Manchester's reputation as a decadent party town is well deserved, but the huge variety of bars, pubs and clubs can be a little overwhelming. Follow this guide for a guaranteed great night out...
While the days of ‘Madchester’ may be well and truly over, the city still excels when it comes nightlife. Bars, pubs and clubs are in abundance, and the compact nature of the city centre means you’re never far from the action.
There are, of course, many activities to be enjoyed after dark in the city – with a number of superb cinemas, theatres and late night galleries – but this guide will stick to venues offering dancing, drinking and general debauchery.
The Northern Quarter
Situated just off Piccadilly Gardens, the Northern Quarter is the heart of Manchester’s alternative scene, with Oldham Street functioning as the main artery. Trendy drinking dens line the streets: A Place Called Common, Odd Bar, Bluu and Fab Café are all smart choices for a couple of early evening beverages. As the night progresses, head to The Roadhouse (Newton Street, http://www.theroadhouselive.co.uk/) for DJs and dancing, or Night & Day Café (Oldham Street, http://www.nightnday.org/) for live music.
Another local venue worth checking out is the Ruby Lounge (28-34 The High Street, http://www.therubylounge.org/index.php). This is the Northern Quarter’s home of rock ‘n’ roll, with space for 350 moshers during live music nights, and up to 500 for club nights.
Oxford Street is the busiest thoroughfare in Manchester – buses run up and down all hours of the day, ferrying students into the city centre from the university campus and student accommodation in the South. As such, late night revellers are spoilt for choice all the way along this stretch of road; but the best options are clustered towards the centre of town, near the intersection with New Wakefield Street.
Font Bar (7-9 New Wakefield Street, http://www.fontbar.com) specialises in cheap cocktails (£2/3 each), with plenty of comfy sofas and long communal benches making it perfect for socialising. Next door is Pure Space (11 New Wakefield St, http://www.purespacecafebar.co.uk/) – with a relaxed café/bar on one level, a roof garden above and a basement club playing funk, disco and other soulful music, below (usually free entry before 11pm).
Across the road, under Oxford Road Station railway arch, is the Thirsty Scholar (50 New Wakefield Street). Primarily promoted as a ‘live music pub’, you’ll often find various acoustic acts performing on stage, and there are also a couple of themed nights focusing on ska and rock ‘n’ roll (pints from £2.70!).
Directly above the Thirsty Scholar, housed within the railway arch itself, is The Attic. A self-styled ‘underground’ club, spinning a variety of tunes, including Drum and Bass, Jungle and Dubstep. See http://www.thirstyscholar.co.uk/ for further info on both these venues.
If alternative or ‘underground’ scenes aren’t really your thing, and you’d much rather just hang out with beautiful people in a polished, trendy bar, then Deansgate Locks will probably appeal. Ten converted railway arches are home to a number of bars (including Revolutions, Pitcher & Piano and Baa Bar) and a comedy club, all accessed via a bridge and walkway suspended over the canal below.
Deansgate Locks is located at the Southern-most tip of Deansgate - as you move towards the North end of the street the establishments become more upmarket. Punters here are spoilt for choice with a dearth of fancy cocktail bars and well-known restaurant chains. Those so inclined can indulge in a spot of celebrity spotting at The Living Room (80 Deansgate, M3 2ER, http://www.thelivingroom.co.uk/, cocktails from £6.50) – a favourite haunt of the city’s footballing stars.
Those who are young, carefree, and generally quite drunk (or just like to be around people who are) should think about a trip to the Printworks (27 Withy Grove, www.theprintworks.com). An ‘entertainment centre’ in the North of the city, late-night revellers are spoilt for choice here. As the evening progresses most will end up in one of the two nightclubs in the complex – Tiger Tiger and Opus. Both are spread over several floors, with restaurants, bars and dance halls. Music tends to consist of the latest pop/R&B/house.
If rock and indie music is more your thing then there are a couple of budget student options near the intersection of Peter Street and Deansgate. 42nd Street (2 Bootle Street, http://www.42ndstreetnightclub.co.uk/home.php) and The Venue (29 Jacksons Row, http://www.thevenuenightclub.co.uk/home.php) are operated by the same company, and both offer a similar nightlife experience – loud music, cheap drinks, sticky floors and writhing bodies – but all immense fun. Be warned though; prepare to feel old if you are over the age of 21.
Every now and again, an occasion will present itself that demands an extra special night out. In this scenario, I’d recommend one of the following.
One place in particular stands out as the best clubbing experience in the city – Sankeys (Radium Street, http://sankeys.info/, £10+ entrance fee). Now in its 16th year, Sankeys has evolved into something of a Manchester institution. Different nights bring different music, but you’ll generally find a mix of Techno, Breakbeats and Electronica, spun by internationally renowned DJs.
Sankeys may take the crown for best year-round option for a ‘large’ night out, but during the last four months of the year there’s a new king in town – the Warehouse Project (http://www.thewarehouseproject.com/). Since its inception in 2006, the Warehouse Project has hosted some truly legendary nights. This is an ‘underground’ operation in every sense of the word, currently based in a disused warehouse underneath Piccadilly train station. Tickets may seem a tad expensive (£15 and upwards) but not when you consider the calibre of performers – Paul Van Dyk, David Guetta, Pete Tong and Basement Jaxx are all lined up for the 2010 season.
Banging beats and booming basslines aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. If this is the case for you, consider visiting the Birdcage (Withy Grove, http://www.birdcagelive.com) for your special night of indulgence. This is the place to come for a bit of variety (literally) with flamboyant drag and cabaret acts taking over the stage on Friday and Saturday evenings. To make the most of the night, prebook a table (£12-15 per person). The whole experience can be rather cheesy, and the place is very popular with hen nights, but if camp and crazy is your thing, it’s definitely worth checking out.
A quick drink
If you’re looking for a quick drink or two in memorable surroundings, rather than a night out you’re likely to have forgotten by the morning, then there a couple of venues I would especially recommend.
The first is Cloud 23 (303 Deansgate, M3 4LQ, http://www.cloud23bar.com/), occupying the 23rd floor in Beetham Tower (with the Hilton hotel below and residential apartments above). At 550ft tall – the 7th tallest building in the UK – this is one drinking establishment you’ll have no trouble locating. The drinks are particularly pricey (£8.50 for a cocktail) but you’re not only paying for the beverage – floor to ceiling windows provide outstanding, citywide views and more than justify the expense.
From cocktails in the clouds to boozing in the bogs; for something completely different head down Oxford Street and descend into the Temple of Convenience (100 Great Bridgewater St, M1 5JW). This tiny hole in the ground used to be a Victorian public toilet. It’s definitely not swanky or chic, and there’s barely room for 20 patrons, but the world beer selection is fantastic and it’s worth popping in just for the experience.
One final place worth a mention is Britons Protection (50 Great Bridgewater Street). A proper, old-fashioned English boozer and, with over 200 varieties on offer, a must if whisky is your tipple of choice. Just don’t attempt to try them all in one sitting.
Eating and sleeping
Indian and Chinese are the two food varieties that really excel in Manchester – head to Rusholme (AKA The Curry Mile) for the former and Chinatown for the latter.
My top recommendations for a place to lay your head are the Hilton Manchester Deansgate (Doubles from £105/night) and The Palace Hotel (Doubles from £75/night). If you’re on a tighter budget, consider Hatters Hostel (Dorms from £15/night, doubles from £25/night).
Please see my companion guide Making the most of Manchester for more detailed information on restaurants and hotels in the city.