Pubpaper 810 – Big city bars and trend following

Posted: 28th May 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

Last week saw me in Manchester for a couple of days, giving me a chance to explore the city I still class as my favourite.  Having worked there, I got to explore the city, its bars and pubs and most, if not all, of its streets.  The city has always had a thriving bar and pub scene, but one which follows the trends of the times, as things do in cosmopolitan areas.  Most of the bars I visited 10 years ago are still around, despite the city being dotted with building sites, established buildings being knocked down for yet another glass and concrete tower, and half its roads dug up for the new Tram extension.

It was sad to see the Cornerhouse (next to Oxford Road station) shut, now moved to its recent replacement Home, just down the road.  The Cornerhouse was a regular haunt and its compact 3 floors of cafe and bar, shop, restaurant and event space created really good atmosphere as the noise permeated floor to floor.  The new bar in Home lacks all that, it could just as easily be in a shopping centre if you clad its bare concrete structure.  However it is still good to see that the Northern Quarter is still keeping it’s rough edges.  A mixed of bars, restaurants, independent shops as well as establishments serving the less salubrious needs of the people, it has still got character.

My favourite bar in the Northern Quarter is Odd.  A two floor establishment which sells a handful of real ales, a selection of craft beer on tap and does pretty good food as well.  The atmosphere is chilled and the service good, not leaving much more you can ask from a pub.  This is a bar I visit most occasions when in the city, however as a last stop before heading back to the hotel, we popped into NQ Terrace in the same area.  An interesting cask beer selection, of which I had Magic Rock Salty Kiss, a favourite of mine, along with a good range of world and European craft and keg beers, with typical stripped back brickwork you see in a good number of the bars of this type.

We were in the city to go and see Foo Fighters at the Emirates Old Trafford, home of Lancashire County Cricket Club.  The promoters decided that a reasonable price for the beer was £4.80 for Fosters or Strongbow.  Nearly a fiver for Fosters! It’s the only beer which would be improved by the heavy rain falling at the time filling the glass back up, lets be honest it’d probably be improved by the other use of a pint glass at a 50,000 capacity stadium where you can’t move from your current location.   It is the same at any gig you go to these days, generic beer at premium prices.

But looking at and visiting bars over a couple of days gives you the bigger picture.   Every other bar in the city is now marketing itself as a craft beer bar just because they have a few pumps serving the stuff.  One of the bars I went into was Joshua Brooks just off the main university drag.  A nice bar serving good cheap food, with 4 good beers on pump and a nice range of session ales as well as more interesting beers, which is matched with a similar amount of craft keg.   But they don’t sell themselves as a real ale pub, but a craft ale pub.  Prior to the Craft boom, they might have marketed the real ale element of its offerings, but the trend is to push the craft beer message, the same way that you pushed your wine range as a bar in the 1990s.

Five years down the line, they’ll be selling themselves as offering the next big thing.  You see the same with food, everywhere you go you saw pulled pork and slow cooked meats being offered and promoted heavily.  Pulled Pork is the food equivalent of Craft Beer at the moment, many places offering it, but a lot not coming up to standard.  I like both of these things and make a mean 72 hour pulled pork, doing so well before it became trendy and when they stop being trendy I’ll still keep eating and drinking them both.

The world feels like everything has to be labelled, categorised, filed into its slot.  Bars feel the need to fit into a niche, it is not good enough to just be, and sell yourself on simply on what you are.  The use of the term Real Ale was just as misused 10 years ago.  Another one is just around the corner ready to be abused accordingly.