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Holiday Destination....

I was in Manchester last weekend, my first visit for a month or two, which gave me the chance to check out the odd new place and visit a few old favourites....
The delights of Kennedy Street....
I had been looking forward to going to Manchester for a few weeks, ever since I had booked a ticket to see Nadine Shah at the Ritz. I booked my usual hotel, and was taking the following day off to do some what to me is Christmas Shopping - although admittedly others may find the heavy bias towards trawling around music and book shops, with regular 'refreshment' breaks - slightly unconventional!

So, when I got up on Sunday morning it was disappointing to find a message from a friend asking if I had heard that Nadine Shah had had to cancel her tour, I was naturally disappointed to hear this, as I had had the pleasure of meeting Nadine at the Grayston Unity at the end of this year's Independent Venue Week. It turned out that family circumstances had led to her needing to return to her native North East.

Still, I had the room booked, so I decided I would catch the train over from Huddersfield as planned. This allowed me to enjoy a quick pint of Ringmaster at the Kings Head, bang on form as ever here, and great value at £2.70. It was half an hour on the train to Victoria, and I decided I would head off to Bridge Street to try out The Gas Lamp, new in this time to the Good Beer Guide, and the only one in Manchester city centre that I hadn't previously visited.

Like its near neighbour, Brink, it is a cellar bar, or 'Subterranean Drinking Den' as they bill themselves. As on my first visit to Brink, it took me a few minutes to locate the entrance, which lead down into a bar with white-tiled walls. Most of the tables were occupied, and is clearly a popular place. I approached the bar, which was bereft of staff until a bearded chap emerged from a side door. I had already spotted a couple of Pomona Island beers on cask - two of the guys behind the brewery own The Gas Lamp - and I ordered a pint of the Session IPA, 4.5% and featuring Amarillo, Centennial, and Summit. I retired to a table in the corner, and took a sip. It was excellent though, easily NBSS 3.5. As I sipped my pint, I warmed to the place, it had a relaxed, friendly ambience, and I decided I would try a pint of the other, a DDH Pale, 5.6% and featuring Simcoe, Mosaic, and Ekuanot hops, before I went. This was even better, at least NBSS 4. I liked the Gas Lamp, the beer was excellent, and whilst it is not the cheapest place in town, it is well worth checking out.
The Gas Lamp, Bridge Sreet

It's a Gas....
I went across the road to Brink, which is that close that when I looked at the GBG App on my phone when I was enjoying the pint above in The Gas Lamp, it actually thought I was already there! It is literally just across the road, and you go down the steps with pictures of bees - the symbol that has come to represent the defiance and resilience shown by the city since the terrible event at the Arena 18 months ago - into a brightly lit modern cellar bar with a huge photograph of the city down one wall and classic album covers opposite. There is a small bar in an alcove with 4 hand pumps and a few taps, I ordered a pint of Pint and then sat down at one of the tables, enjoying the soundtrack as more people came in. A most relaxing half hour ensued, Brink is comfortable, cool, and friendly....
Buzzing! Welcome to Brink.....
It was then a case of braving the Christmas Market crowds as I headed over to Ancoats to check in at the Travelodge. Check in sorted, bag dropped off, and I was off to Rudy's, my favourite pizza place, handily situated a few minutes walk away.

I had just enjoyed an excellent Calabrese and as I was finishing off a glass of red I noticed on Facebook that a couple of friends, Karen, who was over with her husband Mick from their now home in Bansko, Bulgaria, and her son Jacob, had been enjoying a meal around the corner in Canto, a Portuguese restaurant, I had walked past. I paid my bill and decided I would see if they were still there, which they were. I said I was heading over to the Seven Bro7hers bar across the road, and a few minutes later they came over to join me. I hadn't been there for a while, and it was good, the Mellow and Hazy Jake and I were drinking was most enjoyable. This is a 4.5% wheat beer infused with watermelon and was very refreshing.

We had a couple of drinks there and then made our way over to the Marble Arch  It was a miserable, drizzly night as we walked through the Ancoats streets, and so were pleased we were able to grab fireside seats in what was an unusually quiet Marble. I resisted the temptation of going for the Lagonda, and instead opted for Pint, which was spot on. We had another, and then it was time to head back to our respective hotels, or in Jake's case, his flat, as he lives in Ancoats. It was good to see them both, and just shows once again that you can go anywhere and there is always the chance you will bump into someone you know!

