Manchester City Guide

‘So much to answer for’.

And that may well be part of its problem. Unwilling to forget its prestigous past, the Capital of Northern England wears The Buzzcocks, Madchester, Tony Wilson, the Hacienda, Factory, New Order, Joy Division, The Stone Roses, The Mondays and Primal Scream on its sleeve. But sometimes that can leave new music cold and alone, shaking in the shadows.

So let’s put these iconic institutions to one side, for just a second. Because there’s still a city that lives and breathes fresh music here. The northern techno scene may not be very prominent these days. And the region’s once legendary house strongholds receive significantly less attention now. But, still, two and a half million people can’t be wrong- so what’s going on in Britain’s biggest student town?

Manchester’s Best… Clubs

Sound Control

The best venues in Manchester have always been relatively similar. Either a basement or mill-type building, with an intimate main room that’s not glamorous, or well lit. When it opened earlier this year, this former DJ and instrument store just off the manic thoroughfare of Oxford Road immediately fitted in with this interior design ethic. Overall things are 4/4 focused, with nights like Zutekh providing meaty tech, and Development keeping things a little housier, while glitchy garage, dnb and dubstep also play a part in proceedings.


Times have changed inside this legendary space. Currently DJ Magazine’s Best Club in the World, we’d say its hey-day was around 2002-2005, before the open brickwork and sweaty pit of a dancefloor were painfully ripped out during a chic refurb. The crowd is different too, with the old rough and ready, though friendly and educated attendees replaced by sexy scenesters. Still, if you’re looking for where the likes of Digweed, Laurent Garnier, Surgeon and other A-listers often play when in town, consider the search over.

Joshua Brooks

Upstairs is a pretty tacky bar affair in a particularly random part of town. Downstairs is a dark basement ready for some beats. Nights like Audio Salad, Micron and Sequence have all held residencies here, meaning the likes of Danny Howells, DJ Godfather and home-grown deenbee hero Marcus Intalex are no strangers to these fair walls. Nominated for countless Best Small Venue awards in national competitions, we’d say it’s a decent best place in which to enjoy an intimate night out. Oh, and they serve Kirin on tap- enough said.

The Attic

Deserving of a place in this list largely based on history, things are quieter than they used to be inside this railway bridge arch. Still though, with legendary parties like the sorely missed Kindergarten having played a part in creating the enviable reputation this 200 capacity loft has, it’s worth knowing about. In the past jocks like Magda, Andrew Weatherall, Craig Richards, Eddie Richards and British Murder Boys have all entertained. Think extremely dirty, and sold out by 11pm on a good night.

The Soup Kitchen

However English Health & Safety officers came to sign off this cheeky little space is anyone’s guess. Upstairs is a pretty simple, spacious cafe offering liquid lunches (amongst other edibles) and evening drinks. Downstairs the venue, which can hold 150 people comfortably, is almost falling down around your ears- a factor compounded by bass heavy guests like Ewan Pearson. Think all the things stripped to the bare bones actually means, multiply them, and then double that. Gritty but fashionable, the problem is it’s not regularly put to good use.

Manchester’s best… live music venues

The Deaf Institute

Though they do have club nights all weekend, to categorise this former deaf and dumb school as just that would be to ignore what’s so good about it. An expansive downstairs bar sits atop a tiny cellar venue, but at the other end of things the top floor is a proper music hall, complete with a bar full of various antique speaker stacks. Cool kids know this is a venue specialising in putting on impressive acts, up close and personal. So fans of Matthew Dear, Glass Candy, Neon Indian and Casiotone for the Painfully Alone should all take note.

The Apollo

No matter how many corporate sponsers try it, The Apollo will always be referreed to simply as The Apollo, and rightly so. It’s amongst the busiest venues in the region, and welcomes major acts too big for the Academy, and either uninterested or incapable of filling the 20,000+ capacity MEN Arena. Tickets aren’t cheap, and a decent band will sell out well in advance. That said, the sloped floor and intricate details of this former theatre means it’s one cavernous room worth the price. And the sound is usually pretty good too.

The Bridgewater Hall

A breathtaking symphony hall, and home to the acclaimed Halle Orchestra, no to mention the BBC Philharmonic. Built on springs, it lays claim to the best accoustics in Europe, which is a spurious statement at best so we’ll leave it at that. Whatever the truth, you will struggle to hear anything as aurally accomplished elsewhere so we highly recommend getting tickets. Alongside the usual classical compositions guests like Imogen Heap have brought more contemporary, experimental electronic sounds inside, to dazzling effect.

The Band On The Wall

No introduction should be necessary here, but for the sake of consistency we will oblige. A venue since way back before any of us can remember, the name allegedly stems from a ‘shelf’ erected on a wall for artists to cower in fear on while avoiding the piss filled objects being hurled at them. These days it has had millions spent on it, from various generous bodies like the National Lottery. It’s amongst the best soundsystems in the city, and boasts a great raised balcony to look down on the masses from, while taking in a spectrum of sounds.

