The Central Manchester Slow Pub Crawl - Day 26
Day 26 - Thursday 7th April 2005 (Map)
Pub 212 - Bar Est (Lower Moseley Street)
Spaceman arrives at 6pm on the dot; meanwhile barney is just leaving the office. Spaceman gets two pints of Carlsberg (for £5 exactly) and finds a secluded table for two, as Doves' There Goes The Fear plays from the ceiling-mounted speakers. Well, it's back on again after a long break. The slow pub crawl, that is. We nearly cracked it last time, with a memorable (er, sort of) drinking all-dayer in which we took in a record thirteen bars, but we couldn't quite finish the crawl off. The list of bars that we must visit has been steadily lengthening, partly due to the discovery of previously unknown bars (to us, anyway), and partly due to a rapid succession of revamps that seem to be de rigueur in Manchester these days. However, these new bars have inspired a renewed vigour and enthusiasm in our efforts (not to mention livers) and so here we are.
Bar Est was formerly Henry's and is one of those annoying places for which there is essentially no change from its previous reincarnation, apart from, obviously, the name - and, as barney points out, there is no longer a painting of semi-naked ladies behind the bar. Even the carpet is the same, reckons barney. Anyway, it's good to be back. Barney has even brought along the traditional MEN for the crossword, and spaceman does the obligatory and helps barney fill it in. 10cc's Dreadlock Holiday starts playing on the music system - one of the two songs spaceman has ever karaoke'd at the The Old Nags Head (which is the only place spaceman has ever done karaoke). The other song is Ghostbusters by Ray Parker Jr, if you're asking. Bar Est is full of post-work business types tonight. Barney has already asked about food arrangements for the night, being especially more concerned as spaceman has cannily booked the next morning off work (an old barney trick in fact). Time to move on...
Pub 213 - Tiger Lounge (Cooper Street)
Another pub, another rehash of a venue we have already visited - this one used to be Slice Bar. Spaceman has only been to each one once and even barney hasn't been here for a while (but used to go often). Spaceman asks if it has changed much in its reinvention. Barney, eagle-eyed as ever, says that the wallpaper has, but the layout is generally the same. And they now have a small, fake tiger fur thing on the door as you come in. We catch happy hour this time (looking back, we missed it in Slice) - two pints of Carling are a mere £3. Oh no. Barney has made the fatal error of an early lunch - what an amateurish mistake. Looking around, there's a slightly more student-y mixture. And a sign hanging from the ceiling over in the corner signifies a "Kitty Room", a smugly clever play on the name of the bar. Spaceman wonders if it is more mellow than the rest of the place - it's probably just smaller. We carry on with our quest...
Pub 214 - Cinderella's (Princess Street)
We were not expecting to be here, but it's open and it's a bar and so we try it. What takes us by surprise is the fact that the last time we were round these parts, it was called Bar Med. A more thorough (and very pink) makeover has been in operation. In fact, the overly pink décor makes us think that this might not be the place for us. We persist, however. We had been quite persistent before we got here, too. We first tried Panama Hatty's (formerly Time, Chez Gérard, Renaissance, Brahms and Lizst, and about a million other places it seems). It's essentially a restaurant and so we were a little sceptical, but as Chéz Gerard had a bar area it was worth a go. However, what sways it is the sight of people in the "bar area" with food menus. That's it, we're outta here. The newly opened Billie Rox (replacing, sigh, Jumpin Jaks) was shut, although there were lights on inside (but no customers or, seemingly, any staff). Spaceman did check out the delivery note that was wedged between the front doors.
(A few days later, spaceman fresh (actually, not so fresh as it happens) from an evening at Night & Day Café a week on Saturday watching, amongst others, Additional Moog, tried a few places on the way home. Both Bier Keller and Billie Rox were open but are, according to the inevitably and infinitely wise bouncers, pay to get in at all times, thus disqualifying themselves from our mighty crawl. Spaceman also discovers from the Guardian's Guide that Panacea, formerly the bar part of The Restaurant Bar & Grill doesn't serve beer. Yes, that's right, DOESN'T SERVE BEER. And it has retina scans on entry, believe it or not. So we're not going there. But not because of the retina scans.)
