The Central Manchester Slow Pub Crawl - Day 23
Day 23 - Thursday 16th September 2004 (Map)
Pub 182 - The Bank (Mosley Street)
Spaceman gets here a little early, so purchases two pints of Carling for £4.20, then decides on a pack of mini Cheddars to fight the hunger (we're not planning to eat until later, in Rusholme). Spaceman finds an uncomfortable stool to perch upon and it's not long before barney comes striding in with an MEN in hand. Looking around, there's one pool table and one table football here (both currently unoccupied). The Bank was formerly the Forgery & Firkin and before then it was called, er, The Bank. It seems to be a bit of a studenty place, backed up by the cheap prices - there are lots of drinks offers on (for example, pints of Carling are £1.09 on Mondays and Tuesdays and £1.50 on Wednesdays - we miss out because it's a Thursday, dammit).
Barney flips open the MEN to the cryptic crossword page (barney's swiftly attained the 'crossword enthusiast' badge - spaceman, having constructed some from scratch, goes beyond that). Lo and behold, barney has already nailed about a third of it, but it's not too hard today and we soon have it licked. Puzzle solved, we turn our attention to the surroundings. Barney points out the expansive array of pictures to the left of the bar showing various tattoos on various people in various places (barney's not sure why). Not a particularly pleasant sight (the pictures not barney). As we walk out, we notice a jukebox, but we have little inclination to check it out. So we don't. Instead we head off to...
Pub 183 - Seven Oaks (Charlotte Street)
It's a first for both of us this old-fashioned pub, which is located on the edge of Chinatown, opposite the Art Gallery. We're greeted with an upbeat "hello, chief" by a guy sat on the steps at the entrance, but he turns out to be talking into his mobile telephone. Barney gets two pints of Castlemaine XXXX in for £4.50 and we perch on two small stools (about half the height of those in The Bank - easier on the bum, though). There's a big screen on the far wall, but it's currently showing Smash Hits unfortunately. It's quite a poky and small main bar area and we did struggle to get a seat (the seating does not seem ideally placed for getting the full capacity out of the room). The gents are downstairs, the ladies at ground level, and there is a bar and lounge now open upstairs, but we don't try them out. Barney comments that Smash Hits is not the best channel, but that doesn't stop a singalong (or at least an attempted one - barney clearly doesn't know the words). Barney reckons that the fans in here are from the same catalogue as the ones in The Bench (spaceman just gives barney a look of bewilderment). The average age of the pub populace here is: high. Having consumed our ales, we raise it considerably by walking out the door...
Pub 184 - The Crown (Fountain Street/Booth Street)
It's fairly quiet in here tonight - nigh on dead in fact. It used to have a pool table, but after a refurbishment it had to go, it seems. Spaceman struggles with the entrance, stumbling slightly on the approach which rises without warning. With the door left wide open it's quite chilly in here (there's a bit of a cold snap in town - welcome autumn). Spaceman gets two pints of Fosters for £4.70. There's a charity event on for Manchester Children's Hospital on barney's birthday (i.e. tomorrow), with a free buffet, late night opening (until 3am), disco, raffle, and it's also northern soul night on 30th September. We find a black sofa a little bit away from the icy draught - they're comfier than the stools we've had to put up with anyway.
The bar is being drained of customers it seems - there aren't many others besides us. It's not surprising really as it's overly lit and has a clinical feel. It was probably better before the refurbishment, especially with the pool table. There are plenty of cheesy songs being played over the music system (e.g. "It Started With A Kiss" (sung so well by Alan Partridge), "Lifted" by the dreadful Lighthouse Family and something by the equally annoying M People). Spaceman notices (for the first time in 23 pub crawl nights) that barney is wearing jeans. Apparently, barney always wears jeans for them, but to be fair to spaceman they're sometimes black. We head out into the night...
