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The Lights Go On In Ancoats....

I visit Manchester regularly, and normally if I am stopping over I stay at the Travelodge in Ancoats.

It is reasonably priced, close to both main rail stations, and handy for decent pubs, shops, and more often than not for gigs, with the Band on the Wall just a few minutes walk away. Normally, however, any visit has not really involved lingering in the immediate vicinity as there has been nothing to compete with the attractions of the nearby Northern Quarter, and the city as a whole.

However, that is now changing as Ancoats is rapidly becoming a fashionable location with loft apartments and creative spaces springing up in the old mills, warehouses, and buildings that make up this once-neglected inner city suburb. It was recently named as one of the most trendy places in the UK by Travel Supermarket. So, with that in mind, I turned right from the hotel, and then turned left up Blossom Street. It didn't look promising when I came across the boarded up premises of the former Edinburgh Castle pub, looking all forlorn and lost. But a couple of minutes later I came to the new bar opened recently by Salford's Seven Brothers in an old building called The Ice Plant.

The Seven Brothers are the McAvoys, whose Dad was a keen home brewer, and the brothers decided to set up after being inspired by the brewing scene in Oslo. One of them is former Salford, Bradford Bulls, and Great Britain Under-21 rugby league player, Nathan.

This is a nicely done out place, spread over 2 floors, and is very much of the plain wood, plain walls, spartan look with exposed pipework and ducting that is almost de riguer if you're opening a bar these days. The musical soundtrack was spot on. The guys behind the bar - neither were one of the 7 - were most welcoming and enthusiastic. I went for the 3.8% Session Pale, one of 3 beers on hand pump, with a further 5 taps further down the bar. However, the price of the beer was £4.50, which was way over the top for a 3.8% beer. It looked like the pricing was fairly standard across all the beers, therefore weighted against the lower-gravity beers but with no differentiation between cask and keg. As a new bar, in a location that is still a bit off the beaten track for the average punter, I would have expected a more sensible pricing approach. Disappointing, to say the least, when everything else works so well.

Hungry by now, fortunately across the other side of what is apparently called Cutting Room Square is the relatively new Rudy's Neapolitan Pizzeria. This had been recommended by friends and I have to say I enjoyed the best pizza I have had in years. It all seems very authentic with the chefs bantering in Italian across the open kitchen, but it is in fact the brainchild of locals Jim Morgan and his partner Kate. They wanted to create something that reflected the best of a true Italian pizzeria to show that there is something on a much higher level than the fare the chain restaurants offer, with an emphasis on fresh ingredients and light, flavoursome dough. And with Ancoats once being known as 'Little Italy' this was the place to be. And they must be doing something right, as it was recently listed as one of the best pizza restaurants in the world! I had a superb Calabrese, which like all the menu, was very reasonably priced. You can't book, you have to join the queue, but it is well worth it. And they have real ale in bottle too!

I moved on, 5 minutes away is the Crown and Kettle, a striking Grade 2 listed pub at the junction of Oldham Road and Great Ancoats Street. Always a reliable source for great beer, I sat down with an excellent pint as some of my favourite tracks came up over the speakers. Someone had a great Spotify playlist! From there I visited the Bar Fringe, 2 minutes away. I've always had a soft spot for this place. Sadly, after 19 years in the Good Beer Guide, it wasn't included this time as there is so much competition across the city. But it often has different beers on, the atmosphere is quirky, and the beer garden round the back is a real sun trap in the summer months.

I then went across to the Band on the Wall, a great venue that I always enjoy visiting. Tonight I was going to my first jazz gig, with the Neil Cowley Trio performing. I'd heard a couple of tracks of theirs on Jamie Cullum's Radio 2 show, particularly enjoying a track called 'The City and the Stars' from their latest album 'Spacebound Apes'. I didn't know what to expect, the place was pretty full, and the audience all seemed pretty normal. And the band were good, playing for over 2 hours. Keyboards, double bass, and percussion, modern jazz with a rocky edge to some of the tracks, presented with a few jokes and funny stories here and there. And chatting to them after the gig, they came over as pretty decent guys.

A pint of Titanic Plum Porter after the gig then followed at the excellent Castle Hotel, just around the corner on Oldham Street, before I went back to the hotel after a most enjoyable evening with some unexpected highlights.

Normally when I stay over in Manchester I go to Koffee Pot on Oldham Street, recently included in the best 50 places for breakfast in the UK by 'The Guardian'. So I was disappointed to find it was shut for refurbishment when I wandered out in the morning! In the end, I had a nice enough breakfast at 'Home Sweet Home', a few minutes walk away in the heart of the Northern Quarter before a spot of shopping and a visit to both the Marble Arch and Cafe Beermoth, which I have mentioned many times before! Suffice to say that they were both as good as ever.

Before getting the train back there was one more place I needed to try and this was a new bar called Bundobust, which is situated in Piccadilly, not far from the station, which had opened a couple of months ago. And what a crackin' idea! Indian Street Food sold alongside craft beer. You enter downstairs literally through a doorway - visit and you will see what I mean - and at the end of a long room with long refectory-style tables along with some booths is a bar with 2 hand pumps and a further 14 beers on tap. The tapas-style food is cheap, completely vegetarian, and very tasty. Ideal for lunch or if you fancy something if you're peckish on a night out with friends rather than a destination food venue. There has been a Bundobust in Leeds for over 2 years, and the concept was the idea of the owners of the Sparrow Bier Cafe in Bradford and the highly-acclaimed Prashad vegetarian Indian Restaurant in Drighlington, so there are some pretty serious people behind it. 

Meanwhile, back in Ancoats, I can't help thinking that if the owners of the Edinburgh Castle had hung on a bit longer they would have been able to prosper as the area continues to re-invent itself....

Ancoats by night


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