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Catch Ups and Memory Trips....

The last week or two have enabled me to catch up with a number of friends from over a number of years and different situations which stirred some reminders of times gone by. And of course there were plenty of pubs and beer involved....

A few Sundays ago I was working my usual shift at the Meandering Bear in Halifax and a group of two couples came in. One of the couples I recognised, Steve, an old friend who I met when we were on the same geography course at Manchester University with his wife Diane who live and work locally, although I don't see them very often. The lady in the other couple, who I did not recognise, was wearing a hat with the brim which obscured her eyes. She ordered a glass of pinot grigio and the drinks for the rest of the group. I poured them, she paid, and as the girls went off to find a table my friend asked if I recognised the guy with him. Immediate reaction was no, I didn't, After a little prompting, I did, it was Paul, another lad who had been on that same course at university, with his wife Anne, the lady with the hat who had also been a student at that time.

Here we were, with less hair, expanded girth (well, some of us anyway!), and the addition of glasses all clouding the images from those far away times when we were all fresh faced and bursting to venture out on whatever life's highway would throw at us, which in those days reflecting the typical 70's student would heavily involve the pub. We would frequent places like the Red Lion in Withington, a low-ceilinged country-style Marstons pub with its own bowling green at the back, the large roadside Hydes-owned Friendship Inn in Fallowfield, and two more close to the university, the Plymouth Grove, a long-gone Boddingtons pub and the Grafton Arms, a Holts pub which I discovered earlier this year is still there today. We also found other suburban pubs like Hyde's Osborne House in Rusholme and the White Swan, a rambling old Robinsons pub in Ladybarn, and from here we started to venture further afield and over the 3 years we built up an encyclopaedic knowledge of the city's pubs. 

The Friendship Inn, Fallowfield

There was in those days an end of term, post-exam scramble to find accommodation for the next academic year and one time, having had no luck in finding somewhere in the usual areas of Fallowfield, Rusholme, Withington, and Didsbury, we came across a cheap house in Salford away from the regular student areas, although there was a university in that city too but it was a mile or two away on the banks of the River Irwell. Our eyes were opened up to the somewhat gritty world beyond the cosy student suburbs, although the following year we were back in South Manchester and broadening our horizons to the pubs Stockport and beyond into leafy Cheshire. But during that year in Salford I learnt more about the real world than I did in the rest of my time as a student.

When I say that house was cheap, our rent cost us £12 a week (£3 each!) between four of us which included Steve but not Paul (who wasn't to share a house with us until the following year) which gave us a large, rambling end of terrace pile - I choose the word carefully - on Great Cheetham Street East which had to be seen to be believed! A rather heavy slam of a door could cause pieces of plaster to fall off the walls, whilst there was a room at the back of the house that could have been used as an additional bedroom but we left it vacant because it was home to a rather large colony of slugs. And I swear you could lie in the bath - yes at least we had a bath and there was usually hot water - and look up at the ceiling and through a hole you could see a hole in the roof through which you could see the stars. Very pretty, but fortunately the holes weren't completely aligned so you wouldn't get rained on, but there was always a fear that one day a storm would finally tip the ceiling over the edge and it would cave in....

Needless to say, we didn't tend to stay in very often and whilst we did our fair share of crossing the city to pubs in the student belt, we did venture quite regularly to the pubs of Salford. This was Boddington's heartland with the brewery only a mile or two away at the bottom of Bury New Road close to Victoria Station in the shadow of Strangeways Prison. For those who only know Boddingtons from being a keg beer or from those Taste of Manchester adverts from years back, it was a completely different proposition in those days. It was straw-pale in colour and very well-hopped and at that time having been brought up on the more gentle bitters of the West Riding, I had never tasted anything as bitter. That was until I tasted Holts. In those days it was ultra-bitter and today's version is much softer in comparison. Both would be readily available within Salford's then-vast number of pubs, as would the likes of Marstons and Wilsons, with the latter normally given a wide berth. We would venture out into the real world to huge Victorian drinking palaces and back-street locals, which more often than not were busy, and with our long hair, jeans, and different accents we were not the typical customer. And whilst there was a pretty edgy feel to many of the pubs I can't recall us having any problems anywhere. Mind you there were some places where we didn't hang round long enough to find out and supped our pints at speed....