Pub 185 - Athenaeum (Spring Gardens)
Barney gets two pints of Carling for £2.50 (lucky sod) as spaceman rushes frantically to the gents. Instead of finding a seat, though, we stand at the bar and chat to the barman. Initially, this is because he tries to sell us shooters, but we plan to end the night reasonably in charge of our senses and so decline. He is persistent, though, and offers barney black Aftershock. Barney declines but then agrees to trying a small sample, which the barman describes as tasting of Skittles. Spaceman asks for a one word summary of the drink, and barney replies "didn't taste like Skittles, never again, sweet and sickly, burn through feeling". We notice a pool table on the far side.
We explain to the barman that we're on a pub crawl and so are sticking to a pint (or bottle) of beer in each bar. He recalls doing an A-Z pub crawl, which was a crawl of Fallowfield and central Manchester doing pubs beginning with each letter of the alphabet, but in no particular order. Their X was Bar XS (hence the reason for starting in Fallowfield), but they couldn't think of a D (Dry Bar, Dukes 92, Dimitri's?). But they did manage I (Isobar) and Q (Queen Of Hearts), which are letters we will not cover in our pub crawl. We ask for a history of the Athenaeum and are impressed by the depth of the response. The building was a lecture hall and library from 1834, converting to a bank in 1903. The food service area has been unchanged since those early years.
Apparently, there are lots of dark, scary corridors downstairs which not many people know about. Apparently they were in here the other day filming Donovan (which spaceman has never seen). While he tells us these stories, we munch on a bag of peanuts. He shows us a blueprint of the old building. We notice similar drink and food offers to The Bank and the barman confirms that they are sister pubs. Some of the drinks offers are: 4 shooters for £5, Carling for £1.25 on Wednesdays (5pm to close) and Thursdays + Fridays (8pm to close). Somehow we managed to get the Carling offer despite arriving at the pub nearer 7.30pm than 8pm. On leaving, spaceman offers the barman the website of these hallowed pages and we head off...
Pub 186 - Hurricane Bar & Grill (Spring Gardens)
Formerly Reform Bar, which we had already visited on our merry pub crawl, we bypass the possible signing in system (which is currently unmanned), and head back up the familiar staircase to the main part of the bar, past the piano and into a very upmarket bar and restaurant. It's split in two as before (between lounging and eating areas. We perch at stools at the bar and take stock of the differences (if any) since it's name-change. The barman offers us a recommendation, a malty Italian beer. But, having listened to spaceman's comment of liking Carlsberg and Kronenbourg (having asked us our favourite tipple), he recommends Cusquena, a Peruvian beer (the biggest selling in Latin America, apparently). It's tasty. Two of these set spaceman back £6 (consecutive bad nights, beer price-wise). There's a fruit bowl on the bar near us in which spaceman points out a big lump of ginger ("not my favourite fruit" mutters barney).
Spaceman spies multiple jars behind the bar, all of which are labelled "Hurricane" and contain such items as sugar cubes, peppercorns and olives. Barney, in interior design mode, doesn't detect any decorative changes since its previous incarnation as Reform, apart from the curtains and maybe a lick of paint. The music is more disco than indie compared to our last visit. Spaceman has to visit the gents again (once you pop...) and it's certainly an experience. The urinals are massive and back-lit, with water continually rushing from the ceiling. Too scared, spaceman opts for a cubicle, which contain see-through toilet seats with barbed wire inside. Crazy. For future information, the toilets are behind the stairs as you come in. The bottles do not take long to be consumed and we're soon heading back down the stairs, whereupon we engage in witty small talk with the girl who is now in control of the signing book. The details of this brief conversation now escape us, but it will undoubtedly have been about the signing in book...
