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Checking Out Chorlton....

After my original plans were scuppered, I took a trip to a vibrant and bustling suburb a few miles to the west of Manchester city centre and found a group of bars, including some crackers which are well worth checking out. Here's what I discovered....

If my original plan had come off, I would have been telling you a completely different story about last week's wander. I had found out the previous night that Transpennine were running one cross-country train an hour in each direction through Brighouse, thus opening up the travel opportunities to far-flung places like Newcastle, Liverpool, and Scarborough for us locals. I had booked a trip the night before, but I had hardly taken a bite out of my sausage butty at the Station Cafe next door to Brighouse station when Trainline sent me a message saying that my train had been cancelled with barely 15 minutes to go before it was due. Surely they must have known when the train didn't set off from Manchester? So I had to replan. Where to go? Options to go east didn't seem to work out with the trains that were due, whilst I wasn't too fussed about going west as I already had a trip planned to visit Manchester in a couple of days time. In the end, I did get the train to Manchester - ironically, a Transpennine one - with a vague idea to go on somewhere once I landed. The whole situation wasn't ideal, but hey, there wasn't much I could do about it.

As the train rumbled towards Manchester, its final destination and only stop, I was going through the Good Beer Guide app to find somewhere to go. In the end I settled on Chorlton-cum-Hardy, where there was a decent number of bars I hadn't visited. It was case of getting off the train at Victoria, a short stroll to the tram stop, and with a day ticket bought, I joined the throng waiting for the East Didsbury-bound tram. Once on board, our route took us past the hulking shape of the town hall which is currently undergoing renovation, then high above the canal basins and converted warehouses around Castlefield, the ginormous modern apartment blocks as we crossed into Salford, then out past the shape of Old Trafford, and on to Chorlton (which seems to have largely dropped the 'Hardy' bit now which had been adopted by Victorian property developers to avoid confusion with the less salubrious inner city suburb of Chorlton-on-Medlock!). I alighted from the tram, and my first place of interest was there as I emerged from the station. 

The place in question was The Chorlton Tap which was across on the other side of the busy Wilbraham Road. Once I made it over the road, I walked into a modern bar with pale blue-painted walls where the two people behind the bar, a guy in a pink t-shirt and a lass in a red blouse. were discussing a bad gig the guy had been to the night before in some detail. I did manage to order some beer during a gap in the story, a pint of Lush, a 4.4% hazy pale hopped with Azacca and Mosaic from Wander Beyond. I took my pint and at that point having the pick of the seating, I decided to sit at a long table by the window, overlooking some outdoor tables and the passing traffic. There was a decent soundtrack playing, people kept popping in, ordering from the brunch menu, or simply coming in for a lunchtime drink, as it gradually got busier. This is the tap for the Wander Beyond brewery, but in a previous life it was part of a small number of pubs and bars run by Marble. I rated the beer as a 3 on the National Beer Scoring System scale, and like the bar itself, made for a solid enough start to the day.

The bars all seemed to be on the same one or two roads, although some walking was involved. I headed down Wilbraham Road, and then turned right on to Barlow Moor Road. The streets were lined with a traditional mix of local shops and eateries with the odd interjection from a Greggs or Morrisons. I passed local supermarkets with tables outside groaning with their colourful bounties of fruit and veg, the pavements occupied by a cosmopolitan crowd of every age. 

I came across a Wetherspoons, all art deco with a striking barrelled roof. Now I don't normally frequent Wetherspoons as I am not a fan of Tim Martin, as I have said many times in the past, but this looked interesting enough to make me want to explore inside. Now the striking exterior of The Sedge Lynn gave way to a more mundane single room affair with the bar at the far end. I couldn't just go in, so I ordered a half of Moorhouses' Blond Witch, and took it to one of the tables outside. To be fair the beer was pretty good (NBSS 3.5), and I enjoyed overhearing the banter, football talk, and putting the world to rights courtesy of a group of old guys sprawling over a few of the neighbouring tables with the odd Racing Post and cigarette for company. It turns out the pub was originally a billiard hall built for the temperance movement, designed by Norman Evans, and not surprisingly it is Grade ll-listed.

Striking design: The Sedge Lynn, Chorlton

Moving on, it was only a few minutes' walk to the next bar, another one formerly run by Marble. The signs are still there, in the grey external colour scheme and font that marks the exterior of The Beer House (opening image) and with Pint and Manchester Bitter taking up two of the six hand pumps occupying the bar. I walked in to a pleasant, tastefully decorated one room bar with an area with tables as you go in, a middle section with the bar, with a further space with seating beyond. I ducked out on the Marble beers instead favouring a 4.1% Gruffatin Best Bitter from Pomona Island, which was full of flavour and richly deserving a NBSS 3.5. I got chatting about beer and the local bar scene with the friendly guy behind the bar. He was called Richard, and he is a drummer from Congleton. A mix of people were in the bar, and it seemed very much a place where people were made to feel welcome and who repaid that with regular return visits. I ordered another half, this time of Cosmati, a 4.2% American Pale from Hophurst Brewery packed fill of delicious tropical and stone fruit flavours, which was excellent and easily a NBBS 4. Following our conversation, Richard insisted on knocking off both the 10% CAMRA discount and 10% industry discount that they offer, which was much appreciated. A top place, and a must-visit if you are in Chorlton.

