When things go wrong and will not come right,– ‘Workman’s Friend’, Brian O’Nolan
Though you do the best you can,
When life looks black as the hour of night –
A pint of plain is your only man.
The delicate thunk that emanates from the base of a tulip glass gently connecting with walnut echoes beautifully throughout an empty pub, with only the barmaid and the horse racing on TV for company. Nitrogen bubbles cascade southwards through a swirling storm of chocolate brown, eventually settling into a shade of black darker than a pair of priest’s socks. A millimetre or so above the iconic golden harp sits the silk soft cream, resting tranquilly atop the impenetrable depth of stout. You’ve waited patiently, now you slowly, triumphantly hoist the pint towards your lips and within a nanosecond are beguiled by the serenity of the whole experience. Whatever catastrophe and chaos lies on the other side of the door can wait, because you’ve got all you need right here.
Guinness is fucking brilliant, isn’t it?
The Black Stuff from St.James’ Gate has been easing anxieties and fuelling festivities since 1759 and will be in full flow across Manchester this Thursday to mark the annual St.Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Given that even a tepid St.Pat’s can resemble scenes akin to Ireland completing the World Cup and Eurovision double, it’s nigh on impossible to contemplate what a first non-lockdown effort since 2019, which also coincides with the Cheltenham Festival, will entail. Imagine the delirium of Stephenson Square during the latter stages of Euro 2020, only crammed into every single pub in Manchester for an entire day with an emerald green colour scheme, and you’re probably along the right track.
Which makes the need for the ideal locations in which to enjoy a perfectly poured Guinness all the more pressing. Let’s face it, what good is a decent pint if you can’t take a single uninterrupted sip without being knocked arse over elbow by some giddy knobhead on their one non-Christmas related pub visit of the year?
Following on from 2021’s groundbreaking, critically acclaimed, trailblazing EATMCR Chip Safari, we took it upon ourselves to deliver another tour, this time as a public service. We wanted to ensure our readers were only frequenting the top tier establishments this St.Patrick’s Day, while on the lookout for the finest Irish import to hit the city not named Roy Keane.
Upon piecing the plan together, one of the fundamental aims was to avoid over-earnest Guinness snobbery. We’ve all had a good laugh at the Shit London Guinness account on instagram, of course, but the desire of many very online bores to dissect every pint they come across is an exercise so fucking exhausting it almost ruins Dublin’s finest for you forever. Then again, we were also not going to suffer any gimmicky nonsense like serving the Black Stuff out of a fucking Toby jug or anything similarly fucking absurd.
The philosophical mantra that resonated with us most ahead of mapping out our route came courtesy of everyone’s favourite Vada Pav merchants, Bundobust who, responding to a tweet of ours looking for recommendations, exclaimed ever so profoundly that “the best Guinness is in your head” and, not to get too bus stop shaman on everyone, but we can fuck with Guinness being a state of mind over it being a merciless ‘Pineapple has no place on a pizza’ discussion for personality vacuums on social media.
But to begin, we had to give our numerous pints of plain something to latch onto, leading us to the only place and dish we felt suitable to kickstart proceedings. Even if it meant taking an unexpected Mexican detour…
STOP ONE: THE KOFFEE POT
An Irish Fry. What else? Littlewoods Butchers dry cured bacon, sausage, grilled tomato, mushrooms, a gooey golden yolked fried egg, a perfect potato cake, black AND white pudding (guaranteed to make you deliriously happy) and a substantial slice of wholemeal soda bread. While the old Koffee Pot, resplendent with it’s condensation soaked single glazing, tattered seating and formica will always have my heart, it’s also impossible to be unhappy inside the Oldham Road digs that they’ve occupied over the last few years. And sitting down to a plate that so idyllically encapsulates the most heartwarming aspects of Irish cooking – the splendidly starchy stodge of the potato cake, the porcine pleasure of of the white pudding and the deftly satisfying, buttered up crunch of the soda bread – is a source of joy that is difficult to replicate.
