The Central Manchester Slow Pub Crawl - Day 1
Pub 1 - The Town Hall Tavern (Tib Lane)
And so it begins, at the Town Hall Tavern, or the THT for regulars. Spaceman arrives a few minutes late and barney has two pints of Fosters waiting (£4.40 for the pair). Bit of an old man's pub, it has the obligatory smoky atmosphere and rickety table in the corner. Precariously perched near a cupboard from which a wire protrudes and runs up to a TV on the other side of the wall, spaceman and barney begin debating the number of pubs & bars involved. Spaceman thinks in the region of 150-250 and settles on 187. Barney initially goes for 188 to be awkward but then picks 222. Barney also has the (genius) suggestion of doing large one-square maps for each pub crawl day.
Barney insists on suggesting blagging stuff along our way but spaceman can't be arsed and conversation instead switches to giving our impression of the pub - 70s decor, friendly staff, bigger than it looks from the outside (Town Hall Tardis?). Barney's top tip is not to miss out on the bar upstairs as it's easier to get served in times when it is busy (barney's a regular). The pints are downed in unison and it's on to the next one - out the door and right towards...
Pub 2 - Lime Bar (corner of Booth Street and Clarence Street)
The contrast to the THT is marked - primary colours, gaudy, plasma TV and 2 tall frosted glasses of Kronenbourg for £5.40 (ouch!). Spaceman gets a little dizzy squeezing past a large party to a cosy table by a phallic-shaped cactus and manages to spill a long trail of lager on the way. We sink into Buck Rogers-style chairs ("weird!" says barney), which are a long way down, and notice Mrs Gill's Sandwich Emporium across the road, but it's sadly shut. Underneath Lime Bar is a trendy place, the club Sublime (clever, huh?). But neither of us have been. Round via Booth Street and Cooper Street (as Kennedy Street access was closed) for the first of the next three pubs all in a row...
Pub 3 - The Vine Inn (Kennedy Street)
Barney gets the beers in (via the slowest pump barney has ever seen) as spaceman saunters over to the retro jukebox (lots of sixties collections and the usual modern pap). It's a cosy front room-type of pub. There's a bit upstairs with lots of mirrors and windows, but we're too lazy to investigate. Two pints of Carling set barney back £4.30, sensibly declining the "all house doubles £1.85" offer. A sign on the wall advertises the Vine downstairs - diners only at lunchtime, apparently, and adverts on the wall are upside down suggesting illiterate staff. Spaceman drops the notepad - twice - only two pints in. The jukebox override system kicks in and 'Tambourine Man' by The Byrds, one of spaceman's choices, is replaced by 'Take It Easy On Yourself' caterwauled by, er, someone. The first toilet visit (watch the steps) and spaceman's conclusion is: smelly. Out the door, turn right, several paces and it's time for...
Pub 4 - The City Arms (Kennedy Street)
Cold as hell in here (it's not so warm out either) - £3.92 for two pints of Carlsberg. The suggestive barmaid asks if we would like anything else besides the beers, but we think she means bar snacks. We decline. The place smells a bit, mutters barney, but the beers are the cheapest yet - the prices are obviously subsidised by the total lack of central heating. We find another quiet table in the corner. There's a real fireplace nearby, but the fire's not lit, unfortunately. We need it. A quote on the wall says: "English beer is an acquired taste, the pleasure lies in gaining the experience", and we all know what that means. Burp. Barney's first toilet visit ensues - they're plain, functional and cramped (that's one 'm' rather than two 'p's).
Interesting crowd in - a mix of suits, moshers and a middle-aged crowd. It's clearly a big real ale pub - a blackboard describes "forthcoming ales", including the hilariously-named Hop Back Crop Circle (4.2%), Rebellion Smuggler (4.1%), Roosters Yankees (4.3%) and Bateman's Combined Harvest (4.4%) - everyone's favourite beer - it's official! A classic moment then occurs: exiting the pub, we turn right and go into the next door and, after a short moment of confusion, realise we've walked back into the City Arms through a different entrance, arriving on the other side of the bar. The barmaid looks at us a little funnily, but then smiles knowingly. Back out the door, right again and it's...
Pub 5 - Wetherspoon's Waterhouse (Princess Street, Kennedy Street and Cooper Street)
A newly opened pub this one - a myriad of rooms and a toilet visit straight away, which is like going into IKEA. It smells woody. Two pints of Fosters for £4.10 and again we find a table in the corner, away from the smelly public. With barney's tummy grumbling incessantly, spaceman nips to the bar to order some well-earned pub grub. A healthy range of snacks and bites are chosen: nachos with chilli con carné & cheese, potato skins filled with cheese and bacon, and beer-battered onion rings (for just under a tenner). Waiting for our food to be brought, we notice some good deals on, all day every day. £1.15 for a bottle of Stella, £1.70 for a pint of Becks or Carling, £1.99 for a pint of Kronenbourg and £2.10 for a pint of Stella.
