Manchester is my second home, the place I visit most often. It’s a city brimming with musical history, old-school timbered pubs, a stellar and deeply multicultural food scene, and some of the best parties you’ll ever find in England. It is the birthplace of Morrissey, of Anthony Burgess, of The Gallagher brothers. But now the city is also synonymous with a great and senseless tragedy — a terrorist bombing that took the lives of 22 people at an Ariana Grande concert.
Grief and reconciliation will take an unbearably long time. All I can think of right now, in the wake of tragedy, is how amazing the people of this city are, how full of life it was and will be again. Now, as the city begins to heal, we should celebrate all the parts of Manchester that make it a formidable and fantastic city that everyone needs to visit at least once.
THE FOOD SCENE
Manchester is a city of multitudes. It has done the impossible and turned the international local.
The Curry Mile is one of the best examples of the depth and breadth of the food scene happening in England. In a few blocks, you’ll find some of the best Indian, Pakistani, Afghani, Sri Lankan, and Bangladeshi foods outside of those countries. Migrants have gathered along a mile-long stretch of Wilmslow Road on the south side of the city to sling some serious eats.
Mughli is the most famous Punjabi/Pakistani joint on The Mile and often frequented by celebrities of every caliber. Their clay ovens and charcoal grill pit have been in operation for over a quarter a century. That means year after year of delicious food has been seasoning those ovens, making for a special meal every time.
Punjab Tandoori has it all in the name — it’s Punjabi and they serve Tandoori. This place is one of the highest standard curry joints you’ll find. Make sure to try the out-of-this-world dosa.
Lahori Karahi is another old-school joint that’s been serving hungry diners for over 20 years. The ‘karahi’ is a pan-South Asian one pot dish (very popular in Pakistan) that mixes ginger, chili, tomato, garam masala, and a protein into a delicious stew ready for piping hot naan to lap it up.
Food wise, there’s more to Manchester than The Curry Mile. No trip to The North is complete with grabbing ‘tea from the chippy” (translation, getting dinner from the fish and chip joint). Now, deciding which chippy is the best is often down to geographic location and years of nostalgia for the corner chippy that you grew up with (I have heard hour-long arguments in pubs over the best chippies in various towns).
King Fisher Fish & Chips on Tib Street is one chippy I’ll fight for. £5 ($6.50) will get you a massive piece of cod with a pile of chips that can easily feed two people. Be warned, this place only needs to be open for lunch. They’re that good.
The Hip Hop Chip Shop This former food truck is now an integral part of the perfectly hip bar Kosmonaut up in the Northern Quarter. Try their Halloumi and chips for a great vegetarian alternative to the usual fish. And don’t forget to Instagram their stylish and tasty food!
Chances are if you’re in Manchester, you’re going to spend some time ‘down the pub.‘ That means you’re going to have a hangover the next day — no ‘probably’ about it. You can cure yourself with a Full English breakfast. That’s Heinz beans, hash browns, black pudding (a blood sausage), pork sausage, bacon, grilled tomato and mushrooms, and usually a slice or two of toast. Oh, and there’s a fried egg on top of it all. You’ll need a nap afterward. But, after that, you’ll be sorted.
Koffee Pot is a must stop on the hangover cure trail. Their ‘Fry Ups’ start at £7 ($9) and they offer a Full English, Scottish, Irish, vegetarian, and vegan versions. So, everyone’s covered.
Common is another great spot for a little breakie that’s less greasy spoon and more sit-down-for-brunch-and-maybe-start-drinking-again. Order the Stephen Fry. That’s basically a Full English with everything on the plate doubled. You might need an extra long lay down with A Bit Of Fry And Laurie on after that breakfast.
Can’t Miss Restaurants:
Grill On The Alley is British food done with aplomb and precision. The restaurant is often packed and it’s easy to see why, with its menu of British classics. Their steaks, seafood, and roast dinner offerings shine. Arrive early and make sure to spend some time at their excellently appointed cocktail bar with a drink and some Cumbrae oysters before finding your table in the crowded dining room.
The French by local wunderkind Chef Adam Reid is a must stop for any food lover. Chef Reid’s nine-course tasting menu is a classic stroll through the local and seasonal ingredients of the British Isles with international twists that transcend. There’s also a more accessible lunch service if a tasting menu isn’t your speed that features British wonders in an à la carte setting.
One last can’t miss is Great Northern Pie Co. Australia doesn’t have the monopoly on piping hot, savory meat pies. Northern England is meat pie country. It’s the perfect lunch, dinner (tea), or bar snack. And Great Northern makes some of the best around. Their handmade pies are so good they’ve been awarded the ‘Supreme Champion’ of the British Pie Awards. Grab the corned beef and gravy and the classic Lancashire cheese and onion. You won’t be disappointed.