Yet this was a visit that was not without error. While KP’s website does state that they serve bottles of Guinness Porter, when I cast my eyes over the menu in-house, it was nowhere to be seen. Asking the server about this, I was recommended a ‘Mexican stout’ instead. Given that it would be stylistically in keeping with the variety of bev I would be drinking for the remainder of the day, I plumped for the server’s option, intrigued by what the Mexican take on stout would be, having only ever been exposed to the sun kissed cervezas of Corona, Modelo, Pacifico, Dos Equis and Tecate.
As big Julie Roberts in Pretty Woman once said, big mistake. Huge.
There was nothing wrong with the tin of Mexican Hot Chocolate stout that was presented to me. I’m sure a lot of people will enjoy it. But the dull fizz of chilli against a leaden backdrop of stout was not sitting right with my Irish Fry. A brew would have been a much better option in this case. But don’t allow my Mexican misadventure perturb you. Saddle up for an Irish Fry to honour St.Pat and you won’t go far wrong.
When money’s tight and hard to get– ‘Workman’s Friend’, Brian O’Nolan
And your horse has also ran,
When all you have is a heap of debt –
A pint of plain is your only man.
STOP TWO: THE STATION, DIDSBURY
A relatively quick tram journey from St.Peter’s Square to Didsbury village begins the tour in earnest. Waltzing past the suburban outposts of Botanist and Solita as we depart the met stop and make a beeline down School Lane, there is a sense that the security of a middle class enclave won’t offer up the necessary atmosphere for Paddy’s Day drinking. Gentrification and good Guinness experiences are not common bedfellows. Yet there stands The Station, nestled next to a Domino’s on the corner of Wilmslow Road, all red brick and enough Guinness adornments to suggest that either they really know what they’re doing with their plain behind the bar, or we’re about to venture inside a pint sized museum that would be more comfortable trapped inside a touristic cesspit in any major city with a decent sized Irish population.
Thankfully, one step inside The Station and you can breathe a sigh of relief. The mood is gentle, the paraphernalia curated tastefully along the walls and bar. There’s the toucan balancing a glass of the Black Stuff on it’s beak, look. There’s an understated authenticity to proceedings here, punctuated by an extraordinary selection of Tayto crisps. We grab a packet of pickled onion and another of Worcestershire sauce and pull up a stool each underneath the TV and adjacent to an impressively stocked jukebox. The Guinness itself is given the right degree of care and attention before being served and hits all the right notes on a quiet Friday lunchtime. No doubt on a much more boisterous Paddy’s Day afternoon, it’ll go down even smoother. Taytos in hand, we depart, with the barmaid proudly showing off the Guinness harp phone charging port on the bar which, it has to be said, I really want for my own house, gimmicky though it may be.
The cream curtains billowing wildly out of the upstairs window lends a homely frisson to the whole vibe and sets us up ideally for the day ahead as we wind ourselves back towards the city via another legendary suburban bolthole…
STOP THREE: FIDDLER’S GREEN, LEVENSHULME
Surrounded by a Persian kebab house, New Mexico Fried Chicken and a branch of Paddy Power, Fiddlers is an institution located with seasoned boozers in mind.
Unassuming with it’s bottle green, Celtic lettered signage, Fiddlers opens up into a bygone era, but one which has been miraculously preserved away from the modern trappings which would dampen its appeal. The proud association with Donegal is strewn across the interior, from framed Gaelic football shirts and scarves to plaques and cherished photos. It’s the character defining sort of pub that is passed down throughout generations. You’ve spent a good few Saturday afternoons there with your dad and granddad, watching the football results come in over games of dominos and Pontoon. A low glow hangs warmly in the air, inviting you inwards like an old family living room. Only one with a group of blokes howling at their latest horse letting them down by about six furlongs while another trio in the corner have a very pointed discussion over what the best dog is (“get fucked with your Jack Russells. What a load of shite”. Fair play).
Were it not for the fact we had another half dozen establishments to tackle in town, we could have quite happily settled here, maybe nipping out for an emergency Levy Bakery run a few hours in to keep us going. Getting yourself situated in here on Thursday morning wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world.
