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Phil’s Travels – Manchester, England (07.23)


Manchester, England (07.23)

Purpose of visit? Rooftop bar research. Honest.

This was a flying visit without flights. Just one night in the great city of Manchester. I tubed to Euston for my early afternoon train to the northwest, where I witnessed big changes taking place (I had not travelled from this terminus for many years) and none were related to the infamous HS2. The new tube exit made no sense. It led outdoors where there was no cover from the elements. Fortunately, it was not raining (this summer has been a washout, whilst the Med has scorched, here north of the Jet Stream we have endured miserable, wet, grey and windy conditions more akin to late autumn on the Russian Steppe). Why lead commuters outside for just a few moments so that they can walk around literally a single wall and then into the mainline station proper. In the old days, one could walk directly into the station, no unnecessary, albeit momentary, exposure to wind and rain. Other big change, the iconic and monumental travel board that ran the entire length of the station concourse had gone and had been replaced with mini-screens dotted about the place. The icon may have gone, but these mini-screens were very effective, colour coded, full of useful detail and very user friendly.

The journey north was quick but extremely uncomfortable. The armrest under the window of my window seat was a metallic feature with no give, which stuck out far enough to continually poke me in the ribs and too hard to rest my arm on. My back was killing me by the time we arrived in Piccadilly (which, interestingly, was much busier than Euston). I remember the old Virgins being much more comfortable.

My hotel was close to the station, of which there are now very many, most with big brands over the door. When the receptionist advised that breakfast opened at 07.00 I had a small rant as their website had advised a start at 06.30 and I had booked my return train based on that data. What was the receptionist’s unhelpful and flippant response? “I don’t know about what the website says. I didn’t design it.” I bit my tongue and went to my room.

The room? Large and fully appointed but failed on several counts for me. The bathroom walls were covered in spilt paint decor (interesting), but the now ubiquitous soap dispenser did not work and I had to dismantle the whole thing in order to get any detergent. The counter space around the sink was pathetic (I feel sorry for the lovely ladies with all their travel paraphernalia). The window was tiny in a huge length of wall, so very little natural light and prison-like (view from window below – not sure why there was a Red Phone Box in someone’s elevated back garden). The safe did not work (although the maintenance chap did turn up and fix it quickly). There were only two sockets at the desk, both already taken by a desk light and the coffee machine. And there were no sockets by the bed.

Most irritating of all was the hotel’s shear temerity in the form of a large card on the desk providing guests with a list of ‘Top Ten Tips For Being a Greener Guest’. This was particularly galling as each time I entered the room the AC would come on at 16C (on a day when the ambient temperature was no more than 16C) and all of the six lights came on. All these unnecessary electrical features left unattended would surely have burnt way more fuel than the extra towel I might have used.

The hotel had Lots of F&B outlets. No bad thing, but in a tough labour market how do they staff them all? The mirror in the lift was so low all I could see were my nipples. I hope my non-existent hair did not look too messy for the evening’s research.

To close out the hotel review, the 07.00 breakfast was large but poor. I swear the bacon had been boiled and not fried. The scrambled eggs had not been mixed properly and were still very powdery (obviously from a packet and not from fresh eggs). And the black pudding were just like hockey pucks, hard and devoid of any taste (although I suspect a puck may indeed be more flavoursome and certainly more digestible, tummy still recovering some two days later). The sausage was bland and the beans as expected (how wrong can a tin of beans get?). The only good thing on the plate was the sole mushroom.

Having thus fuelled up for the morning, I just made it to my train at 07.35 (Piccadilly busy again) and returned to the big smoke and another major back ache. The return was a timely success despite the train’s computer having gone doolally – my reservation was not posted on my seat and before leaving Manchester it thought we were in Stockport already. Oh, how I miss the old Virgins!

Back to my purpose of visit. Here below some takeaway nuggets from our research tour:

  • King Street Townhouse – the roof terrace was in a woeful state when we visited. Might have been more stimulating had the bar area and indoor seating part been open and customers in evidence. The single, miniscule lift was surely not fit-for-purpose if ever the rooftop became busy. Views very limited.
  • Hotel Gotham – strange sense of arrival at street level, both reception and F&B outlets on the upper floors. The rooftop bar was a moody and cramped space indoors but with a very colourful back-bar. The ‘terrace’ areas were really three small balconies. Balcony furniture was low grade (including foldaway directors chairs) but the views very good.
  • El Gato Negro – cool top floor space, with separate bar and restaurant areas. Very limited views but the roof of the bar area could open to the skies on clement days.
  • The Ivy complex – surely the largest in the UK. Housed within a purpose-built, standalone structure in the middle of Hardman Square, the complex extends over four stories: ground floor is the main Ivy Café space, first floor has private dining rooms and the kitchen, second floor is home to Ivy Asia and the rooftop is an extensive bar area. The décor was typical lavish Ivy throughout. The whole place was bouncing. The busiest venue of all those visited by far.
  • 20 Stories – a very impressive venue at the top of a major office building. Big inside area with massive floor to ceiling windows and an equally extensive outdoor terrace area, also lined with massive two-storey high windows. In fact, the entire terrace was effectively enclosed all the way around to the height of two-stories of glass. Only the roof was missing. Thus, guests don’t feel any wind, but if it rains it could get interesting. The place was busy (even at 22.30 on a Tuesday night and having closed at 22.00 – we managed to blag our way in for a quick squiz, well done Michael). The expansive terrace was a great space. A bit like a garden centre in the sky. It was bespattered with huge plants in pots and among the panoply of vegetation were private hire all-glass cubicles (with protective roofs). Great venue and the best views in the city.
  • Ducie Street Warehouse – not a rooftop venue, but worth a quick visit to see how a large space can be utilised in appealing and multiple ways. Despite the scale and popularity, the acoustics were excellent (not noisy at all, unlike so many other such mega-venues).
  • The Alan – not a rooftop venue either but looked cool from the street so we popped in for some quick additional research. Cool hacienda colours throughout the multipurpose lobby-cum-café-cum-bar-cum-coworking-cum-restaurant area (latter with animated open kitchen and kitchen-side seating).

Final thought – our evening and late night perambulations exposed us to the magnificent architecture of Manchester. The city’s built heritage is truly stunning, with many glorious buildings built by the cotton barons and textile kings that drove Manchester’s prosperity on the back of the Industrial Revolution. Many of the large reception halls in these classic buildings have been repurposed into magnificent F&B venues – double-height areas, with magnificent chandeliers, monumental pillars and the most elegant entrances. Great to see such embedded carbon being retained and repurposed into sustainable uses, rather than being demolished and redeveloped into another anodyne office block.

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