The Central Manchester Slow Pub Crawl - Day 13
Day 13 - Tuesday 11th November 2003 (Map)
Pub 92 - The Thompson Arms (Sackville Street)
It's quite dimly lit here - spaceman can't see the scribbled notes that are being made. Two pints of Fosters are bought for £4.40 and we perch at a table looking onto Sackville Street. It's surprisingly lively (the outer appearance is deceptive) and already decorated for Christmas. There is funky rainbow lighting under the bar. Barney informs spaceman of the hot air blowing from under the seat making barney's legs "toasty warm". Could be useful for the cold winter months. A couple of large triangular CD sculptures hang on the far wall. As we leave, we notice lots of pictures of semi-naked chaps on the walls.
Next, we circumnavigate to check out Essential (a club), Berlins (permanently closed or temporarily shut?), and the Mongolian BBQ (a restaurant). We spot Bar Risa, which we have previously missed out, but it's shut tonight - d'oh! The Slug & Lettuce on Canal Street finally looks to have been re-opened (with lots of curtains blocking our view of what it now looks like). Also, Bar 38 is now Autobahn. (It's difficult to keep track of the ever-changing social face of Manchester.) After a short debate, we decide to check these two new places out, but only after we've been to...
Pub 93 - Coyote (Chorlton Street)
A relatively new bar, Coyote opened some months ago (we debate the exact timing and remain undecided). Happy hour is every day from 4pm to 2am, although the prices aren't as happy as in some places, we think. We get two pints of Carling Extra Cold for £3.80 - not bad. "Orange" says barney, evidently referring to the décor, as opposed to the beers. We sit at a table, but then a guy hogging two large sofas leaves and so we later pinch that. There's a smattering of people here, but it's not a huge place anyway.
There's a pool table in the corner (barney says: "with red cloth - classy") but we don't fancy a game as it looks taken. The music falls into the distinctive cheesy early 90s category, but it doesn't distract us from completing the MEN cryptic crossword. With that triumphant gesture, we head out the door...
Pub 94 - Queer (Canal Street)
It's a big shock when we get here - it's completely changed. And not just the name, which is nice and subtle. It's recently reopened (last Thursday, the barman says). The vast difference in appearance to its previous guise as Slug & Lettuce is striking and disconcerting - so much so that we nearly lose our bearings. We almost think that it's a different place until Spaceman points out that the toilets are always in the same position after a refurb - too much hassle to move them. Sure enough, they've not moved, which makes us feel better. Two pints of Fosters cost £5.60, however, so it's clear that they're still paying off the decorators.
The bar has been changed quite considerably. It used to be relatively wide and flat, but now it's short and fat and comes quite far out into the main area. There's a bit more of an obvious dance floor round the back of the bar and less seating. Up the short staircase, they've installed a row of computer terminals for internet usage. Spaceman tries out the "new" toilets. There are no signs so spaceman is forced to go by memory. There are a lot of red-painted walls. Bizarrely, there's a door on the gents but not, it seems, on the ladies. The gents themselves haven't changed to much, barring a lick of paint.
Back in the main bar area, there's a dancing cage (possibly) tacked onto the outer end of the bar, and it looks like it can only be accessed from the bar. Barney comments on the relatively high number of plasma screens. The place is very bright, very much the opposite of The Thompson Arms. Barney keeps expecting Laurence Llewellyn Bowen to jump out, apparently. There are mysterious stairs that go round the back of the bar, but we don't investigate. An assignment for another time, perhaps.
Barney spots the same, um, big-boned girl that was sat next to us in the Thompson Arms, with the same, possibly put-upon bloke (tch, how dare we speculate). Fruit machines lie defunct in a small enclave where one of the entrances used to be. Will they ever work? The raised bit on the far side is no longer quite as raised, we notice. A pang goes out for the Slug & Lettuce as we ahead to another changed place...