STOP FOUR: LASS O’GOW….HOLD ON…CLOSED!?
Unforseen circumstances, apparently. Fair enough, can’t be helped. Gutting for our tour plans, though you should still make sure to pay the Charles Street supping spot a visit on the big day. While Scottish in heritage, this is a den designed for some prime Guinness consumption. Don’t miss it.
STOP FIVE: THE GREY HORSE, PORTLAND STREET
Any pub that caters to your, quite frankly, ludicrous query about screening a Denis Irwin highlight package on it’s television set AND offers up FREE PORK PIES IN A VARIETY OF FLAVOURS deserves to be protected at all costs and demands your custom.
The Guinness is sublime, the service even better and the atmosphere among the best in the city. Elbow-to-elbow with rabble rousing regulars of all ages and backgrounds, the Grey Horse is a Mancunian icon and should feature on any pub crawl ever undertaken in the city, Paddy’s Day or not. Buy Howard a pint as well. He’s a spectacular human being.
The only downside, if you can even call it that, to our visit, is we had to depart just as the historic 1999 fourth round FA Cup tie between United and Liverpool began to play on the set. Only got to see Michael fucking Owen’s third minute header before taking off. The temptation to loop back for Dwight Yorke’s 88th minute equaliser and Ole Solskjaer’s injury time winner was very fucking overwhelming.
Long live the Grey Horse.
When health is bad and your heart feels strange,– ‘Workman’s Friend’, Brian O’Nolan
And your face is pale and wan,
When doctors say you need a change,
A pint of plain is your only man.
STOP SIX: MOTHER MACS, BACK PICCADILLY
Well and truly into the thick of it now and in need of some roughage to help us chart the choppy waters of the business end of our tour, supplies are sourced from Go Falafel and Cafe Marhaba, with the Macs bar staff only too happy to welcome the scintillating scent of samosa drifting through their door as we place our orders and, naturally, marvel at the framed newspaper clippings detailing a murdered wife and a fatal fire, both of which have taken place during the pub’s storied history.
Tucked away down a Northern Quarter back alley, Macs is a secluded source of zen among a manic metropolis. It’s no frills and you can usually find The Chase on the telly, which is obviously brilliant. They do a decent pint and the bar staff are only too willing to rip the piss out of you at a moment’s notice which, much like their devotion to airing Bradley Walsh game shows, is very important when it comes to accompanying a pint of Guinness.
Our first NQ pit stop boxed off, we head Oldham Street way for a couple of heavyweight encounters…
STOP SEVEN: THE CASTLE, OLDHAM STREET
A place that needs no introduction, but one which it is impossible to tire of indulging in. Since 1776 The Castle has been quenching thirsts and, in more recent times, providing one of the finest jukeboxes in the city, which is an essential during any St.Pat’s celebration.
Sequestered at the far end of the bar, bundled up against the wall, we sway while trying to piece together the final furlongs of our route. Three more stops, we reckon. As the time ticks past five, more glasses are routinely clinked as the door swings to-and-fro with an ever increasing load of post-work sorts desperate to start their weekends. Our group, meanwhile, are preoccupied with how long the walk across the road to the next stop is going to take us as pint number seven is dispatched before we’ve even collected enough shrapnel between us to put some Talking Heads on the jukebox. Fuck sake.
STOP EIGHT: GULLIVERS, OLDHAM STREET
Not going to lie to you, it’s at this point where everything goes a bit west. Could have been stumbling into Gulliver’s World and none of us would have likely batted an eyelid. We amble onwards, though, because we’ve got a job to do. A civic duty that must be carried out. Christ we’re fucking trousered. Everyone else is, at most, on drink number three and we’re bellying up to the bar clocking in at number eight. A trio of delinquents hellbent on providing content that St.Patrick himself would be proud of. Only with less banishing snakes and more simply getting very, very pissed.
