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Cask By The Canal....

I visited a few different places on a visit to Manchester last weekend, including an excellent place a little off the beaten track....
I was in Manchester because one of my work colleagues had organised a leaving do before she headed off for a new job in Amsterdam, and so I decided to go over a bit earlier, check out HMV - sadly Fopp Records on Brown Street was closed as part of the same deal that saved HMV* - and visit Cask, situated by the canal in New Islington, just beyond Ancoats.

I caught the fast train from Huddersfield to Victoria - 27 minutes station-to-station - and waded through the sea of Saturday shoppers to the Arndale Centre. I normally avoid such places like the plague at weekends, so it was helpful reminder as to why. Still, my efforts were rewarded with a copy of Led Zeppelin 4 on vinyl at a bargain (for nowadays) price of £14.99, and a copy of the new Stealing Sheep album 'Big Wows' on CD.

I made my way to the Northern Quarter, and decided to pop into the Abel Heywood, Hydes Brewery's flagship city centre pub and boutique hotel on Turner Street, which is named after a 19th century radical who later became mayor of the city. It opened a couple of years ago after a massive investment by local brewers Hydes and is tastefully and traditionally decorated throughout with photos of old Manchester on the walls. It was full of a mix of Saturday shoppers, couples having a spot of food, and groups of lads pre-loading before the teatime Cup Final kick-off in which City were taking on Watford. Still, the groups happily parted to let me through to the bar where I ordered one of the Hydes seasonal ales whose name escapes me. Despite being busy, I managed to get myself a seat and enjoyed a pleasant half hour in a pleasant enough pub before moving on.
Abel Heywood
The streets of the Northern Quarter were busy with couples and groups enjoying a walk in the afternoon sun. I passed alfresco drinkers at pavement tables amidst the burgeoning bar scene of Stevenson Square. And then I turned left by the Crown and Anchor and made my first visit to Port Street Beer House for well over 2 years. When it first opened a few years ago, it really was something special. It was different, it was cool, offering cask and keg beers that you wouldn't find elsewhere in the city. Sadly over the years it never really moved on, and subsequent visits left me underwhelmed by the beer choice but overwhelmed by the price they cost. So despite frequent visits to Manchester I stopped going in. But today, filled with a mixture of good nature and curiosity, I had decided I would check it out and see how it was faring. It was fairly busy, and when I got to the bar the choice was a bit dull, although there was the redeeming sight of Magic Rock Salty Kiss on tap. So I got a half and headed out to the tiny outside drinking area at the back, where a couple of lads playing cards let me share their table. As the deck was shuffled and the cards were dealt I checked the dreaded Google Maps for the location of Cask. About 10 minutes walk from Port Street, I thought, memorising the route so I didn't have to keep the app running any longer than absolutely necessary. I relaxed with my Salty Kiss as cards were turned over across the table, and decided I would give the place another visit some time.

I bade farewell to the card players and turned left as I left up Port Street towards Great Ancoats Street, passing several new blocks of flats built on what until recently was where I usually parked my car when I drove into the city (which I rarely do these days). I crossed over Great Ancoats Street, and took my next left on to Redhill Street, beside the canal, passing several attractively restored old warehouses on the left, further examples of regeneration in what used to be one of the grimmest parts of Manchester.
Old mills of Ancoats
A few minutes later, I spotted Cask, its blue sign at the base of a block of new flats across the canal. It was actually on the New Islington canal basin, with a couple of barges moored nearby. I went into the bar, not really sure what to expect. There were 6 hand pumps at one end of the long bar, with several taps in the centre. It was light and airy, helped by the floor-to-ceiling glass frontage, with several tables and high stools at the bar, generally a good sign. I checked out the cask on offer, and was delighted to see Arbor Mosaic on one of the pumps. I ordered a pint of it, and decided to go outside and sit at one of the tables overlooking the canal. I could hear the hum of the traffic a few minutes walk away. But I could also hear birdsong, and it was actually quite relaxing sat by the canal, with the odd person passing by on the towpath and the murmur of conversation from nearby tables. That was until a group of students came and sat at the next table, talking loudly and taking the mick out of each other. When one of them got irritated at this, revenge was sought, and a lighter was thrown into the canal. It was funny, but the mood had been shattered, so as my excellent pint was getting low I decided to head inside for a top-up.

I grabbed a seat at the bar, and despite enjoying the Arbor, I opted for a half of Squawk Crex, which I haven't often see in Manchester despite it being brewed there! After the Arbor though, it was a bit disappointing, and certainly not as good as last time I had drunk it at the Market Tavern in Brighouse. I looked around the bar. A couple of guys at the side of me were watching the Cup Final on their tablets, with City leading 2-0 when I asked. There was a juke box at the side of the bar belting out some decent tunes....
Cask is operated by the same people as the pub with the same name across the city on Liverpool Road, off Deansgate, but this is a much more modern affair, although there was the same friendly service from pleasant staff. I decided to switch back to the Arbor for my final half before going to the do. I liked Cask, it is a friendly place, and seems a million miles from the bustle of the Northern Quarter, although it is only 10 minutes walk away. I can highly recommend it, and I look forward to returning again soon.
Cask Ancoats...light and airy....
I re-traced my steps, heading back down Redhill Street, across Great Ancoats Street, and down Port Street. I passed what looked like a mural about the Cup Final on one of the buildings, although I suspect some fancy high-tech method has been used to create that 'authentic' look....
Rachel's leaving do was at Pen and Pencil, a modern bar on Hilton Street, a few minutes walk away. There was nothing of particular interest on the bar, but one of my ex-colleagues bought me a half of Lagunitas, which was pleasant enough, although when it was my shout, I spotted several cans in the fridges, including Beavertown Gamma Ray, and Rachel was drinking Brewdog, so all was not lost. A few more colleagues from work came along, including Ben, who was due to leave a week or two later and was using it as his leaving-do. I had another can of Gamma Ray, and enjoyed catching up with everyone before wishing Rachel well and heading off to catch my train.

I got as far as 57 Thomas Street, and decided I would just about have time for a quick half before the train. However, as I got sat down at the bar, my phone rang. It was our Tom wondering if I fancied a quick pint in Halifax as he had just finished work. "I would do, but I'm in Manchester, and heading back to Huddersfield!" I replied. So we didn't get to meet up. Meanwhile, I decided I would check my e-mails as I finished my drink. I spotted an e-mail from one of the ticket companies advertising dates for The National later in the year. So I decided to get myself one, but as sometimes happens when you try ordering on your phone, it doesn't always work. One attempt saw me timed out, on another it didn't recognise my CVC. I gave up, after my Fontaines DC fiasco earlier in the year I didn't want to take any further risks. Meanwhile, time was moving on, and I realised I didn't have enough time to get to Victoria, so I got another half and decided to go for the next train in half an hour, so I relaxed and enjoyed the ambience of this excellent bar.

The streets of the Northern Quarter were still busy as I wandered back to Victoria for the train. I overheard someone saying City had beaten Watford 6-0. It had been a good afternoon/early evening taking in a few different places for a change.

*BREAKING NEWS! I am reliably informed that Fopp has just re-opened! Just shows the power of the blog....

Twitter: @realalemusic


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