During the peak of his hell raising prowess, the late Peter O’Toole once found himself staggering into a hole in the wall in a small village just outside Dublin with fellow oft-inebriated actor Peter Finch. The pair, entering the final furlong of yet another lost weekend of debauchery, were ultimately refused service after seeing off a few 4am rounds. Rather than go quietly into that good night, however, they simply bought the pub.
While O’Toole and Finch would return the following day to receive their uncashed cheques back from the pub landlord (who would go onto become a friend for life to the point O’Toole and Finch attended his funeral, albeit after initially turning up at the wrong one) what their lash-fuelled frivolity exemplified is how fucking wondrous a great pub truly is.
Watching the rain pelt the concrete and cobbles from within the safety of a Guinness soaked embrace, collapsed into a well worn corner seat while a jukebox whirs in the background is an experience so cathartic, so uproariously joyful, that it should be available for prescription on the NHS. Day turns to night in the sup of a pint (or six) and you couldn’t care less about where the afternoon disappeared to, because within the four walls of any proper Mancunian watering hole, all potential bad vibes are barred, well away from the two flatly opened packets of salt and vinegar McCoys or Seabrooks that are serving as an impromptu late lunch. Traffic, tram delays, bills, your arsehole boss peppering you with five pm Friday emails, it can all wait. Order another bev and talk shit about who should start up front tomorrow afternoon or about what the most accurate ranking of all the Arctic Monkeys albums is.
Fortunately, in Manchester, we’re blessed with more than a few establishments in which to immerse ourselves in this sort of fare.
Given how cutthroat pub ownership is at the best of times, let alone in the midst of what we’ve had to endure over the past 16 months, it’s imperative that these historical sites are not allowed to stumble, punch drunk into a post-lockdown abyss, timelessly resilient though they may have proved to be over the years. They are, after all, the fabric of the city, for more than a century providing shelter from the storm, powered by debates, piss takes and knees ups from generation to generation.
So while this weekend’s weather may call for beer gardens, terraces, patios and the like (several of which we can recommend here), there are those establishments which are best enjoyed indoors, among the wood panelling, knackered leather seats, magic eye patterned carpets and scampi fries. Here are just a few to send your business to…
Peveril of the Peak
You will, by now, be more than familiar with the two tone green tiled exterior of the Eric Cantona approved ‘Pev’, sitting as it does on it’s own island of opportunity at the cross section of Bridgewater Street and Chepstow Street. Said opportunity being the chance to enjoy a perfectly poured pint inside one of Manchester’s most historic, beloved boozers.
Named after Sir Walter Scott’s 1823 novel of the same name, ‘The Pev’ is home to the UK’s oldest landlady, 91-year-old Nancy Swanick, who has been keeping patrons expertly watered for 50 years now. The County Donegal native has long been a part of the furniture and is replete with stories of the countless happenings that have occurred under her half a century watch. And it is this sort of history that makes The Pev such an irresistible place.
You feel at home the second you step through the intricately tiled doorway, soaking in over a century of memories (which include a former life as a Victorian brothel), from the decades old framed photographs loosely hanging off the similarly aged, textured wallpaper to the mahogany and stained glass artistry of the bar. A crimson, patterned carpet, paired with seats and curtains of the same colour gives the impression you could almost be sat having a pint in your gran’s front room. In a good way. In the best way, in fact. To regenerate or refurb such a monument of Mancunian pride would be a crime against humanity. God bless the Pev. Here’s to another 100 years. At least.
The Briton’s Protection
Just over the road from The Pev, it’s slate roof glowing under the lights of the much more modern Manchester skyline behind it, you’ll find the equally historic and eye catching Briton’s Protection. Sitting on the corner of Great Bridgewater Street and Lower Mosley Street, it is one of the oldest and finest pubs in Manchester, dating back to 1806 and offering a quite terrifying selection of whiskeys (over 330 varieties at last count). It’s the sort of pub that will always stand the test of time – divided into two rooms by the bar on the inside, with a narrow, mahogany and bottle green colour scheme, endlessly varnished furniture and plush, well worn leather – you’ll struggle to find any sort of urge to ever leave.
There are, we have counted on previous visits, six rooms to retire to with your beverage of choice, with moulded ceilings and copper fireplaces straight out of the 1930’s providing a snug sense of belonging, which we have seldom been able to enjoy in a socially distanced age. Like any self respecting, historical boozer, Briton’s Protection is liberally adorned with varying degrees of tile-work, plaques (including their CAMRA recognition for being one of Britain’s Best Real Heritage Pubs) copper top tables and, perhaps most eye catchingly, a mural of the Peterloo Massacre. The Grade II listed building that houses BP is going nowhere due to it’s protected status and, once your first pint hits your table, you won’t be going anywhere for a while either.
Tom & Sam’s Chophouses
Now, the original plan was to give Sam’s the limelight here, given that Tom’s was showered with attention in our Beer Gardens feature a few weeks ago. However, we received word that, unfortunately, Lowry’s favourite subterranean drinking den is remaining closed for the foreseeable future while structural work is carried out on their building. However, you can still shower Sam’s with your support by ordering from their Home Service, which includes their chef ready meal kits and sommelier hosted virtual wine tastings.
So, to Cross Street and Tom’s chophouse. This Industrial Revolution era Victorian icon, once celebrated by the New York Times as ‘probably Manchester’s most venerable pub’, has been adored by the masses since it flung open it’s doors in 1901, perhaps owing to the fact it’s wood panelled and green Minton tiled interior is so relentlessly welcoming and difficult to leave. Oh and also because, y’know, every pint that is placed under your beaming face is a work of art, as is the fish and mushy pea butty and pretty much everything else on their menu, let’s face it (we will happily throw hands with anyone who challenges us on the fact old Tom serves up the best steak and kidney pudding and corned beef hash in the city).
