Oh Manchester, by Samantha Allemann
Don’t tell a Mancunian their city is the best; they well know it. With local pride for everything from their arch rival footy sides (follow City instead of United for some serious cred), vibrant gay village and buzzing nightlife, Manchester is living it large.
And only those sardonic Mancs could get away with saying that a bombing was the best thing to happen to their city. After 1996’s IRA blast, the previously dilapidated city centre was revamped. Nowadays the huge Arndale shopping complex and neighbouring entertainment hub The Printworks bring in hordes of visitors. Close by, the Northern Quarter is clustered with independent bars, pubs and clubs and record shops.
Manchester has impressively produced more popstars than any other city (take that London!), but the Manchester Music Walk tour is geared more towards the ilk of acid house trippers Happy Mondays and moptops The Stone Roses, both of whom lit up the city’s music scene in the late 80s and early 90s.
As glorified in the book and film 24 Hour Party People, the aptly named Madchester era made nightclub The Haçienda the maddest place to be. Swagger past the swanky apartments that now sit in the club’s place and be regaled by tales of excess of days of yore.
You’ll head to Factory Records HQ, now Fac251 nightclub, The Ritz, The Boardwalk Club and The Free Trade Hall, where Bob Dylan was famously coined Judas for busting out an electric guitar much to the crowd’s horror. It’s also where the Sex Pistols played a hugely influential show to a mob of soon to be rock royalty: future Joy Division-New Order and Buzzcocks members were in attendance, as was prodigal son Morrissey who was inspired to form The Smiths.
Canal Street, its sign a regular target of letter C thieves, is home to a world famous gay village. With loads of LGBT clubs, pubs and bars to choose from, the street has been party destination numero uno for revelers since the ’80s. The long-running, award winning Manchester Pride festival is held in the village every summer and peaks with the Big Weekend, a 72 hour Canal Street party with two stages of live music and a gaydio dance. There’s a comedown the next day with a candlelight vigil held in nearby Sackville Gardens to remember those lost to HIV; a somber and deeply moving way to end celebrations.
For culture vultures, a trip to Manchester’s newest and shiniest arts complex HOME is a must. Opening last year in Tony Wilson Place (named after the deceased Factory Records owner/band wrangler), HOME’s eclectic program of independent film and theatre and collection of contemporary art will keep you entertained for hours on end. With filmmaker Danny Boyle a patron, HOME is the place to go for artistic saturation without the hefty ticket price. The program is truly global (if German cinema is too broad for you check out the films specifically from the Weimar Republic) but the British greats are celebrated too: there’s a Delia Derbyshire Day dedicated to the Doctor Who theme composer.
When it’s tea time, trek up to the Northern Quarter. Tea drinking DJ Mr. Scruff’s reverence for a good cuppa prompted him to sell brews during his club sets, with the entrepreneurial music maker then setting up tea company Make Us A Brew. His next move was to (ironically) convert an old record shop into a café called Teacup Kitchen. Tuck into organic and fairtrade varieties of such delicacies as a fish finger wrap and hearty scones alongside an extensive menu of loose leaf blends. You’ll even be handed an hourglass to precisely gauge your drink’s brewing time. Popular beverages are the Detox Hangover Cure elixir, infused quite fittingly with the herb eyebright, and one of the rarer boutique options is Performing Flower Tea. If even dancing blossoms hand sewn to silver needle buds by Chinese artisans are not lavish enough for you, request the “beyond rare” Tea Explorer list to savour artist curated Anti-Psychotic or Anti-Delusional blends.
Nearby your refuge from mushy peas and chip butties awaits. Home Sweet Home may be located in Northern England but its heart is firmly in the land of the free and home of the brave. Serving up most excellent Waffle Fried Chicken, Cheese Burger Toasties, Brisket Mac Melts and bottomless filter coffee, this diner will give you the artery cloggers you crave minus the English-ness of other nearby greasy spoons. Save room and some pounds to gulp down one of their impressive milkshakes, like house favourite the Nutella Toasted Marshmallow shake.
If you like your nightlife more intimate than the Tube in rush hour, follow the stairs down the corner of Great Bridgewater and Oxford Streets to squeeze into The Temple. If the descent doesn’t smell so rosy, you’re just getting a waft from the past. Formerly a public toilet and now a cosy bar with a jukebox brimming with Northern tunes, The Temple is a popular watering hole among locals. Its tiny surrounds mean it’s often standing room only for you and your bottle of fancy Euro beer. Be on your game to nab a table, directing your penetrating stare to that group taking forever to swig their last mouthfuls. Freeze them out and settle in for the night.
Words and pictures by Samantha Allemann