One brewery that didn't crop up often in Salford like it did in other parts of Greater Manchester was Robinsons, but that said, the best local pub to us was a Robinsons pub. This was The Star, on Back Hope Street in an area of Higher Broughton called The Cliff on the opposite side of Bury New Road. This was a tiny pub with a few small rooms which often got busy, particularly when the folk club was in session. The beer was good and the atmosphere was great, with none of the gritty edge you would find elsewhere in Salford. It carried on in the years after we left the area and university but in subsequent years Robinsons neglected it and the pub went into a gradual decline. In 2009, 80 years after they'd bought the Star from Kays Atlas Brewery, Robinsons sold the pub at auction, and with a mix of locals, regulars, and far-flung lovers of the pub pooling resources and meeting the asking price, The Star became the country's first urban cooperative pub. This led to a restoration in its fortunes. It became a free house, and for a few years it even hosted a brewery, the former Bazens Brewery who brewed a fantastic 4.5% Pale Ale called Blue Bullet, which featured Green Bullet hops and had a light, somewhat spicy flavour. Bazens changed their name to the Star Brewery but it closed down in 2015. I have only been to the Star once in recent years, so I will have to check it out again sometime. I was reminded of these days when recently I read John Cooper Clarke's highly readable biography I Want To Be Yours in which he describes growing up in the area.

Back to the present day, we managed to have a chance to catch up for a chat, and we reckoned it was 40 years since we had last seen each other at their wedding in South Shields. Where has the time gone? How many kids? Are you still working? Do you remember so-and-so? And I was interested to find out that Paul was still keen on trying new pubs and breweries and showed me a spreadsheet listing breweries tried and when. Shades of the pub ticker! It was great to have a catch-up and one of the great things about working behind a bar is you never know who is going to walk through that door. In fact I have an as yet unproven theory that if you chose the right pub carefully, you would be more likely to see more people you know from staying there than if you kept moving from place to place. Anyway, after my long-lost university friends had had another round of drinks they had to move on, and as we bid our farewells we said we wouldn't have to leave it another 40 years....

I had another catch up on the Thursday bank holiday of the Platinum Jubilee weekend, this time with some of my former work colleagues in Manchester. We normally get together about once a year and there tends to be a maximum of 5 of us, more often 4, but one of the stalwarts was full of cold and so sent his apologies. We were though joined by one of the guys who we hadn't seen since before the pandemic. We met as usual at the Lower Turks Head, recently restored by Holts, where I can confirm the bitter has not been restored to the no-holds barred version I mentioned earlier! We did the usual resume of what we'd been up to and families since we'd last caught up before going on a pleasant amble taking in some of the city's finest pubs. 

We didn't bother this time with the Angel or the Marble Arch, but one of the pubs we called in was Bar Fringe on Swan Street, opposite the Band on the Wall, which none of us had visited for a year or two. This Belgian-style bar was apparently under threat of closure a few years ago, to be another victim of  Manchester's relentless building spree, but thankfully it keeps going, and with its quirky character and customers, long may it do so. The decor is quite individual, and includes an old motorbike on a platform above the door. The quirkiness extends to the beer range too, often featuring beers you wouldn't normally see in Manchester. We ordered our drinks and retreated to the beer garden out back, where all the tables in the sun were taken, but even in the shade it was a pleasant place to be.

Bar Fringe

We moved on to the Crown and Kettle, which has been on great form recently, and managed to get some seats in the sun outside to enjoy our pints. One of the lads was getting hungry so I suggested he tried Rudy's in Ancoats for a pizza and with Seven Brothers having a bar across the way we could have a beer while we waited for him. We got there and I found that in the year or two since I had last been in the area, it had changed a lot with several eating places having sprung up. Moreover, a formerly closed pub, the Edinburgh Castle, has been brought back to life. We had to call in for a pint, it has been attractively restored, although it was quiet. We were though able to take our beers outside into Cutting Room Square, where there are now plenty of outdoor tables and seating allowing for alfresco eating and drinking.

Edinburgh Castle, Ancoats

We had a beer at the Seven Brothers bar and then moved on to Port Street Beer House, where once again the beer and atmosphere was as good as I have found on my last couple of visits. The afternoon had just rushed by and the time for me to head off to catch my train back home soon arrived. I left the lads at Port Street Beer House as we were already talking about our next meeting, and walked through the streets of the Northern Quarter back to Victoria.

It's good to catch up!

Follow me on twitter: @realalemusic


  1. Great read, and always good to get some intelligent feedback on Manchester pubs I don't visit enough.

    The Star was in the GBG a decade ago but with its departure there's little "real" Salford representation in the Guide once you get past the New Oxford, which is a shame.

    1. Thanks, Martin. I am sure you are right about real Salford, the Star was a gem when I used to go!


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