Pub 95 - Autobahn (Canal Street)
Formerly Bar 38, they've done less to this one than the previous bar - it's certainly more recognisable. We ask for two pints of Fosters, but the barmaid offers to bring them to the table (they did table service in Bar 38). It turns out that they cost £4.40. We look around to see that there has only been a relatively minor refurbishment of the place. It's quite weird going to bars that we have previously been to several (i.e. lots of) times to find that they have been jumbled around - it's like an alternative universe.
The booths in the far corner have been dispensed with, to be replaced with comfy seats and open tables. Barney spots an indoor topiary and says that should be outside. "Hedges aren't for indoors" barney chortles. The menu has, slightly bizarrely, lots of varieties of caesar salad, basically made up of the same base dressing and ingredients, but with many different extra constituents. The lighting is red in colour and there are candles on the tables.
We notice some very odd seats - they look like vases but filled in at the top, one red and one clear, and a really low table (candlelit, obviously). Cheesy synth-pop plays on the stereo - should be music by Kraftwerk, obviously (given the name of the place). Spaceman succumbs to the old bladder again to find that the toilets haven't changed much - there's still the same communal wash basin/fountain thing. They have also been redecorated in a deep red colour, as in Queer. Load lightened, we continue our enlightening journey...
Pub 96 - Paddy's Goose (Bloom Street)
A cosy little pub, so much so that there aren't many places yet to sit. Still, we find a table upon which to rest our Fosters, which were £4.10 for the pair, where we can see Sky News on the mounted TV in the corner. A sign on the wall celebrates the Village Manchester Football Club, apparently the North of England's only gay football team. "We're looking for new positions on/off the pitch - all interested individuals will be warmly welcomed." Some dog yelps loudly (enjoying a pint, perhaps) and we notice lots of fruit machines - but no quiz machines, unfortunately.
It's a complete contrast to Autobahn here. A freak storm is shown on the TV, followed by the world's most pierced woman (not recommended). Then we see (on the television) a man and woman who have can extend their eyeballs out of their sockets. It is not a pleasant sight. Nor is the sight of the longest tongue, or indeed the sound of the loudest burp. Is Sky News always like this? Enough of it, we're out of here...
Pub 97 - Baa Bar (Sackville Street)
Previously this was Lush, and before that Piranha (according to spaceman's fading memory), and barney nearly misses it. Napoleon opposite is shut, we notice. As with the other Baa Bar on Deansgate Locks (yet to be visited on our travels), only bottles and shooters are available. There's a private party on downstairs, which we don't even consider gatecrashing. Well, maybe a little bit. When it was Lush it used to be more of an eaterie, but it's definitely a drinkerie now. It's £2 for 2 bottles of Castlemaine XXXX, so not bad prices, but it takes barney far too long to purchase them (not barney's fault, barney claims).
Deceptive use of mirrors make the place seem much bigger than it is, but we find a booth, somehow. Barney notes, typically, the large number of women here and promises to come back. But it's still a mystery to barney why there are so many glitter balls hanging off the ceiling...
Pub 98 - Orchid Lounge Bar (Portland Street)
Oh my god. This is one of those experiences. As we get in, we can here the strains of karaoke (it is advertised as a karaoke bar/restaurant - but these are on separate floors). But it's karaoke in Chinese (we presume), which loses its effect somewhat to those not fluent in the language (which, unsurprisingly, includes spaceman and barney). We take it turns to go to the toilets as soon as we get in, such is our desperation. The gentlemen's toilets comprise a single urinal plus optional cubicle ("pokey, to rhyme with karaoke" chirps barney).
There aren't many people here. We consider doing a turn with the mike ourselves, but quickly discard the ridiculous notion. So distracted are we by the horrific nature of the venue we have wandered into, we forget to notice how much our beers cost. Barney spots an advertisement of a New Year's Eve event - we'd' been chatting about possible places to go to - and we vow not to come here.
