Monday, December 12, 2011

Manchester: "POUR - SOME - SUGAR on me!"

Tea got me CAMRA's Manchester Pub Guide a few months ago, and, as I'm sure you can imagine, it got some use this past weekend. Skip down to the Pubs section if that's your pleasure.

We got the 6 p.m. train to Manchester after work on Friday and arrived at Manchester Piccadilly station a few hours later, in the heart of the action. While The Mercure (formerly Piccadilly Hotel) wasn't anything to write home about, its location -- overlooking Piccadilly Gardens, all lit up for Christmas -- couldn't be beat, and the breakfast was very good.

Tea scored some tickets to the Wolves at Man U match on Saturday afternoon -- don't worry, Robbie, I didn't come back with any swag, and only cheered so the surrounding fans wouldn't hurt me -- so we spent the morning around Piccadilly Gardens and the European Christmas Market in the lee of the imposing Town Hall. (The following day we went inside, which has its own market, and enjoyed tea with a friend of Tea's from the area; really nice spot to warm up!)

Aside: there were nine Christmas markets in total, and of the highest calibre we've seen in the country to date. There were some really stand-out stalls -- a puppet maker and another with ornate metalwork lanterns come to mind -- and the themed markets were distinct: the ankerbrau on tap at the German market was a nice touch, and the seating in a stall at the French market gave it a cafe atmosphere of sorts; cognac is really nice in mulled wine, by the way.

Getting out to Old Trafford was a cinch: a few stops from Manchester Piccadilly. (Unfortunately, getting home after the match was another matter; we probably would've walked back to the town centre if we had our time back.) That first view of the pitch was amazing. With a capacity of nearly 80000, I have to say, the two Premier League matches I've been to have been a spectacle of staggering proportions. The steady thrum of noise, strikingly different from the typical Sens game, makes you feel so alive. Seated well up behind and to the side of one of the goal lines, we had a great view of three of the five goals in the 4-1 victory for Man U. (The Wolves played well, but were simply outclassed.)

Sunday was concert day! Steel Panther, Motley Crue and Def Leppard at the Arena! The venue was fantastic: right in the centre of town, just off the Shambles -- where we enjoyed supper at Cafe Rouge beforehand -- and again, like Old Trafford, was this big bowl of energy as we arrived. The Crue were great: pumping the crowd up and cooking 'em with crazy pyrotechnics -- we could feel the heat, in the seating way at the back! Tommy Lee's coaster-esque kit and set was like nothing I've ever seen. I laughed out loud, when, as part of the stills montage on the big screens during Girls, Girls, Girls, they flashed a picture of Justin Bieber.

Def Leppard's backdrop was toned down by comparison -- I could imagine it would've looked much the same twenty years ago -- but all the better for it: the shuttle footage on the floor-to-ceiling screens during Rocket, with their silhouettes out front, as they played on the three different levels, was fantastic. The whole show was great; everything I thought it would be -- Phil was still shirtless! -- and more. They seemed genuinely appreciative of the reception: Joe reminisced about driving back to Sheffield in a beat-up van in '79, having just opened for a band in Manchester: “You know, Manchester is really f*****' great.” And they ended saying, “Don't forget us; we won't forget you.” Good times!


It's tough to choose between my two favourite pubs of the weekend. I think the Port St. Beer House has it by a nose: two levels, and not silly busy on the Saturday night we popped in, it hit a cosy rec room note we both took to immediately. The staff were knowledgeable and friendly: as usual Tea asked for a recommendation, and the barman's "Stunning!" for Thornbridge's Colorado Red was bang-on. Similarly, he raved about a recently-acquired saison that was a collaboration between local Marble Beers and Dark Star brewer, Mark Tranter; and with good reason: honestly, this may be the best beer I've ever tasted. So rich and smooth for a 9%, and much more than I'd dreamed a saison could be -- and I'm a big fan of Saison Dupont, understand.

Other hits of the evening included:
  1. Utility IPA from Marble: excellent, even after the Colorado Red, which is saying something
  2. Great Divide's Rumble: an oak aged IPA; so smooth, with caramel notes
  3. Redwillow's Ageless, a beautiful Imperial IPA
  4. BrewDog's Winter Porter
  5. Otley's O-Ho-Ho: while good, it obviously paled in comparison to the heavy hitters

Enjoying a pint at the Old Wellington
Coming in a very close second was our second-to-last pub of the trip: the Knott Bar in Deansgate, Greater Manchester CAMRA Regional Pub of the Year 2010. The exterior wasn't much to look at from the side we approached, but a big grin broke out when I first stepped inside: really interesting, but understated decor, comfortable furniture, and, again, very friendly staff with a clear appreciation for real ale. They recommended Moor Beer Company's Southern Star, which was a great, hoppy pale. Marble's Bitter was the winner of the stop, although Redwillow's Heartless was an excellent stout. And as if that wasn't enough, the Irish (lamb) stew on special came bone-in; absolutely delicious. The bar is set in a former railway arch, and the periodic rumbling of the trains overhead was the icing on the cake.

Other stops included:

Check out our Picasa album for more pictures from the long weekend.

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