Anyway, onto tonight. Barney had pondered about going to Efes Taverna on Princess Street, but we had previously discarded it from our list before visiting Ibis Hotel Bar. Back to Cinderella's, and it costs spaceman £3.90 for two pints of Carlsberg in Extra Cold glasses. "Oh, happy hour is it?" inquires spaceman, brightly. "No" responds the barman, unsmilingly. "Oh" replies spaceman, anxious to keep the camaraderie going, "competitive prices all year round". However, the barman doesn't given an inch. We find some high stools in an uninhabited area, away from the few customers in here tonight. It's very Canal Street in here. On Wednesday, for example, it is Bottoms Up night. Music is played from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, with drinks starting from 60p from 9pm, increasing at 10p each hour. If you can get pints for these prices then surely this are the cheapest drinks in town - presumably you have to pay to get in, though.
Other highlights of the flyer on the table in front of us include Rob Throb, who, downstairs, provides funky house and camp anthems "all night schlong" (oh dear). Also, and this is a classic, to book a table, one must text "GAY" + the day + your name + you number in the party. In case this is a bit tricky, it gives an example: "GAY TUESDAY MATT TAYLOR 6". Of course, it could be a gay bar, but you just don't know. The playing of Queen, Right Said Fred and Erasure prove nothing. It's certainly the only place in town where there is a picture of a woman over the gents - it certainly confused spaceman for a short moment. Since we got here, barney has seen 7 people using the rear entrance and only we used the front entrance. However, the arrival of four people late on (including three women) scupper barney's conspiracy theory. To be honest, this isn't our place and, as soon as the beers are finished, we are on our way...
Pub 215 - Bar Below (Canal Street)
Finally, a brand new place for us to try, although the barman tells us that they have been open for a year. Barney gets two bottles of Becks for £5.20 (bottles as no draught beer) and in doing so gets a brand new £5 coin from the barman - a first for spaceman and barney. There is nothing but the entrance to stairs downward on the ground level of Canal Street, and downstairs there isn't much more room. And there are no customers - except for us, obviously. Plus the sole barman. Apparently, it picks up after 9pm and at weekends (they miss out on the post-work round, possibly because they don't do food. We chat briefly with the barman before finding a seat on the (unoccupied) back wall of black leather seatage.
Barney points out the pointless existence of a small, lit, white, square alcove. There are still no other customers here. A girl comes in and soon goes out again, having chatted with the barman and briefly disappears into the back room. There is the standard array of shooters and cocktails on the drinks menu. Spaceman has to visit the loo again, after having consumed a lot of afternoon water, encountering two unisex toilets with a large, heavy door. A candle holder mat on the table says "suck my discotheque". Yet more clever word play...
Pub 216 - AXM (Canal Street)
We try Napoleon's, but it's shut (spaceman has seen it open on a Saturday night), and also Vanilla, with hilarious results. We suspect that it is "girls only" before going in, but insist on doing so anyway, for the cause that is the slow pub crawl. The bar is initially deserted but, as we approach, a girl (we presume - it's not immediately evident) appears from a side door and, heading for the space behind the bar, tells us that it is, in fact, girls only. Spacemen would have happily accepted this, were it not for the bloke (this was far more clear-cut) stood, oblivious to us and our predicament, near the bar, supping a pint of lager. Spaceman displays a pointed look towards said gentlemen for the purposes of the bar, er, maid, but says nothing - a swift exit is always preferable in these circumstances. As we exit, spaceman's friend Eddie, who had been in contact while we were in Bar Below, joins on the way to Bar AXM. Spaceman gets in two pints of Fosters (for £2.50, possibly, as it later turns out) and Eddie a pint of Kronenbourg (price not established).
This is definitely a first - a third person joining a round in the slow pub crawl, that is. The conversation meanders around and briefly settles upon the bar, Jim Thompson's, which has now reopened as Revolution. Will it never end? We sit, not in the exclusive member's area, but on a weird shaped seat near the front of the bar. The barman informs us that the membership is £250 a year, which initially seems steep for an exclusive sofa that you can't take away. But wait, says the barman, there's more than just that. Apparently, you also get a plethora of free goodies, including a locker, free mixers, up to 3 guests, use of a laptop, and table service (we recall all this in a Generation Game-style moment). Hang on, didn't you get table service when it was Bar 38 anyway? On reflection, therefore, it still seems steep, no matter how much the barman dresses it up (e.g. a fiver a week).
