The Central Manchester Slow Pub Crawl - Day 27
Day 27 - Friday 22nd April 2005 (Map)
Pub 221 - Nico Central (Mount Street)
Spaceman arrives at (Club) Canteena at 3.05pm, with barney not yet in sight - unfortunately, our planned starting venue is shut. It's the pub crawl again and, as for day 25, we have fully committed to the amber nectar and taken the afternoon off work. While waiting, spaceman scribbles down details from the poster on the door. Every Saturday, there is R 'n' B, hip hop, and 90s classics. A website address, www.highlyfe.co.uk, is also displayed. Barney eventually appears, but has somehow got to the lower level and, as spaceman found out, there is no easy way back up - spaceman gestures exaggeratedly and shouts to meet on Deansgate Locks. Barney takes time, but only because walking whilst doing the cryptic crossword is as difficult as it sounds. Spaceman ponders Love Saves The Day, opposite Atlas, but barney lightly chastises spaceman ("it's a café!"). Next on barney's meticulously-planned route, after Canteena, is If Bar (formerly Thé Café Bar), which we reach at 3.15pm, but that is shut too (although there is a barman inside). We move on to the Sugar Lounge, but again that is shut. Round the corner we go, to discover, at 3.20pm, that Aqua is also shut. "Padlocked says no" mutters barney.
So what a start this is. We've made a big effort and how do we get repaid. By four shut venues - easily our poorest effort. Finally, at 3.25pm, we strike gold, the shimmering, thirst-quenching gold that is lager on draught. (As you may have guessed, spaceman has decided to keep track of the time during the pub crawl with a clockwatch, which will hopefully monitor where there is any slippage of hours - always a danger when completely wasted.) It's not immediately clear where Nico Central actually is, as the unmarked entrance has us stalking out the building looking for alternative ways in. We overcome our reticence and the carpet displaying the name of the bar makes us happy. It's quiet in here - there are about 5 customers talking sotto voce (barney is rendered somewhere in between puzzled and indifferent by spaceman's use of a fancy Latin phrase). Barney order two pints of Carlsberg (which are just over £5), although spaceman ends up paying, despite carrying just a fiver, as barney and the barman both have no change.
Praise You by Fat Boy Slim plays at an inappropriately low volume as we saunter over to some sitting facilities. There's no sinking sensation on the sofas we choose, though, which are bright blue and pale green respectively. The décor is made up of cheap-looking furniture, and spaceman is informed that barney's left buttock is inadequately supported due to a broken panel in the green sofa. Barney points out the huge, cone-shaped light shades, which remind spaceman faintly of Flight Of The Navigator for some reason, which barney sarcastically agrees with. Now that we finally have chance to take the weight off, we get a chance to think about what might be in front of us tonight. Having taken a few bars out of the equation with a little research, the number of pubs remaining is "do-able". It could be, sniff, our last ever pub crawl. We have a planned list of around 15 pubs, and barney has planned several possible eateries already, although this has rather been scuppered by the high proportion of the early targets being closed.
Whilst we were at the bar, spaceman was convinced of the smell of swimming pools, something barney couldn't quite pick up. Barney recommends the restaurant here, which is round the other side of the bar from where we are. "It's nice" confirms barney, conserving any critical energy for now: "Well, it was 3 or 4 years ago". Barney mutters on about the prices in the cocktail menu as spaceman again fills in a few clues on the MEN crossword (which almost now goes hand in hand with the slow pub crawl as lager, but not quite). Barney is puzzled by the number of mysterious, but not necessarily suspicious, pale stains on barney's not-so-jet black pantaloons.
Spaceman decides to start doing some research, calling 118 118 to try to get If Bar's number. The 2s and 3s sound similar, though, when announced by the automated voice. As a result, spaceman first tries 833 4222 but, having got no answer, switches to 833 4333. Spaceman only succeeds in getting through to the Gaucho Grill (barney wonders if they share the same owner, for some reason), so switches back to 833 4222. Lo and behold, someone picks up, and it is indeed the barman at If Bar, and then, with perfect timing, the number is confirmed by the wonder of text. The friendly barman confirms that they open at 5pm and do not charge for entry ("we're not evil like the others" chimes the barman, jovially. Job done, we decide to head on out to...