This city has a musical history that’s astounding. Oasis, The Smiths, Joy Division, Stone Roses, Take That, Buzzcocks, and The Chemical Brothers just scratch the surface of Manchester’s music scene.
One of the most important stops on any musical tour of Manchester is the Free Trade Hall on Peter Street. Dickens performed there. But, more recently — and importantly to punk and post-punk — the Sex Pistols performed the “gig that changed the world” in the Hall.
That “gig” was a Sex Pistols show to a tiny crowd. That crowd happened to include musicians that would go on to form the Buzzcocks, Joy Division (later New Order), The Fall, The Frantic Elevators (later Simply Red), and The Smiths. The legend goes after hearing how terrible the Pistols were, they all decided they could do better and went home and formed their own bands.
Also in attendance were Martin Hannet and Tony Wilson who formed Factory Records — which was instrumental in many of the above bands’ early success. Tony Wilson was also the man behind the infamous Manchester club The Haçienda, where the ‘Madchester’ name was born. That club is most associated with making house and rave music mainstream in the ’80s and ’90s. That’s a lot of history steaming from one shitty Sex Pistols gig.
Tony Wilson’s ’90s life was instrumental in another band coming to prominence on Manchester’s streets, Oasis. Wilson got Oasis a gig at The Venue on Jackson’s Row in 1992, as the band was starting to really make its mark on the scene. Two years later, they’d blow up with the release of Definitely Maybe.
Another milestone on many a Manchester bands’ roads to success was the Boardwalk Club (now Funkademia). This spot provided a stage for young performers as well as practice space. Oasis practiced here and ended up playing eight of their early gigs on the Boardwalk’s stage. The stage and practice rooms were already famous for housing The Man From Delmonte, The Stone Roses, The Charlatans, Happy Mondays, and James. Music history was made in The Boardwalk’s hallowed halls.
No tour of Manchester would be complete without The Smiths. Strangeways Prison has a long and storied history of dark executions and class warfare. The prison sits right in the middle of the city like a fortress of doom. The Smiths 1987 album, Strangeways, Here We Come took the prison’s absurd name and mashed it with a quote from the novel Billy Liar. The Victorian building is still a fascinating site to see to this day.
For maximum Smiths nostalgia you have to hit up The Ritz. This the location of the band’s first ever show all the way back in 1982 and it still serves as a fantastic music venue. The Ritz was a sort of rite of passage for local bands to pass through on their way to wider stardom. The Beatles also played here in their early days, in case you needed more reasons to check it out.
Culture is a broad subject. I could list off tourist attractions for any traveler to see in Manchester. Let’s go a little deeper. Let’s go to a place that can easily have as much cultural, historical, and local significance as any statue, building, or tourist attraction. Let’s talk about the pub.
One of the best parts of travel is meeting people. There’s no better way to learn the ins-and-outs of where you find yourself than chatting to someone new. And the best place, by a mile, to do that around Manchester is at the pub.
Making a list of all of the pubs, or ranking them in a fool’s errand. So I’m just going to tell you about three pubs that I really love.
The Old Nags Head is everything you want and didn’t know you needed in a pub. There’s a great jukebox, a rooftop patio, a great selection of beers on tap, and plenty of whisky behind the bar. It’s centrally located in the city, giving it a bustling and local clientele. There’s warming old carpets under your feet and smoke-stained walls wrap around you like blanket. It’s the perfect place to order a pint of something local and strike up a conversation with whoever you happen to be sitting next to.
The Briton’s Protection is often voted the best pub in the city. It’s been open for business since 1806m making it a classic. They serve over two-hundred whiskies. They are champions of Real Ale. This is the pub of pubs in Manchester and worth at least a few pints and a couple packs of pork scratchings on any trip around Manchester.
Jump on a train for 15 minutes and head to Bolton. On Churchgate, you’ll find a gem of a pub called Ye Olde Man & Scythe. This pub was built in 1251! Its timbered walls and ceilings transport you straight back in time to the England of yore. Hot meat pies are served along with local brews and plenty of whisky, gin, and all things nice. The pub really has it all, including stories about last meals before beheadings and plenty of ghosts haunting its halls and cellars.
That’s all for now. So I’ll leave you with this.
More photos from Manchester:
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Some good news to come out of today… knowing that #Manchester stands together in times of tragedy. There's a tense feeling in the air and lots of police presence today but that hasn't stopped the majority of businesses opening and town is as busy as ever. And the sun is shining 🙌🏻 🐝