From there it was a few more minutes' walk away from the centre of Chorlton to the next place, which was set on a tree-lined section of Manchester Road. Outdoor tables and seating out at the front, many occupied by families, whilst inside The Font it went back a little way with the main room falling into various corners and sections. This is the sister bar to the Font next to Oxford Road station in Manchester city centre. Here, the bar featuring 6 hand pumps and 16 keg lines, was to the left as you go in, with a seemingly busy kitchen adjacent to it. I ordered a half of the 4.2% pale, North/South, from Marble, and was immediately offered CAMRA discount. I took my half and sat at a high table facing the kitchen to enjoy it (another good beer, NBSS 3.5) with some good tunes coming out of the sound system providing the soundtrack. A number of excited kids and harassed parents passed by, heading to an area at the back of the building seemingly for a birthday party. No sooner had that burst of noise gone past me when the grating sound of a smoke alarm emanated from the kitchen, but maybe this is a regular thing, as there was zero reaction from anyone, and both the bar and kitchen continued as if nothing was happening amidst the racket. I finished my beer and headed out as a couple of parents grappled with a wriggling toddler who seemed intent on running out into the road.

Behind that tree is The Font

The next place I had earmarked was about another half a mile out from Chorlton, in and amongst the mixed housing that was beginning to prevail as the main shops petered out. Just over the border in the suburb of Whalley Range I came across The Hillary Step, a modern bar set in a parade of shops and other outlets. There was a somewhat scruffy outdoor shelter at the front, with the bar going back a long way. The bar itself was on the right beyond some seating, with a raised area beyond. There were 5 hand pumps and a further 8 keg lines. I ordered a pint of Green Bullet, featuring the hop of the same name, from the Stockport-based brewery Thirst Class, and took it to a table overlooking the afore-mentioned outdoor shelter. Sadly I have to report that the beer did not pass muster (NBSS 2), it just tasted tired and lacking in any discernible features which for a 4.8% beer is not what you expect. People kept calling in for a drink, but overall the place was quiet, and I felt lacking in atmosphere with the guy behind the bar having one of those accents which comes over as faux-friendly with a dash of sarcasm ready to call on at a moment's notice. It was a shame but at least it was a new venue for me.

Mind the Step....

It was back then through the suburbs to the centre of Chorlton, with an assorted group of people coming the other way, returning home with the spoils of their shopping. The alarm was silent as I walked past The Font, whilst some of the old guys whom I'd seen when I called in the Sedge Lynn were still occupying their tables outside. I got back to the junction with Wilbraham Road, and this time turned right. When I had been talking to Richard in The Beer House he had recommended I call in the Fell bar, which I had known about but then completely forgot, and hadn't managed to remember when I'd decided to visit Chorlton!

Fell Chorlton was fairly understated from the outside, with just a small sign whispering its presence along with several outdoor tables enjoying a fairly high level of occupancy. Inside was a bright modern bar with a green tiled bar front and painted walls. 4 hand pumps featured 3 beers from Fell, Flookburgh's finest brewery, plus a guest from Neptune, whilst over 10 lines in and amongst the home-produced beers were guests from Salt, Roosters, Left Handed Giant, and Newbarns. I ordered a half of Late Sun, a 4.2% summer wheat ale from Fell which was excellent (NBSS 3.5), and grabbed a seat opposite the bar. The friendly lad behind the bar had only worked there about a month so he was not able to answer some of the questions I asked him as we were chatting, but no worries. The bar had a great atmosphere with a wide cross-section of customers of all ages, with the odd four-legged one too. I next ordered a half of the Session IPA on keg, which was very enjoyable too. A great bar.

Man Fell into a bar....

It wasn't my original planned destination, but I enjoyed my impromptu visit to Chorlton. I'd found two excellent bars (Beer House, Fell), two bars worth calling in if you are in the area (Chorlton Tap, The Font), plus a Wetherspoons which is worth calling in if you feel like it, and one which didn't impress me much, but then again, it isn't actually in Chorlton. And with other potential places to call in, if you are looking for somewhere to go there are far worse places to pass the time. With or without the Hardy....

And with that, I headed back on the tram to Victoria....

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