Later on, spaceman, curious about both the price of a Fosters (which was not initially discovered) and where the name of the bar comes from, sidles up to the bar to ask some pertinent journalistic questions. The effects of five pints without food are already apparent, spaceman forgets large swathes of the conversation, hence the uncertainty over the price of the Fosters - it was around £2.50. And the name, AXM, is not an acronym; instead it is a shortened version of AXIM (whatever that is) and represents vibrance, opulence and, er, something else (that spaceman can't remember). Probably a suitably meaningless word in the circumstances. Our triumvirate of amber brews are exhausted and so we sidle on...
Pub 217 - Outpost (Whitworth Street)
Berlin is shut, we discover on the way, and permanently it seems. Barney was convinced it was a club anyway, but spaceman recalls visiting it as a post-work bar in times of old. So we settle here, especially since "The Legends" isn't open, whatever it may be. Barney reckons that it [Outpost?] was called "Bear Space", but it isn't any more. It's £2.10 for a Carlsberg and £2.30 for San Miguel as Eddie gets the round in, while spaceman pops to the little boys' room once more. Chicago the musical plays over the speaker (and on the TV in the corner). The dog here is called Henry apparently. Eddie deserts our outpost by the window to have a quick go on the fruities (those flashing lights are clearly too hypnotic) - and wins, not quite the jackpot, but £1. Above where barney sits, there is a Winchester model 1886 rifle (er, we think) - Eddie shows concern at the presence of such a weapon nearby in a place where people pay to get pissed. Eddie and barney are also distracted by the flashing lights in the window. Time flies when you're having fun and we are soon onto our next venue...
Pub 218 - Café Paradiso (Piccadilly)
Having said our goodbyes to Eddie, who sticks at two pints and doesn't twist (having come to town for a haircut in the slightly pretentious two-seater), we go to the bar of the hotel Rosetti. We approach the bar tentatively, but are soon persuaded that bar service is available (in fact, it's table service). Barney gets two bottles of Peroni for £6 using the £5 coin we got in Bar Below. The waitress who accepted our tender shows the large silver disc eagerly to her colleagues - it's a bit of a novelty, clearly. (Who are we kidding? We were just as excited.) We lounge, literally, in laidback director-style chairs. which will inevitably prove difficult to separate our arses from. It's quite a trendy place, and a place in which barney has previously eaten a few times before. They have wood-burning ovens for pizzas, apparently. None of the mini menu items (small plates to share, etc) appeal and so we decide to go elsewhere for our grub (preferably somewhere where it isn't £9.90 for a burger). We partially regret our decision, though, as several other people nearby have got food, the buggers...
Pub 219 - Mint Lounge (Oldham Street)
The bouncers at the door let us in (obviously low standards) and it's a long walk down the spiral staircase, through a shut door, and finally we're in. Two pints of Castlemaine XXXX are £5.20, as the barmaid promises spaceman that they are queueing to get in on Saturdays (it's very quiet, and barney has nipped off to the toilets, which are apparently odd - unisex with a saloon style door). The Bier Keller was, again, predictably shut. The place has shades of cyan in its décor, or is it pale green? The critical elements of our brain are fading fast and really we are biding our time before last orders and the possibility of food to stop the (stomach) rot. But we do have time for one more bar...
Pub 220 - The Bay Horse Inn (Thomas Street)
Which makes it up to nine pubs for the night, pretty much the maximum realistically possible when starting at 6pm. We will be aiming for far more on the all-dayer planned in a fortnight's time (more or less). A new one for spaceman, two pints (of lager) may or may not be £5.60. We find a table in the corner opposite a random couple (it's pretty much the only place to sit and we don't converse with them). Barney investigates downstairs and finds a place with a pool table, which barney reckons looks a little like a living room. By this stage, we are a little worse for wear, hence the unhelpful and sparse descriptive elements to this part of the evening's diary (a common theme in the last pubs of the night). Our beers are eventually finished and it's time for a curry. We take a long tour, trying first Nawaab (it's shut), before eventually getting a taxi to Rusholme, where a number of the usual suspects are refusing new entrants. Hanaan just about lets us in, though, but only if we're quick. Are they kidding - we're starving! And it's not long before we're back in a taxi home, a curry-fuelled, stupid, dizzy grin on our faces...