Our autumn tour of Simon Stephens’ LONDON closed in Manchester last month at the Royal Exchange Studio, our home from home in the North West. Having grown up just south of Manchester, our AD George lists his top tips if you’re visiting the city (having promised us they won’t all be pubs).
The Northern Quarter
Amidst an increasing and rather thinly-veiled marketing trend to brand areas of cities ‘quarters’ (and increasingly ‘neighbourhoods’) , the Northern Quarter stands out as an exception. Independent shops, bars and restaurants cluster around Affleck’s Palace, just south of Ancoats and Picadilly station and before you reach Market Street and the Triangle. Importantly the area is home to around 500 residents – it serves, and is supported by, a local community. Beautiful flats sit atop the shop fronts in converted warehouses and factories. Creative industries populate office block conversions. It’s telling that the area doubled as New York Village in the film remake of Alfie.
The Craft and Design Centre
Over 30 years old, and with a seal of approval from Elbow’s Guy Garvey, The Craft and Design Centre is home to around 30 photographers, potters, jewellery-makers, clothes designers and more who all sell their wares direct from their on-site workshops. A guaranteed one-stop shop for your Christmas list.
The Squares and Gardens
As you walk through the city centre, it’s not long before the street opens on to one of Manchester’s ten squares and three gardens. They’re at their best at this time of year when the ever-expanding Christmas markets take over their every square inch and become truly communal spaces. Manchester International Festival turn Albert Square in to their festival bar every two years.
The full list is Albert Square, St Peter’s Square, St Ann’s Square, Motor Street Square, Catalan Square, Stephenson Square, Exchange Square, Shambles Square, Crown Square, Great Northern Square, Cathedral Gardens, Piccadilly Gardens and Parsonage Gardens.
The Kings Arms, Salford
Whilst not technically in Manchester, a quick nip over the canal brings you to one of our favourite watering holes in the whole of the UK (come on – there was bound to be a pub sooner or later). We’ve written about The Kings Arms before. Aside from being owned by the legendary Paul Heaton, it serves as the setting for a large proportion of Fresh Meat who arrive to film on location on a weekly basis.
Grill on the Alley / Grill on New York Street
Admittedly part of a (nonetheless independently owned) chain, these are still two of the best restaurants in Manchester, as long as you are a meat-lover. Essentially upmarket diners, they serve beef from cows that for their life-spans have been consistently massaged and fed on beer. Call us suckers for a gimmick but if I’m going to eat cow I want it to have lived the kind of life I aspire to.
A brave piece of design, engineering and town planning, this hotel, restaurant and apartment block dwarfs the rest of the Manchester sky-line. The sheer scale and height of the tower in comparison to everything around it is awesome. Costing £150 million, it’s the highest building in Manchester, the tallest residential building in Europe and the 7th tallest building in England standing at 168.87 metres high, with a total of 47 floors and home to the Manchester Hilton Hotel, 219 luxury apartments and 16 penthouses. The café/bar Cloud 23 is only half way up yet on a clear day offers panoramic views of Greater Manchester and beyond to the Peak District. They’ll tell you it books months ahead for afternoon tea but with a little bit of charm you can talk your way up there for a quick look around. It’s well worth the effort. The tower is used to beautiful metaphorical effect in Sarah McDonald Hughes’ COME TO WHERE I’M FROM, which you can listen to here.
Metroshuttle Free City Centre Bus Service
I don’t quite remember when this arrived on the scene but it is brilliant and every city should have one. Three routes get you to any corner of the city in under 10 minutes. For free. ‘Nuff said.
The Oast House
According to their website, “Oast Houses have their roots steeped in the traditions of beer making. Warm air from fired on the ground floor would rise through the building drying the hops scattered across the floors above ready for the Master Brewers to then begin their work”. The difference with this one is that it sits in the middle of the ultra-modern and ultra-sleek Spinningfields development and not a German field.
As a United fan I’m biased, but this stadium is incredible.