But we all know how they get the prices nice and cheap, don't we? It's because they order the beer from the breweries that's getting close to, but not past, it's sell-by date, thus getting it on the cheap. (Another offer: traditional brekkie for £2.99 from 10am.) The food is standard Wetherspoons fare - it's okay, it fills a hole (in barney's case, a gaping hole). It just enables us to carry on drinking! The potato skins are the pick, but there's only three of 'em (admittedly, they are nearly half a potato each). And the chilli looks a bit dark (i.e. burnt) and there's nowhere near enough for all the little nachos. Satiated with food and beer, we move on - out the door, turn right, cross the road and about 20 metres walk to...
Pub 6 - Slice Bar (Cooper Street)
There's a swirly light spelling a colourful 'Spice' on the pavement outside. We head down the stairs and find that it's another trendy bar-type place. Spaceman gets the beers in - two pints of Fosters for £5.00. Barney puts spaceman up to asking the barman "what makes this place special?" for the purposes of our research. The barman looks suitably, and understandably, confused. Spaceman quickly backtracks and turns the question into being about happy hours to save embarrassment all round. Happy hour is 4-9pm on all beers. We've just missed it. Managing to find a really comfy settee in the corner, we find a free knife on the table. Bargain! Barney notes the dodgy tiger skin on the opposite wall. It's not very busy on this Thursday night and there are no windows (it's downstairs), making it feel a bit claustrophobic.
According to barney, it's normally smoky, dark and loud (on Friday and Saturday nights). As if by magic, the lights dim and the stereo get cranked up. Barney's still obsessed with blagging stuff. The toilet floor is covered in dodgy tiles, but the toilets themselves are not too bad, although there is a slight step on the way out (what is it about bars that do this? And why do they do it?). We see a dodgy bloke whom we saw in the Vine. Is he a rival pub crawler? Didn't he ask for directions to the THT? Who knows. The barman starts to look very bored (who can blame him?). Resting on the bar (on the customer side), he looks depressed and a little suicidal. But that's perhaps 'cos we're getting a bit merry. We wonder if he's looking for some company - we're not it. Beers finished, we make a swift exit (as swift as you can after 6 pints and going upstairs) to...
Pub 7 - The Shakespeare (Fountain Street, near Market Street)
Again we note how bloody cold it is outside (what we do for the sake of a gimmicky pub crawl, huh?), which is compounded by the longest walk of the night. The Crown was shut for refurbishment, otherwise we might have gone there. One to note for later. This place is trying a little too hard to be a clubby place, with "no under 18s" sign on the outside, and dance music blaring from nearby speakers. Décor is bare to say the least - has it ever been decorated? Barney brings back two pints of Carlsberg blubbering that they only cost £2.20. In the interests of research and public information, spaceman questions the barmaid as she walks past. It's okay, though - pints of Carlsberg are £1.10 a pint on Mondays to Thursdays, 5pm to closing time. Barney's description of the toilets is to the point: "average - four urinals, two hand basins and one dump station". It may have been our imagination but the place has seemed to empty since we got here, but the beers are cheap so who cares? Another defunct fireplace is noted - must be a prerequisite for ye olde pubs. Cheap beer duly consumed and it's a little backtrack to...
Pub 8 - Rothwells (Spring Gardens, at the top of King Street)
We discover that this place used to be a bank - the first Coin Exchange in fact (we probe no further). Two pints of Fosters set spaceman back £3.78 as we are offered a free flyer, which starts off "Finally Manchester", but unfortunately looks like "Anally Manchester". Barney goes off on one, commenting that the décor's amazing, the ceiling's like the Sistine Chapel. Having actually been there, barney says, straight-faced, that it's not a patch on this. The Athenaeum was shut on the way. We don't know why. We see the overly familiar combo of unlit fireplace and comfy sofa. "Fantastic building", barney continues to blubber. There is absolutely no atmosphere in this place, not helped by the fact that there is no-one here. Except us and two members of staff. Barney decrees the toilets to be spacious but old-fashioned. The barmaid reckons the Athenaeum has probably shut due to lack of customers - we can see why. Barney fails to persuade the barmaid to come for a chat. She's too busy polishing already-polished tables. Enough of this excitement, it's time for...
Pub 9 - All Bar One (corner of King Street and Brown Street)
It's very quiet in here too, but not as quiet as Rothwells. The barmaid looks at us a bit funny, but perhaps that's the eight pints skewing spaceman's vision. Two pints of Carling for £5 and guess what? Yep, we find a sofa. It's past last orders now and we're flagging. Weary discussion ensues on the first few pubs to try on the next leg of the pub visit. The starter pub is likely to be the bar in Chez Gérard. The general plan is to head north, subsequently circumnavigating Manchester in a clockwise direction. Enough of this, ninth pint finished and it's time for bed...