Pub 187 - Yatra Lounge (Old Bank Street, Off St Anne's Square)
Another previously, as this was Colour Bar until recently (which we never made it to), and before then the Rat & Parrot, which we did try. On our way here, we made sure that Establishment (formerly Rothwells) is a restaurant and not a bar ("looks like a restaurant", "yeah", "ok, let's leave it then") and discover that Time (formerly Chez Gérard and now possibly just a restaurant only) is shut. Again, there is no draught beer available, so we settle for two bottles of Peroni for £5.80. We venture up a small set of stairs and into a medium-sized, unoccupied, slightly separate room. It feels weird - it's basically one long sofa with lots (and lots) of cushion in a dimly-lit, glowing-red atmosphere. It feels like a student den, possibly, we don't know. Could be a romantic place, perhaps. Barney can't resist the massive chair on the far wall - it's like a big love throne. It's comfortable, apparently, but not as exciting as it initially looked. No-one else joins us in this area of the bar (there were a few customers dotted around in the other side of the bar) so we finish our beers and leave...
Pub 188 - The Olive Press (Lloyd Street)
The Square Albert is again mysteriously shut and Tmesis opens tomorrow (or so they shout to us from the bottom of the stairs as they mop the floors). There's no sign as to when Cellar Vie is ever open (perhaps just a Friday and Saturday club place?), so we come to the Olive Press. Unfortunately, all this messing around meant that spaceman was caught a little short on the way here and has to find a discreet back alley in which to be relieved (oh dear). Barney can wait, however, and ventures to the toilets for the first time tonight (after six drinks!). Toilet report: average. While barney is away, spaceman finds a table (we have no choice but to accept table service) and orders two bottles of Peroni from the drinks menu on the back of the food menu. Barney comes back to two glasses of pre-poured Peroni. It's very brightly lit in here, and spaceman has tried it in restaurant form before (it was nothing special). The bill for the two drinks comes to £6 and we're swiftly on our way...
Pub 189 - Obsidian (Princess Street)
After a walk through Chinatown, we come here, which is in between the town hall and Portland Street (but nearer the latter) on Princess Street. Barney, in charge of the notes pad for a brief second while spaceman frequents the toilets, describes our eighth venue of the night as "a bit poncy". It's part of the Arora hotel, and it's a very fancy bar on the basement level. Jar Bar was nearly open (we went in but were told that it wasn't to be open for another half an hour - argh!). That is now three times we have tried it, and barney again brings up the "three strikes and you're out" rule, but spaceman confirms that this is not and has never been in force. We will try next time. Back to Obsidian, and barney gets two bottles (again no draught) of Sapporo for an undisclosed sum of money. Apparently, barney was offered the same Peruvian beer as we had been given in Hurricane. Barney has an issue with a place that provides glasses which are smaller than the beer bottles. Very European. It's also the first time that barney has drunk from an aluminium (if it is indeed aluminium - it may just be plastic) bottle. On the way back from the toilets, spaceman confirms that it is easy to get lost. You get a choice of three directions - bar, restaurant and hotel. Looking around, barney thinks the bar is "a bit snazzy". It's pretty busy in here too. We finally get the bill - it was £7.60 (!) for the two bottles of beer. Was it liquid gold? We head back up the stairs and continue our journey...
Pub 190 - Brasserie On Portland (Portland Street)
It's reasonably busy in here tonight. the BoP is a bar that is quite new, but spaceman has tried it out before. We spend a lot of time chatting to the barman about cricket - he has a bet on New Zealand to win the ICC Champions Trophy, but they have today been beaten by Australia. He doesn't appear to have understood the format. We get two pints of Kronenbourg for £5.90 and take a seat. They have a big TV showing highlights of said match between Australia and New Zealand, which Australia won comfortably really. There's a hotel the other side of the bar, but spaceman does not know much about it. We finish our drinks and, although it's not yet 11pm, decide to call it a night, in terms of the pub crawl. We're hungry and so head to our originally planned destination of Rusholme. It's a celebratory meal, as it's barney's birthday the next day, although it doesn't click past midnight until the taxi journey home. We settled for Lal Qila in the end, which was very nice (but they always are after nine beers, not to mention the one we consume with the meal)...