A visit to a brand new bar in Manchester, which has just been opened in the city centre by Pomona Island, and the fascinating story behind its unusual name, plus a visit to the brewery's original city centre bar....
Pomona Island started brewing in Salford, close to Media City, in 2017. I remember there was quite a buzz about them when they made their debut at the 2018 Manchester Beer and Cider Festival (nudge to the relevant people - could really do with another one of those!), and I remember enthusing about the two beers I tried from them that day, both on cask, a porter and a 5.3% NZ Pale. Over the years they have continued to grow and develop and produced a wide range of modern-style beers and whilst they have tended to major on craft beers, they have always produced cask ale. They got into canning their beers, and during lockdown they were regular visitors to my fridge. Today their web shop is stocked with some delightfully-named beers, all canned in a distinctive house-style with a regular font and a simple line-drawing to support an often witty and or/intriguing name, often drawing from the world of music. On sale at the moment are beers such as Rip It Up, which nor surprisingly is an Orange Sour (referencing the song by Orange Juice), Bushy Bushy Blonde Hairdo, which with its nod to the Beach Boys which just has to be a West Coast Pale, and 1952 Vincent Black Lightning, which references the song by Richard Thompson on his album Rumor and Sigh about the motorcycle of the same name.
Pomona Island is part-owned by the people behind the Gas Lamp on Bridge Street off Deansgate, and whilst it has always featured the brewery's beers, the company has been slow to add any more bars. There was a small tap for a while within Escape To Freight Island in the old Mayfield Depot near Piccadilly Station, but that closed some months ago. And that was it, until now. Well, last Thursday to be precise, when, after much anticipation, a brand new bar right in the heart of Manchester was opened, creating quite a buzz amongst the media and city's beer-lovers. North Westward Ho! is situated on Chapel Walks, off Cross Street, next door to the famous Sam's Chop House, although the entrance is round the corner on Pall Mall.
The name of the bar is taken from an old sailing ship that was moored at the former Pomona dock in Salford, in the area from which the brewery takes its name. The ship was originally based in Cornwall, but was brought north and ended up here in the 1970's, with its name adapted from the West Country Victorian holiday resort of Westward Ho! During that time, there was something of a trend to create bars and clubs in unusual locations, and eventually a massive makeover of the ship was undertaken which planned to create, according to sources from the time, "a plush bar and restaurant, offering six bars, Bass ale, a late licence and disco". An alcohol licence was subsequently granted and once opened, the ship captured the imagination of late night revellers and became a popular if somewhat unsteady location for a night out for a number of years, particularly for those in high heels traversing the notoriously steep stairs within the venue. It did though acquire the sobriquet The Love Boat, before finally, metaphorically speaking, running aground and hitting the rocks in the 1980's.
|The original North Westward Ho!|
And so, back to the current day. After walking down from Victoria and eventually tracking it down (despite the best efforts of Google Maps to confuse me!), I got there. It is an elegant looking building (opening image), with pale-grey painted woodwork standing out against the red brick, arched windows with black railings beneath, and a dark-wooden outer doors opened and fixed back at the top of a small flight of stairs where at the back of a small bank-like entrance lobby are two heavy wooden doors with gleaming brass handles and etched windows.
I walked inside, and was immediately struck by the smell of newness. Facing me was a long dark wooden bar with a brass foot rail directly opposite the entrance, with a line of craft taps to the left, a row of five hand pumps in the centre, and another batch of taps on the right to bring the number to 18. There were two girls serving on the bar, and when I spotted Scorchio, a 3.8% pale on cask, I ordered a pint, having previously encountered it a couple of years ago in Just Beer in Newark a on a hot afternoon when it was magnifico. I went to sit at a table by a window to the left of the bar, and took my surroundings in. It was quiet, with just a handful of people in, but it wasn't yet 12.30. On the wall opposite, smart green tiling rose from the floor to the height of the bar, whilst above a huge mirror reflected the arched windows. There is wooden flooring throughout apart from a tiled area to the front of the bar, whilst the ceiling and walls are painted in a pristine white. Lighting is cleverly and sympathetically positioned. The entrance lobby effectively creates two sections to the large main room, whilst there is smaller, more intimate wood-panelled section beyond.
And so back to the beer. To be honest, my Scorchio was slightly disappointing, a little thin and short on flavour, and failed to live up to our first encounter in Newark (NBSS 3). Much better was my next pint, Olinga, a hazy 4.3% New England IPA which had bags more flavour (NBSS 3.5). And for my final pint here, I opted for a pint an old favourite from the keg lines, Factotum, which is a great 4% unfined session pale which never fails to hit the spot. I left around 2pm, there had been a steady churn of visitors whilst I'd been here, and as I made my way down the steps to the street the place was starting to fill up nicely, with a mix of beer lovers, exhausted shoppers, and the downright curious. Having enjoyed my first visit there I have to say that this new terra firma incarnation of North Westward Ho! is certainly one classy-looking place, and it will no doubt become an important addition to the Manchester social scene over the coming months.
I had decided that rather than visiting one or two of my regular haunts like Beermoth, the Marble, Smithfield, or the Crown and Kettle, I would instead pay a return visit to the afore-mentioned Gas Lamp, which I had not been to since well before lockdown. In fact, last time I'd been, the excellent Brink, now sadly closed, was operating out of a basement directly opposite on the other side of the street. It took me about ten minutes to walk there from NWH! through the busy Saturday afternoon streets, in unseasonably warm sunshine, via John Dalton Street, crossing Deansgate, from where it becomes Bridge Street.
The Gas Lamp is situated just before the bridge over the Irwell, across which lies the tantalising prospect of Salford. The entrance is next door to a acupuncture clinic, with the bar, which the sign above the stairs describes as a Subterranean Drinking Den, situated beneath. White tiles line the walls as you walk down a relatively steep well-worn flight of stone steps. The entrance to the bar is situated on the right as you hop off the last step. I walked in, a wooden bar at the end of the room with tightly-packed shelves of spirits on the bar back. The white tiled theme is maintained on the walls in here, which always makes me think of a butcher's shop, but whilst this suggests it might be a bit clinical and lack any warmth or atmosphere, it is definitely not the case. The calm intimacy was more relaxed and less formal than its new larger cousin across town, the vibe suggesting a continental speakeasy.
There were a few people dotted about around the room; a couple chatting, a guy busily tapping on his laptop, a guy staring into space, magazine left open on the table beside his drink. I walked up to check out the beers on hand pump, and having enjoyed it up the road, I went for a half of the Olinga, which was on equally good form as before (NBSS 3.5). I had spotted a beer from the multi-award winning Cheshire brewery, Chapter, on the bar, so when I went back for another half I broke ranks with Pomona Island for the first time on the day and ordered a half of the 4.7% Kandata, a hazy well-balanced pale ale featuring the Columbus hop. Refreshing and with delicate fruit on the palate, it was another excellent beer (NBSS 3.5).
I finished my drink and headed back up the stairs from the calm subterranean oasis and back into the busy streets of the city. I'd enjoyed visiting both bars, which had offered completely different experiences, and I look forward to visiting both again soon....
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