One weekend in Manchester is all you need to prove the north is far from grim – the city is, in fact, wonderfully welcoming, with a legendary soundtrack and a spirited nightlife. So, dig out your old Happy Mondays albums and reprise your best psy-trance dance moves for – *dramatic record scratch* – Scandi-style cafés, small-batch beers, barmen dabbling in dry ice… Add to that on-trend boutique hotels, like the brilliantly central King Street Townhouse and the elegantly old-school (literally) Great John Street, and it’s clear that our favourite northern city has gone a little Williamsburg since its warehouse-rave days.
BREAKFASTING AND BRUNCHING
Manchester’s morning dining complements its late-night revelry; as such, it’s phenomenal. Want a fry-up but fear ‘salt of the earth’ Mancunians laughing at your facial hair? Head to the Northern Quarter’s Koffee Pot, where hearty breakfasts hail from all corners of the UK. Its vinyl booths say ‘caff’, but the graffiti mural says ‘no, we’re not judging your bow-tie’.
Despite its largely Canadian emblem, Moose is famous for its US-style brunch. The menu runs as long as deathless Manc soap Coronation Street, with eight styles of pancake, eggs every way, hot dogs, hashes, burritos and even the mythical ‘doughnut burger’. If leaving bed before noon isn’t an option, King Street Townhouse can send a full English, eggs Benedict or other goodies to your door.
The locals love Evelyn’s Café & Bar in the Smithfield Building on Tib Street, where brunch branches out globally to take in North African shakshuka and Korean chicken-and-egg rolls – we die. Recommended by Beki at Kosmonaut.
Take a slug of ‘joe’ and try to keep up: Takk MCR, in the Northern Quarter, is an Icelandic-inspired coffee shop serving up Nordic-style espresso from Bristol, single-origin coffee from the Barn in Berlin and recyclable sacks of heirloom beans from Ethiopia and Colombia. In short, this achingly hip melting pot bubbles away with a damn fine brew.
If you like your leaves a little looser, North Tea Power serves an aromatic array of blends in a friendly communal setting. Exposed girders and hefty timber furnishings give it a rugged edge, and they approach a grilled cheese like they would a steak, frying it in brown butter till the sourdough’s crispy. Just in case you didn’t catch that: grilled cheese, fried like a steak.
The locals love Ginger’s Comfort Emporium, a roving ice-cream truck for adults. Menus are seasonal, but sweet sophistication is evergreen. Highlights include Chorlton Crack (salted caramel and peanut butter) and the French Elvis ice-cream sandwich, an ice-cold take on peanut butter and jelly. Here, Heart & Graft coffee beans are served affogato-style or infused into a creamy scoop. Recommended by Tony from Afflecks.
EXCEEDINGLY FINE DINING
You enter Australasia via a sci-fi-esque glass prism and descend into a cream-hued space with bleached brick walls and bare-limbed trees. Its artfully plated fare hails from Australia and the Pacific Rim. For more interior flora, head to Tattu, where beef-and-foie-gras gyoza and lobster prawn toasts are served under a flowering cherry blossom.
Mr Cooper’s House & Garden at the Midland Hotel also has, um, another interior tree (what’s going on, Manchester?). For chandeliers, an art deco-style dining room and tasting menus with avant garde flavours (oxalis, sweet cicely and sea asters abound), The French awaits. No trees though, we’re afraid.
The locals love Once upon a time, Chish & Fips was the fancy sushi restaurant Umezushi, but these days it’s a far simpler affair: boxes of fried seafood, with Japanese and Taiwanese touches, changing up the British classic. Recommended by Beki at Kosmonaut.
A CRAFTY PINT
Manchester’s punters are no longer sated with a pint of Boddingtons; a convivial community of indie brewers is bringing cult suds to the city’s pubs. The Marble Arch is one of the best, and most attractive, with original Victorian tiling and a chequerboard floor to challenge tipsy guests. It’s the home of Marble Beers and house-brew taps line the bar, but the guest porters and IPAs are excellent, too.
The Oast House, a reclaimed 16th-century drinkery amid the gleaming towers of Spinningfields, is charmingly offbeat. Its ale-tasting masterclasses start from £20 a person and cover Brit, European and historic brews. Pick up souvenirs at Beermoth your one-stop shop for all things craftily alcoholic, where staff are impressively informed.
The locals love Beloved Leeds brewer Northern Monk has brought its hoppy wares to a listed building in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Recommended by Jim from Eastern Bloc Records.
Manchester nightlife caters to everyone’s MO, often all at once, with multi-purpose arts venues. Gorilla hosts niche musical acts, comedy nights, art shows, plays, a gin parlour and a well-regarded burger joint. Home Cinema is another entertainment polymath, with arthouse and blockbuster film screenings, high drama and intriguing art shows.
Despite its name, the Deaf Institute is the venue for rock and indie gigs, while Band On the Wall champions live jazz and world music. The mixologists at The Alchemist in Spinningfields experiment fearlessly – drinks change colour and flavour, emit smoke and other exciting stuff. Kosmonaut has less smoke and mirrors, but a ping-pong table, arts programme and laid-back air make it equally magical.
The locals love Trof is a handsome, brick-and-timber-lined Northern Quarter bar. Its impressive local following is due to a classic cocktail list, dedicated bourbon bar and staunchly local food. Recommended by Jim from Eastern Bloc Records.
See this northern star on your next city break with our boutique hotels in Manchester.