Pub 222 - Opus One (Peter Street)
We enter tentatively (at 4pm) via the hotel entrance. It's through to the right and you double back on yourself. The bar itself is moodily lit and is a residents' bar, but only after 11pm (phew, although the sign outside telling us this had spaceman pausing momentarily). Barney does the tour guide bit, saying that this building used to be the historic Free Trade Hall. Barney goes on to mention that, having seen 24 Hour Party People like spaceman, that this was the venue for the first ever Sex Pistols gig, and the Halle Orchestra used to play here too. We perch at the bar, which seems to be the thing to do here, and order two pints of lager. We are brought them in tall glasses atop lightweight paper doilies, and discover, from the till receipt, that they cost us £6.20 for the pair. However, with the 10% service charge automatically included (huh?), the price escalates to a hefty £6.82. Spaceman is happy at having got the first round in now. On the way here, we noticed that Bedlam, formerly Jar Bar, is far from being open - it looks in a permanent state of half-decoration.
There are seats in the bay area at the front of the bar, overlooking Peter Street ("almost like a conservatory" says barney) - but they seem impossible to get to. There must be a way in there somewhere. We are brought, apropos of nothing, some assorted bar snacks in a small bowl, although it's difficult to tell what they actually are (spaceman overhears the barman telling another customer about smoked almonds). Spaceman is naturally cautious, being a bit of a fussy sod when it comes to food, and says that there is no guarantee that they are food - "yeah, pot pourri" chuckles barney in response. Some of them taste vaguely like popcorn/rice crackers, and are not that bad. Others look a bit odd and look like small porcelain objects. We have nearly finished the crossword, but are struggling on that last 6 or so clues. The place is relatively busy for the time of day - we don't know whether they are outsiders (like us) or residents.
Behind the bar there is an impressive display of glowing red test tubes hanging down, reminiscent of a glockenspiel in spaceman's mind (although barney seems to agree when the simile is voiced). Music plays, but we struggle to classify it - "groove jazz" offers spaceman, not entirely seriously, which has barney chuckling and reciting John Thomson's character in the fast show ("niiice"). We have progressed with the crossword nicely - just a brace of tricky clues remain. Spaceman rails about the service charge out loud to barney, asking what the barman actually did. He didn't brew it, nor did he have to take it very far at all (as we are sat at the bar). He has effectively been tipped for tipping (both the glass and the tap). It's time to continue our adventure as we reluctantly slide off our prominent bar chairs...
Pub 223 - 14 (Lloyd Street)
The Square Albert is predictably still shut (we check only out of courtesy, we weren't expecting it in any way to be open). It is shut in a way that looks like it will never be open - a bit like Jackson's Wharf. Cellar Vie was completely shut, but that's because it tends to be a nightclub. Spaceman has been there, and in there for free, but it's restrictive opening hours make it difficult for us to include on our pub crawl. We may or may not try it out later. We also had a look at Audio, which was formerly known as Tmesis. At first, barney isn't convinced (there's a sign on the outside saying "Audio" but the menu on the wall still has "Tmesis" at the top. Spaceman is more persistent and locates a poster just inside that very much suggests that a change of name has taken place, so in we go.
But it doesn't look good - they are sorting the place out. We ask a guy up a ladder if they are opening tonight, but he doesn't have the authority it seems and has to ask a girl near the bar. No, they are not, he relays. But they are open tomorrow. He can vouch for this as he's running the night. Tomorrow, however, may be too late. So we head further down Lloyd Street to here. Spaceman temporarily borrows £20 (awaiting cash machine heaven) and gets two pints of Carling for £5 as the attentive (i.e. there are probably too many) bar staff ask spaceman and barney at least 2 more times if a drink is needed (the answer is, of course, "Yes!", but we are already having two poured).