Much like Sam’s up the road, Tom’s place could be a scene straight out of a Lowry painting, with, in pre-covid times, silhouettes gleefully heaving and swaying through windows blurred by condensation. Bankers, lawyers and barristers would be shoulder-to-shoulder with retail workers, blokes fresh off any number of nearby construction sites, students and artists. All walks of life seamlessly collaborating on an atmosphere of contentment and camaraderie. And a shared enthusiasm for THOSE fish and mushy pea butties (just going to have to write a 3,000 word feature on them alone at some point, aren’t I?)
The Crown and Kettle
You may have noticed a post about this place became pretty popular the other evening over on our instagram. Yes, one of the team had had a bev or four, but the sentiment was true as fuck. We love the Crown and Kettle because, well, just look at it. Look at what they’ve managed to pull off over lockdown with their al fresco bevving facilities and Mira hook up for soaking up so many gloriously pulled pints.
Yet, as applause worthy as their shift outside may be, it’s the interior of the Crown and Kettle which forever transfixes us. The Ancoats institution feels practically cathedral-esque, with it’s ornate, original roof from the 1800s and windows drawing your eyes skywards, the exposed brick and heavy duty radiators offering the industrial, dirt under your fingernails history that has been so synonymous with the area in bygone eras. A pub has stood on this site since 1734 and, given how well run it’s current incarnation is, as a free house offering 20 independent keg lines, we’re confident there will still be one standing in the same spot in another 287 years time. Probably run by different people, like. But still, there’s clearly something in the water on this Ancoats street corner that keeps enthralling the masses. Long live the Crown and Kettle. Our favourite place to get giddily pissed and share inspirational insta posts.
The Marble Arch
You’ll notice that a recurring theme of this piece is tile-work and grandiose architectural triumphs. And Marble Arch has both in an absolute abundance. Plus about 4,000 ales to choose from. Not exaggerating. That much.
On the Northern Quarter outskirts, situated quietly on Rochdale Road, there is little inclination radiated from the outside that would suggest you are about to encounter an absolute behemoth of a pub upon entry, but somehow here you are, in the early 1920’s, illuminated by gaslight style chandeliers, trodding on a floral mosaic floor, azure blue intermingling with terracotta and bottle green. The windows to your left, practically gargantuan, ascending towards the roof and draped in lush ruby curtains that look like they’d be an absolute bastard to tie back.
The myriad of cask ales is enough to make your head spin, yet the staff friendly and experienced enough to talk you through them without the slightest hint of pretension or exhaustion. To soak up this selection? How about a do-it-yourself cheeseboard, which you curate yourself from the impressive litany of cheeses listed on the blackboard above the bar. You can opt from three for three for £9.95 all the way up to 12 for £22.95, should you be in the mood for a touch of gout to go with your hangover the next day.
While it’s wonderful to see the Northern Quarter’s revolutionised European boulevard teeming with punters, there is something absolutely magical about sloping away from it all and secluding yourself for a few solo pints at Marble Arch. Just you, your bev and some, quite frankly, ludicrous architecture. Oh, and a dozen cheeses.
Manchester’s Past Still Has A Bright Future
Obviously, the half dozen establishments listed above is far from an exhaustive, comprehensive list, but we could also be here for at least another dozen or so entries without even scratching the surface of Manchester’s proud tradition of producing world class ale houses. The Castle Hotel, on Oldham Road, for instance, is more than deserving of it’s own feature. In fact, it’s jukebox alone is worth 5,000 words. But, in the current climate, they are remaining closed until all restrictions are dropped, so live gigs are able to resume at full capacity.
Likewise, The Circus Tavern on Portland Street – Europe’s smallest bar, is an absolute delight. A pint sized treasure chest hidden on one of the city’s busiest roads. The Vine, meanwhile, a stone’s throw from the central library, is one of the unsung back street heroes, a genuine hidden gem tucked out of sight, but certainly not out of mind. A few minutes further south, as you approach Oxford Road, you could do a lot worse than veering right towards The Thirsty Scholar, in the shadow of the breathtaking Kimpton Clocktower, a longstanding favourite among students and pre/post gig crowds. Your pocket won’t take too much of a hit and the playlist will be reliably decent. While continuing down the road will also bring you to the Lass O’Gowrie, all Victorian Threlfall tiling and ‘Stout and Ale’ signage, this Charles Street stalwart is well worth the extra few steps outside of the city centre.
Adjacent to the Northern Quarter and Ancoats, The Angel is still cosily holding it down, offering dog friendly fireplace vibes which, touch wood, will be able to once more come into it’s own when the clocks roll back in October. Meanwhile in Salford, entire nights could be lost bar side at the Eagle Inn, or just a couple of minutes away at the legendary King’s Arms, an establishment now into it’s 215th year and still favoured by Housemartins and Beautiful South frontman Paul Heaton, who served as landlord between 2011-2015. Heralded as “Britain’s most bohemian back-street boozer” by The Guardian, this proudly ‘alcopop free zone’ is a vital, vibrant hub for local artists and creatives alike, with an award winning jukebox and City Life’s ‘Pub of The Year’ gong among it’s lengthy list of accolades.
It seems that, wherever you turn in Manchester, you’ll fall into the loving arms of an old faithful if you look hard enough. These institutions have been keeping Manchester in high spirits, even in the direst of hours, for countless generations, and will continue to do so as long as we continue to show them the same affection in return. So swerve Tim Martin’s furlough dodging dives and immerse yourself in the most welcoming hospitality Manchester has to offer.