The following morning, the rain was still coming down, so I ran the short distance to the Koffee Pot on Oldham Street where I normally go for breakfast when I am staying over in town. I had a most enjoyable Smoked Mackerel Rarebit which just set me up nicely for the day. I went back to the hotel, checked out, and then headed to the Arndale Centre, first to HMV and then to Waterstones. It was busy, seemed like a lot of people had had the same idea as me and decided to take the day off work to do some Christmas Shopping, and there seemed to be a lot of tourists about as there usually is in Manchester these days.

It's all thirsty work, of course, and I decided I would go and slake it with a visit to Cafe Beermoth on Brown Street. As I walked up to the bar, a rather earnest, large guy was having his own tutored beer tasting. "I want something like a Sorachi or Aquanaut with hints of lemongrass", as, going by the detritus in front of him, he tasted what appeared to be his fourth sample glass. The guy behind the bar was doing his best to be helpful and polite but could see my increasing frustration at having to wait as Mr Earnest sniffed, slurped, and sloshed each sample he received. I appreciate people want advice, but they should be mindful of other customers who might be waiting, particularly those who have braved a morning in the Arndale Centre.... He finally found a drink that met his approval, and I ordered really quickly, just to make a point. "I'll have a Torrside Yellow Peak, please mate", handed over the correct money, and was sat down before Mr Earnest had lumbered back to his seat.

The beer was excellent, Torrside are up there at the moment, but I decided to follow it up with a half of Rogue Trader, from Cromarty Brewing. And as usual with this Scottish outfit the beer was excellent. I decided to try a half of Cloudwater, as the unwritten rule is that if you are in Manchester and Cloudwater is on, you must have a taste. This was their Helles Lager, and it was another excellent beer. Despite the initial frustration, I thoroughly enjoyed this visit, I had a most pleasant hour reading the latest edition of Louder Than War with some great beer and an excellent soundtrack.

I then had a wander over to the City Arms, a few minutes walk away on Kennedy Street, where it is flanked on one side by The Waterhouse, the best Spoons in town, and on the other by the Vine, one of those places which can be great on one visit, but then bobbins, as they say in Manchester, the next. Of the three, the City Arms is the stand out, always excellent, and like a locals pub. It is small, with an entrance lobby with serving hatch, a small bar with wooden floorboards, and a small lounge with a few tables and some wonderful quotations on the walls, of which this is my favourite...
Take heed. Words of  wisdom from Hilaire Belloc....
There are around 8 hand pumps on the front of the tiny bar, featuring predominantly local(ish) breweries from the likes of Redwillow and Brightside. It is often very busy, although mid-afternoon on a Monday it wasn't too bad. I had a pint of a beer whose name I have forgotten - very good though - and I charged up my phone. I love the City Arms, it is up there with the best of the pubs in Manchester.
The City Arms, Manchester
I had a bit more shopping to do, and then as I was getting hungry I decided to go for Rice and 3. My first thought was to go to This and That, but as I arrived on Soap Street they were just shutting up, so I switched my attention to Al-Faisal on Thomas Street. However as I got there it was all boarded up and bereft of signage. Momentarily thrown, I retreated to 57 Thomas Street where I had half of Marble Small Beer. I asked about Al-Faisal and was told they had relocated just down the street next door to the Millstone. I finished my beer and headed there, it is a bigger place, looking like loads of other cafes, but the Rice and 3, which for me consisted of chicken, lamb, and a dhal, was as good as ever, 

It was nearly time to go, but before I went to Victoria for the train I went for a quick drink at the Pilcrow. I had a most unusual half of what was dubbed a 'Pastry Saison' - so unusual in fact that I had another beer, this time from Cloudwater, to take the taste away!

It was then back to Victoria, where the usual teatime chaos saw me shifting platforms and getting a York-bound train which went via Halifax, rather than the intended train back to Huddersfield. So the journey was longer than planned, and was a slightly unsatisfactory end to what had been another great couple of days in Manchester....

The title of this blog is borrowed from the title of Nadine Shah's most recent album, as it was down to her that I booked this trip! And I would like to take this opportunity to send my best wishes to Nadine and her family.

Twitter: @realalemusic

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