We find two sofas as a girl comes in and sits nearby with a slightly ridiculous looking metallic necklace type thing round her neck (obviously). Spaceman overhears her saying that it's from Athens (it clearly caused consternation at her table). Spaceman reckons that the big disc at the front is out of Raiders Of The Lost Ark - the one that the sun has to shine through to point out where the Ark was buried. Anyway... this bar used to be The Old Monks, then the Monastery Of Sound (clever, huh), but now it's name seems to be simply "14". There's a light and airy feel to the bar, and it's quite busy for the time of day (which was about 4.40pm when we came in, incidentally). A menu on the table displays sarnies, burgers and soup of the day (soup de jour). A sign on the wall advertises "14 Below", which is "70s disco, Fridays + Saturdays, open 'til late". Barney celebrates the clever title, because it "tells you the location". The Philistines + The Salford Jets are playing here for the Bank Holiday Special (Saturday May 28th, so quite a while off yet).
Pub 224 - Lotus (King Street)
A short walk across the bottom of Albert Square and along Cross Street brings us to this new Chinese Dim Sum bar at 5.15pm, which has been open for three months (according to the barmaid). Dim Sum or not, we can't see any menus. Barney gets two bottles (nothing on draught) of Tsingtao (Chinese beer) while spaceman disappears (not literally) for toilet facilities (urgent usage rather than casual inspection). The gents are fairly small, with one sink, two urinal and one, er, crapper. But it's nicely laid out. Spaceman had initial problems finding the toilets, as, having reached the bottom of the stairs, spaceman spied a door closing, but this was just the kitchen with a cheeky-looking chef in the doorway. A nod in the right direction and a bit of ESP from spaceman and eventually the correct door was found. Up the stairs there is apparently a roof garden and restaurant. We remember that this bar used to be the Mumbo tea place or something.
We sit on white sofas (after a brief spell sat at the bar a lá Opus One) with a view of the rear of Mr Thomas's Chop House, the beer garden of which is considerably busier than here (we are the only customers, in fact). This may be partially due to the light problem they are having (i.e. they're not working) - we get apologies for the relative darkness (but we're near the window so it's ok). After about ten minutes, the lights come back on again, to light cheering, and the tall drinks cabinets behind the bar now glow red. With us in the window, we seem to have some magic power of people passing and three gentlemen, having looked this bar up and down, or rather side to side, tentatively wander in. They were staring at us a bit, presumably trying to work out if we were having a good time (answer: we had cold beers) and whether they might too. They sit near us and sound European (through no fault of their own), possibly French, but it's not like we're eavesdropping to pinpoint their location of origin.
Barney falls into the leaning back on a sofa with no back trick and nearly disappears off the back (well, not really). The mere sight of us supping at our lagers out of bottles (looking naturally classy) in the window has suckered in another couple of gentlemen, bedecked in identical beige jackets, who are also European. That's five customers we've been personally responsible for - we should be on commission. Barney even contemplates offering a deal to the next bar staff, but spaceman is not interested in the commercial prospects of this pub crawl. Bottles swiftly emptied, it's time to go. As we leave, we notice a sign for Lotus which says "A chic new bar for champagne, great wines, cocktails, coffee, Chinese teas and offering a luscious dim sum menu, by Yang Sing". Barney takes down notes as spaceman replenishes cash stocks for the evening ahead.
Pub 225 - Revolution (Parsonage Gardens)
A complete transformation from its previous incarnation as Jim Thompson's (and before then Henry's). It's now open and spacious, and it is currently catching the post-work crowd (it's 5.45pm) round the back of Kendalls. It doesn't appear to be quite the usual Revolution style - there are no glowing walls behind the bar(s) - but the loud dance music and chatter keep the punters happy. The change is fairly drastic - the central bar has been moved to the left and there is another, smaller, bar in the far right corner. Spaceman gets two pints of Carlsberg while barney pops to the loos (which are "very grey"). Barney is quite pleased that it is a proper makeover, rather than just being the same bar a name change ("like all the other crap refurbishments we've been to" spits barney).
