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The NQ Review

77 NQ bars. 5 friends. 1 mission.

The Crafty Pig – An NQ Review

On the cusp of our self-enforced NQ boundaries, The Crafty Pig is a relative newcomer placed precariously on the edge of Piccadilly Gardens. Pitching itself as a place that caters for all of your craft beer needs, it’s no surprise to see a blackboard with the latest offerings behind the bar and a variety of young and old patrons in attendance.

The problem is, the place looks a bit tatty now. We don’t mind a bit of rough around the edges here at TNQR but we do mind a place where collecting glasses and wiping down tables seems a bit of an afterthought as it was on our visit. This may have been down to the lack of bar staff (a single girl on this particular day was trying to serve pints, spirits and cocktails to about eight people at one time) but for any city centre boozer especially at this time of year to be so horrendously understaffed is particularly poor.

When we arrived it was also full of ‘locals’ who had already imbibed way too much, shouting and swearing as they swayed, all at 5.30 in the afternoon. Yes, we know this happens everywhere around the NQ on occasion but it really didn’t help to make a pint in The Crafty Pig desirable. We persevered and took a couple of sofas at the front of the bar, and the place suddenly transformed – the lighting was dimmed, the tipsy crowd fell out of the door and a slightly different clientele gave the place a better aura. Yes, it was still slow to get a pint but things definitely improved.

The other disappointment about The Crafty Pig though is the beer choice. For somewhere that boasts about stocking unique and local brews, the taps contained a load of generic lagers as seen pretty much everywhere else (Heineken, Amstel, Moretti). There were only two casks on too, one of which was the omnipresent Hobgoblin, although it was good to see another boozer stocking Lagunitas IPA. Looking at the aforementioned “Craft Beer” chalkboard it was obvious the place was struggling; where similar places would have eight or so interesting brews on tap, The Crafty Pig included Guinness’ own Hop House lager on their list alongside standard bottled fare like Vedett. Decent enough beer but by no means “craft”.

We didn’t partake in the food offering but the menu at The Crafty Pig looks dangerously extensive. So often pubs take on too much rather than specialising and you wonder how good the food can be when there is such an array of burgers, platters, pies and assorted pub classics like sausage & mash and fish & chips. Even so, we didn’t eat a thing or see any food brought out so it would be unfair to pass judgement on quality.

There are some nice things about The Crafty Pig, but we can’t help feel its location will drag the wrong kind of punters in. It’s next to one of the busiest bus stops known to man and opposite Sachas so it’s always likely to get an anti-NQ crowd in, despite the decor and theme aiming for just that. Hopefully the bar can sharpen up its image and get back to its original ideals in the not too distant future.

The Crafty Pig

Classification: Bar

Food: Sharing platters, pub classics, burgers, sandwiches and pies

Drinks: Cocktails, craft beers, spirits

Price: ££

Related City Centre establishments: None

Bongo rating: 4/10

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Koffee Pot – An NQ Review

Since its early days on Stevenson Square, Koffee Pot has long been an NQ Review hangover buster of choice through its extensive breakfast menu and independent attitude.

Now relocated to the far end of Oldham Street, KP is bigger and more ambitious, opening for longer each day to provide late night boozy fun for the Northern Quarter faithful.

The larger premises definitely lend themselves to big groups and we took a long bench in the middle of the candle-lit bar. It might just be a pre-Christmas lull but having closed the kitchen, the place was extremely quiet on our trip; a real shame as the evening food menu looks tasty, offering burgers, melts or boozy snacks like nachos, chilli and wings.

Settling down with pints of Shindigger and East India Pale (which at £3.80 each are pretty good value these days) and a beer stick (salami at £1.50 a pop) we ended up being the only people in there, but not ones to be deterred we enjoyed our tipple and snacky pit stop nonetheless.

Numerous offers and events are scrawled on the giant blackboard, from 2 for 1 cocktails, Open Deck nights for aspiring DJs and gigs from various artists as well as elongated happy hours, so it appears you’re likely to get something that suits everyone here, and we’ll definitely be back in 2017 to check the place out at night again.