Fortunately, Gulliver’s has long been a venue with an allowance for a reasonable level of debauchery. Not that our behaviour veered far beyond the realm of ‘just about managing to sit down successfully without taking the entire table to the floor with us’ but also something worth bearing in mind for 17th March. A mainstay of Oldham Street and a Northern Quarter stalwart, it’s an easy gaff to settle yourselves into, as we come perilously close to doing during our visit. You’ll find some seriously good Guinness and a reliably solid selection of tunes in here come Paddy’s Day, so make sure it’s on your list.
STOP NINE: PEVERIL OF THE PEAK, GREAT BRIDGEWATER STREET
In some very deep waters now, but where better to be in them than the most beautiful pub in the whole land? That emerald green is like a siren call, beckoning drinkers inwards, which, now with emergency Taytos dispensed down our gullets, we are only too happy to oblige.
We cannot locate a free table for the remaining three of us wild rovers, but it’s probably for the best as to sit down at this point would mean never, ever getting back up. We fortuitously stumble upon an empty hatch and lean our weary bones against it, praying it’s not some elaborate set up for a ‘Del Boy through the bar’ prank.
Luckily it’s not and we soak in the end of the work week among countless contented souls, all either slinging back pints with the heady excitement of a toddler let loose on a pick ‘n’ mix stall or savouring them in order to prolong the ecstasy of binning off another 40 hours of endurance. Even nursing a bellyful of nine pints, the majesty of the moment is not lost on us. If anything, the seven hours worth of alcohol only make the moment more ethereal.
When food is scarce and your larder bare– ‘Workman’s Friend’, Brian O’Nolan
And no rashers grease your pan,
When hunger grows as your meals are rare –
A pint of plain is your only man.
STOP 10: MULLIGAN’S, DEANSGATE
It took about 12 seconds for countless comments to flood into our instagram notifications and DM’s urging us to make Mulligan’s the centrepiece of our tour. Of course, no sooner had the plan been hatched than it was decided that Deansgate’s finest institution (soz Katsouris. No offence, we still love you) would serve as the finale.
Obviously, things will be a little different on Paddy’s Day itself, with Mulligan’s operating on a ticket only system for the day, which is understandable given its resounding popularity. On a pre-Paddy’s Friday night, it is still reliably chocker, the band for the night tuning up on stage, a Friday night game I will never, ever remember playing out across the multiple screens affixed to the walls. Flags, scarves, memorabilia, souvenirs and special keepsakes from across the Emerald Isle decorate every inch of the walls and the mood is as boisterous as ever.
As we crescendo our Guinness Safari, we are joined by two thirds of the team from Well Good, and who better to finish your night with than a pair of wild Wiganers who immediately set about blagging us a table (still absolutely zero idea how this happened) and breaking us from our ‘one pint per place’ routine. Although, given that we’re now on our tenth drink, that’s not exactly the wisest decision we’ll make, but fuck it, we’ve earned it and we gladly bring up a dozen while surrounded by what feels like half of Manchester. A wondrous place.
We depart before the band strikes up. That’s what 12 pints of stout over nine hours will do to you. But we leave proud, pissed and content. And pissed. So very, very pissed. The Well Good lads grill the bouncer over the origin of his kebab and are duly pointed around the corner to Cafe Istanbul, where they promptly devour some monstrous looking chicken and doners. Judging by their reviews the following afternoon, it perhaps isn’t a bad shout for those of you following this guide on the big day. A suitable bookend to the Koffee Pot Irish Fry.
And, remarkably, not long after nine o’ clock, we make our various ways home. There are, of course, dozens of other spots to take in and enjoy a wonderfully poured pint of Guinness in Manchester. Edinburgh Castle can be a borderline religious experience at times, with the Kings Arms, City Arms and both Sam and Tom’s Chophouses delivering the goods inside some of Manchester’s most iconic settings. The neighbourhoods outside the city limits also hold a fair amount of wonders too, with our time allowances only affording us a couple this time round, we can also recommend The Crown in Heaton Moor, with The Albert in Withington and Chorlton duo Bowling Green and Duffy’s also earning numerous mentions in our comments.
Whether you follow our tried and tested route this St.Pat’s Day or not, remember the immortal words of Bundobust Twitter, “The best Guinness is in your head”.