There aren't many seats available but we do manage to find a brace of chairs to rest our not-so-weary souls, overlooking Parsonage Gardens and underneath the air-con. The second bar is less populated and is a little bit hidden when you come in - we're nearer to it now than the main bar. We do the MEN word puzzles (we're still two away from completing the infernal crossword) while supping our beers. So five pubs done and still plenty to go. We seek peace after the loud music in Revolution and head off into the early evening...
Pub 226 - Harvey Nichols (Exchange Square, off Cateaton Street)
We make an (enforced) unconventional entrance - in at mezzanine level having gone up a long ramp at the side, plus a lift to the second floor with spaceman busting for a pee (at around 6.20pm). Barney gets two bottles of Budvar for £6.50 (cheap, huh) in small bulbous glasses (again, no draught) - barney is at least happy with the nil service charge, but does take the hit for another expensive round. The toilets, the location of which spaceman had hastily asked a member of staff for, are a little weird and futuristic. There is a completely green wall on one side (with the exit and two cubicles almost hidden) and repetitive, small, round lights on the other wall. It's all a bit Doctor Who, thinks spaceman. We sit in near the window, overlooking Cateaton Street and notice a possible next venue - the Mitre Bar. We are then brought some snacks; it must be obligatory if the bill for two beers is over £6 - some kind of guilt trip. Barney reckons the lift we came in is groovy, looking like it has loads of magnets. Again, due to the relatively small size of the beers on offer, we are soon on our way...
Pub 227 - Mitre Bar (New Cathedral Street)
This bar was always shut whenever we had previously been nearby. It's not 6.45pm and spaceman gets two pints of Heineken for £3.50 (good price), although barney points out that the weaker Carling was available - oops. Spaceman then decides to get two packets of crisps, but downgrades the order to one packet on learning that they only have salt and vinegar flavour. The weather today has been generally pleasant, but cloudy. Despite the cloudiness, it still managers to feel like summer is near, with the increasingly warm temperature, and lots of people sat outside. We find a relatively quiet corner in a relatively busy pub. Barney thinks it has a canteen-style feel, not dispelled by the mushy peas/vinegar/gravy smell. Spaceman calls the Sugar Lounge but gets no answer - where are they? An intriguing (well, sort of) sign in the next room says bar, but we don't investigate. Instead, we finish our beers and go...
Pub 228 - Rodeo (High Street)
We get here at about 7.20pm (we are becoming ever more loose with the time). It's a small, seemingly popular bar, and also a Spanish restaurant, but it's only the bar aspect that we can currently see. Barney gets two bottles of San Miguel for £5 and we perch on two stools by the long thing table near the entrance. Spaceman gets confused by the stool being on the wrong side (it's approaching that time of the evening where the state of confusion is more easily and more regularly encountered). It pretty much empties out when a large crowd leaves in one go. Maybe it's not so popular after all. But where's the restaurant? Unfortunately, neither of us want a pee and so can't use that as an excuse to investigate (spaceman having given in to nature and disgustingly gone down a side alley in pure desperation). We notice a cosy-looking, unoccupied red sofa in the corner, but we're already settled and so don't move. Until our beers our finished, that is...
Pub 229 - Common (Edge Street)
It's around about 8pm as we reach our ninth bar of the night, which isn't bad going, although it has been helped by the consumption of a number of bottles instead of pints (not our fault they don't have draught). It's not altogether clear that this bar is called Common, but there is a small sign on the door. Spaceman gets two pints of Staropramen for £5.60 and promptly disappears to speak to Eddie in order to get the phone number for Aqua. Spaceman gave the barman a random load of change and we later chat to him to discover the price of the beers, and also that crisps our served (the munchies are ever present). So we get a packet of McCoys for 40p. We stand at the bar as there is nowhere really to sit. Barney apparently didn't know that you could get Hoegaarden in bottles, but you can here - you live and learn. There are no regular (i.e. common) beers available, hence the order of Staropramen. Other beers on offer include Stells, Belgian Abbey style beer, Leffe and Hoegaarden. Eventually, the pints are finished and off we go again...
