

I must give special mention to the The Font, a bar which is as studenty as a student bar can be (£2 cocktails, cheapo food, loud music, full of students) but had a pretty good cask ale selection, which I wasn't expecting. The bottled selection also looked very good with a wide range of Thornbridge ales amongst other goodies. Coupled with a decent CAMRA discount which meant a cocktail and a pint on a Saturday night came to £4.25 (astonishing) it was a pretty good night.

If you find yourself in Manchester you can do worse than visit one of these pubs. And the good news is there are plenty more places in Manchester that I need to visit. I'll be sure to test them out next time I'm up there (sorry Jemma!)
A final shot of the magnificent Marble Arch.

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