And then. And then a couple get up and do the Timewarp. Badly. It's a bad song anyway, but this is sonically offensive in the extreme. It's definitely the karaoke bar to come to if you can't sing or anything like that. The girl doesn't really sing much, actually - she just does the bloody dance moves all the time. Thankfully, the Timewarp finishes and two more oriental girls perform another unidentifiable song (they actually sound quite good, though), before the aforementioned couple are back for another go. This time they choose to murder 'I Will Survive'.
As they wander up to the mike, spaceman audibly groans at the mention of the song they're about to "sing", which gets the attention of the chubby bloke in the couple. He asks spaceman why he's groaning (or something like that), to which spaceman replies "not I Will Survive". He retorts: "we're allowed one cheesy song", but spaceman points out that they've already had their allocation. The girls says that she's pissed and, we have to admit, she does look gone. To compound things, barney sings along to the whole damn thing (off mike, though).
Several amusing arguments and an awful rendition of Gloria Gaynor's disco track later and we find out that the (chubby) guy she's with isn't her boyfriend, but there's nothing going on (which she denies too strongly, we think), and he's driving so not drinking, which makes things even worse. She suggests that we (spaceman and barney) do a song but we decline, saying that we have things to do (like a pub crawl). They announce that their next song will be 'It's Raining Men' and to avoid the chance of us finding some kind of weapon, and using it on them, we leave quickly...
Pub 99 - Grey Horse Inn (Portland Street)
It's a very cosy little place - and smaller than most. It's the first of three small-looking pubs all in a row on Portland Street (actually, the Old Monkey is a bit more spacious than it seems, but still). The barmaid (who's over 60) gives spaceman a bit of a dirty look when spaceman changes from Harp to Castlemaine XXXX (on barney's request). Barney can't resist a packet of crisps to accompany the two pints of Castlemaine (which are £4.40), even though the chippy is imminent (it's after 10pm). We later find out that we have miscalculated the number of the current pub. While we're here in the Grey Horse Inn, we think it's the 98th, even though it's actually the 99th. For this reason, we decide to get a hurry on with our beers in order to make the century on the night. We finish our lagers quickly and leave...
Pub 100 - The Circus Tavern (Portland Street)
An article on the wall next to the bar says that it is the 6th smallest bar in the world (although we can't remember any of the others on the list - barney later suggests a world trip). Some bloke starts chatting with us mainly because he has nothing better to do. He has a bit of an attitude (something to do with the lager, probably) and he gives spaceman a bit of a jokey slap because of some cheek given to him. No harm done. Barney chats to him quite a bit about nothing in particular as spaceman confirms with the barmaid that the standing of 6th smallest bar still holds. We keep an anxious eye on the clock as it ticks ever closer to 11pm, and last orders, not realising that we are in fact in our 100th pub. It's not a bad one to have that title, although we get no further than the bar (and the locals) in our brief visit. Oblivious to our error, we rush on...
Pub 101 - The Old Monkey (Portland Street)
We charge to the bar and manage to beat the final 'last orders' bell, to find that the only lagers on offer tonight are the infamous Crystal and Diamond. Argh! Spaceman vaguely recalls the barmaid suggesting that we have a bottle of lager instead but, knowing our rules, we say that we have to have draught lager if available. We have somehow put The Crown and Anchor and its atrocious beverages out of our minds and foolishly opt for Crystal. Or was it Diamond (barney certainly thinks so). It doesn't cost much, whichever it was, unsurprisingly, and we take a seat (or two) by the window in an emptying pub. It's no good, though. It's awful stuff and we're taking an age to finish it.
In desperation, spaceman goes back to the bar to try and get two bottles of lager but now we definitely are past 11pm and have no success. Soon enough, the bouncer comes round and gives us the first "drink up" request, but that's harder than it sounds. We bemoan the fact that the 100th pub has the worst beers ever, even though it's actually the 101st and we've set a pub crawl record of 10 pubs in the evening (unbeknownst to us). We probably manage about a third of a pint each before we reluctantly surrender to common sense and head off to the chippy for something with chips and gravy...