Pub 230 - Dr Livvy's (High Street)
We reach Dr Livvy's (formerly Brook's) at around 8.45pm. Spaceman goes to the bar as barney goes to the toilet, but the roles are soon reversed. Two pints of Carling are £4.40, so it's not as cheap as it used to be, but it has attracted a slightly better standard of clientele. We win £2 in the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, but soon blow it on subsequent attempts. This is one of the bars with a fairly big transformation - it's quite different. We have definitely revisited a lot of bars during this pub crawl over the months (and months). Unfortunately, a swathe of spaceman's notes on this bar are unintelligible, but there's probably not much more to add anyway. We drink beer, we answer quiz questions (sometimes badly) and we move on...
Pub 231 - Napoleon's (Sackville Street)
On the way, we noticed a place called Bookbinders next to Berlins, but the bouncer informs us that it is £3 to get in (recall, if you will, the sound made on Family Fortunes when a contestant gets a question wrong). It's anyone's guess as to what time we got here, but we probably got two pints of Carlsberg for some sort of price (it's our eleventh bar after all). It's quite late, anyway. Every time we have been past here in the course of the pub crawl, it has been shut, but spaceman did once see it open on a separate night out, which is why we have persisted. We note that it seems to be open on Friday and Saturday nights, as Mr Vain plays on the stereo system (bit of a blast from the past, that).
On the way here, we succumbed to our cravings and went for some chips, with barney having meat and potato pie, chips and gravy and spaceman the same, but with cheese and onion pie instead (always the safer option). Needless to say, they didn't last long; in fact, they probably won't have been finished much quicker had we just tipped them down our throats. A plethora of beers and no substantial meals do that to you. We don't have many comments on the bar, although barney thinks it is very gay (not that that it is necessarily a problem, but spaceman is not convinced that it is anyway). It's now time to go...
Pub 232 - Aqua (Albion Street/Lower Moseley Street)
The ground level is just an entry room and the main bar is downstairs. Barney rushes off to the toilets as spaceman gets two bottles of Budweiser. There were draught beers available, but we are running out of beer capacity (we are on our 12th bar in about seven hours). It's not rammed in here, but is fairly busy. It's been a long night and it's very possible that we are swaying slightly whilst propped up by the bar. We had tried to come in here on Day 25, but by the time we reached there (after 11pm), it was £2 to get in. This time we make it at some time near 10.30pm (at a guess) and it's free to enter. We agree to go to one last bar, mainly because we don't think there any more to try...
Pub 233 - If Bar (Deansgate Locks)
We get let in by the bouncers, our intellectual looks overcoming the fact that we must have been distinctly worse for wear. We make an effort to be nice, which usually helps matters. We get two bottles of Tiger in the bar formerly known as Thé Café Bar (an amusingly silly change from small word to small word). We have definitely decided to make this our last bar and, therefore, it is our last bar ever in the pub crawl. It's a monumental moment. We have decided to draw a line as there are no more bars that qualify, in our view, for the pub crawl. The Sugar Lounge, by not answering and previously saying that there is a guest list, has annoyed us sufficiently to be cast off our guest list. Spaceman's phone stops working and so spaceman asks barney to text spaceman's other half to give an ETA.
We are happy to chill out in this trendy-looking bar. The Base Bar to the right is full of "seductive soul", it says here. As barney texts like mad, spaceman sits back and takes it easy. The vast quantities of alcohol are not conducive to conversation. Soon enough, it's time to go. It's been a rollercoaster, and has lasted far longer then we ever expected (we might have been looking at a year). But an ever expanding Manchester social scene, the influence of reality home makeover shows (argh) and times when barney and spaceman just couldn't be bothered (or were busy). Now, however, as barney is about to start a job in Leeds (although there is not going to be a switch of flats just yet, if it all), it's time to move on to a new project or two. The pub guide has been woefully neglected, and spaceman might start adding pictures of the bars to it. Spaceman has also pondered the possibility of having a photo-driven walkthrough of Manchester, a bit like barney's website but more developed. But for now, let's bask in the glory of a crawl well done. Thanks for reading.