It may be unfair of us to review KP as a bar, and we did um and ah over whether to include it in our list. It would definitely get a higher score if rated solely on its daytime food offering, but as a bar it remains to be seen whether Koffee Pot can match its meritable ambition.

Koffee Pot

Classification: Cafe/Bar

Food: Fry ups or burgers, sandwiches and snacks

Drinks: Cocktails, craft beer, wine and spirits

Price: ££

Related City Centre establishments: None

Bongo rating: 6/10

Bluu – An NQ Review

A Co-op Bank leaving do location back in the day, unfortunately Bluu has been stuck in an early 2000s rut since.

Despite being an early NQ forefather, Bluu has long been the gatekeeper and stalwart of the Shudehill NQ entrance and not always in a good way. Wideboys and coke sniffers spill out ahead of us on our visit and the beer choice is horrifically steadfast and true to how it was over a decade ago.

Generic beats spill out over the PA and shirted townies thinking they’ve discovered the NQ spirit frequent the front bar (don’t go round the side, you won’t get served) and the place feels hollow and non-descript.

As a place that keeps the Printworks and pre-black cab crowd away from the rest of the NQ, Bluu works but for all other purposes it’s worth avoiding for lack of character alone.

Bluu

Classification: Bar

Food: Ribs, burgers, salads

Drinks: Cocktails, lager, wine and spirits

Price: ££

Related City Centre establishments: None

Bongo rating: 3/10

Matt & Phreds – An NQ Review

Okay I admit I’ve lived in Manchester 15 years yet I’ve somehow missed out on this iconic venue for that entire time. Must be time to rectify matters.

The first thing that hits you on a Tuesday night in this place is a) it’s rammed for an early midweek night and b) they’re offering free pizza with every two boozes purchased. As offers go this is pretty impressive, and despite the taps being full of generico-lager, the band still get attention to the stage without preventing back-of-the-bar conversation.

A brilliantly acoustic’d venue at the best of times, everything feels right in Matt & Phreds despite the narrow and squashed conditions. Beer flows and quick pizza delivery ensures moods are kept high and although it’s a bit cramped and cosy, it still feels like a well-run and unique venture for the NQ.

Matt & Phreds

Classification: Jazz bar

Food: Pizza

Drinks: Cocktails, lager, wine and spirits

Price: ££

Related City Centre establishments: None

Bongo rating: 6/10

El Capo – An NQ Review

El CapoYou can’t beat a bit of Mexicana. Think of all that tequila. That sun. That suspicious meat inside a burrito the size of a small child. Those big wobbly hats. Everything about the place is fun, so it’s no surprise that Manchester’s been dabbling in bringing a little slice to town, most recently with bar and cantina El Capo.

Perched on Tariff Street between Whiskey Jar and Kosmonaut, El Capo has already been through a few tweaks since it first opened a couple of years ago. Gone is the fussball table (which admittedly got turfed out into the cold at weekends anyway) to make room for long wooden benches, and the place has been gradually spruced to feature more skulls, more neon and more floral décor, aiding the authenticity and making it a cosy little spot.

The bar area isn’t gigantic but still has seating for a good 50 or so, and the drinks offerings are decent. The star of the show is the tequila menu featuring over 100 different varieties and it’s complimented by South American bottled beers, cocktails and a few usual suspects such as San Miguel, Mahou and our old friend “Generic NQ Lager” on the taps. You can also take advantage of the daily 4pm-7pm happy hour too and nab a couple of wines, tequilas or bottles of Sol for a fiver, or cocktails at two for £10.

Controversy arrives in the form of the food. Some of us love it in El Capo; you can order cheaply (especially on Taco Tuesdays where it’s unsurprisingly £1 per taco) and it’s a fun, casual dining experience. Some of us have had slightly ropey experiences though; when it first opened, the cantina downstairs was so full and the tables so poorly laid out you couldn’t get an enchilada in your mouth without elbowing a fellow diner, and the service left a lot to be desired, waiting ages for each course as well as the bill. The food itself though is good. Maybe not as gluttonous as the portions seen in Liquor & Burn or some of Manchester’s other burrito establishments, but there’s still plenty on the menu to give a more wide-ranging choice than the others. From chilli to nachos, wings to tortas, there’s a lot to pick out. Only a little peckish? Get a few small plates, Mexi-tapas style. Looking for a good stuffing? try the £30 giant burrito, featuring 24 inches of your own choice of fillings.