Night & Day Cafe

Boasting 19 long years in service, this Oldham Street haunt has a wealth of ‘so and so played their first gig here’ stories to tell. To look at it’s not much, a simple wooden room with a few tables and chairs, a tiny stage and average system. But then catch the right people here and everything’s all good, which is the reason so many regulars signed a petition to stop the local yuppies, kept awake until 11pm, from closing it down with the help of Manchester City Council’s licensing officers. Now safe, we can all breathe at least one sigh of relief.

Manchester’s best… bars


Part of a seemingly ever-expanding empire, this is the best all three addresses. Not as out of town as the suburban cousin, nor does it suffer from the overtly style conscious regulars of its other, Northern Quarter sibling, this two storey booze-fest opposite the BBC is perhaps the best place to warm up in. The atmosphere is all about good times, hard liquor late nights, while the helpful wall of clocks will ensure you know exactly how long you can stay here for. Reasonable food and laidback staff also make for a perfect recovery spot.


OK, so the watered down cocktails and uninspired club are a let down, but still this bar close to Oxford Road railway station is worthy of inclusion a thousand times over for five words alone. Covered rooftop bar for smoking. That’s right, in a notoriously rainy city, with a  lack of decent facilities for smokers, this truly is one in a million. Ascend the stairs, go to the bar and then sit down on a table for a chat with friends while enjoying that rarest of combinations- pint, cigarette, warmth. Worth knowing, even if it is serving a niche market.


Taking its names from the material that used to line the walls, the now refurbished Cord is still worth the effort of navigating the confusing backstreets that surround it. Inside you’ll find two floors, one with booths and clear tiles looking into the basement, another dimly lit with a hip hop and disco leaning soundtrack. It’s small, and busy, so patience is required at peak times if you’re eyeing up an alcove for your crew. After that you can look on at the increasingly hectic scenarios unfolding as the night goes on, at your own pace.


Smack bang underneath one of Manchester’s main shopping strips, with nothing but the garish lights of Deansgate or the dodgy characters of Piccadilly to keep it company, Corbieres offers good times in a gloomy cellar. The beers on offer are in keeping with the elegant simplicity of St Anne’s Churchyard, located in the nearby square, so think you’ll probably be drinking a strong European lager or smooth tasting Sauvignon all night. And when you’re peckish, opt for a bowl of Rosemary Roast Potatoes- a far better option than crisps.

The Modern

Something more sophisticated had to make it on here, otherwise everyone would think Manchester’s all dark and dingy. Sitting atop one of the most iconic buildings in the city centre (formerly URBIS- a gallery space and ‘museum of urban life’) is this elegant little bar. In contrast to most establishments with this kind of clientele, you’re likely to be find the likes of Thievery Corporation and Truby Trio on the stereo, with nothing to do but enjoy the well mixed drinks, free snacks and fine views across England’s proudest regional city.

Eating Out…

Live Bait

The nearest large expanse of water is the Ship Canal, and the waterways leading to Salford Quays. So the fact that Live Bait is a truly quality seafood restaurant is quite surprising. It’s not cheap, but things rarely are, and in this case it’s worth it. What’s more, you’ll be eating in the most prestigous of all Manchester’s central squares, Albert, with the magnificent Town Hall across the street.

New Samsi

While most Oriental restaurants are a few blocks away in China Town, the best Japanese cuisine is on Whitworth Street, close to Piccadilly train station. Duncan ‘Dragons Den’ Bannatyne has a gym next door, though the food here is healthy enough to ensure you won’t be obliged to visit. There’s also a min-market behind the restaurant if you need to stock up on rice snacks and sushi rolls.

The Cedar Tree

This place offers an odd mix of 1990s office ceiling chic, and garden centre fake foliage. Regardless, the meals are gorgeous and it’s one of the only Lebanese places in the whole of Manchester. It’s unlicensed, but don’t let that stop you from taking a bottle or two in along for the ride. It’s right in the middle of the Northern Quarter too, which means you don’t have to look far to find a bar for afterwards.


This gets pretty busy, so booking might be an idea. Spring Gardens houses some of the city’s finest unsung buildings, and is now home to the likes of Agent Provocateur and Vivienne Westwood. Here you’ll find this upstairs restaurant keeping face, with it’s own impressive interior. Reasonably priced, considering the type of establishment this is, the menu is full of alternative takes on traditional dishes.

West Didsbury

A bit cheeky, really, but in all honesty some of the best restaurants are in this suburb four miles south of the city. Between Lapwing Lane and Barlow Moor Road lies an abundance of options for an excellent plate of food, so visit. Concentrated on Burton Road, choose The Lime Tree, Rhubarb, Bistro 156, Great Kathmandu, or the Gurka Grill (to name but a few), and satisfaction is almost guaranteed.

The rest….

It’s a big place, so if you’re that bothered, then maybe buy a guide book. We haven’t even touched on suburbs like Chorlton, Hale or Heaton Chapel- all of which offer their own charms. And if you’re looking for the most raucous nights in town, we would have to painfully advise studentville, aka Fallowfield, where the streets are awash with the great unwashed morning, noon and most definitely night. So we’ll leave it at that for now, which is more than enough to keep you going for a few days.



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