The variety encourages a mix of clientèle and on our recent visit, a middle aged couple enjoyed a couple of drinks in a booth whilst a post work crew stretched across two tables and a small family with two young kids still in school uniforms sat next to us in the upstairs bar. As you can probably tell, all these signs point towards El Capo being a good casual spot suitable for all shapes and sizes, but at weekends the bar does get busy with the usual party crowd and the restaurant gets busy; this is where online booking, a great and rarely-seen-in-the-NQ plus point, comes into its own. We’d still recommend El Capo though for one of the more unique and laid back spots in the NQ to enjoy a drink on any day of the week.

El Capo

Classification: Mexican bar and cantina

Food: Mexican

Drinks: Cocktails, lager, wine and tequila

Price: ££

Related City Centre establishments: None

Bongo rating: 7/10

The Green – An NQ Review

We used to have a soft spot for The Green. Back in its Golftorium days it was the only modern boozer in the NQ that tickled our fancy, refusing to go down the usual hipster vibe. It was always relatively simple fare, with lagers, ciders, wines and spirits, but they showed all of the sport on giganto-screens and even let you order Domino’s in.

This was about six or seven years ago and since then, The Green‘s gone through a few changes. For one, it’s obviously renounced its Golftorium moniker and although the virtual golf is still a big sell, this is a sports watching bar first and foremost. Everything is wipe clean with a mixture of sofas and high tables positioned around a command centre of tellies and the place is one of the lighter and more spacious bars you’ll find in Manchester.

There are also now three pool tables upstairs alongside the bandits and quizzers whilst the downstairs bar remains for stags, weekends and big, late night boxing events. This place is big, and the testosterone hits you smack in the face upon entry.

Sadly the clientele is a little rough around the edges. Belching ‘lads’ (and by this we mean guys old enough to know better in too-small polo shirts who have got a rare pass out from the wife) sink pint after pint of fizzy lager whilst lower league football plays in the background. They’re joined by wannabe footballers, footy mates and a few more hipster-y sports fans but one thing’s for sure, women are conspicuous by their absence for the most part. Later on during our visit, a few ladies do trot up all dolled up to the nines and it seems odd to see them in such a male-orientated environment.

Booze wise, things are decent if not spectacular. Guinness’ delve into the lager market, Hop House retails at around the £4.30 mark, and it’s joined on the taps by more lager than you’re ever likely to see. Mahou, San Miguel, Tuborg, Brooklyn, Carlsberg and Tetley’s adorn the pumps along with Guinness and Somersby cider, whilst the fridges are stocked with bottles and shots ready for the Saturday night party crowd to hit. A food menu is brought round mid-afternoon and it’s a crowd-pleasing mix of pizza, burgers and hotdogs that’s not going to win any Michelin stars but will keep hungry sports fans from getting ruined too quickly.

The Green has a place in Manchester, and indeed in the Northern Quarter. It’s handy to have a place you can swing by and catch any sporting event you feel like, and it’s not the most expensive place out there. Unfortunately it’s not that original, and the atmosphere is annoying rather than buzzing as all manner of idiots barge their way around, ruining a decent sport-viewing experience.

 

The Green

Classification: Sports Bar

Drinks: Beers, Wines, Spirits, Shots

Food: Pizzas, burgers, hotdogs

Price: ££

Related City Centre Establishments: None

Bongo Rating: 5/10

Crazy Pedro’s Part-time Pizza Parlour – An NQ Review

It’s been a long old struggle keeping up with the NQ’s changing shape in the few months we’ve been compiling this little blog. We’ve already seen some of our reviewed boozers change hands or names and some have even closed down completely. On the other side of this we’ve had to keep up with new openings, the most recent of which, Crazy Pedro’s, we swung by on a recent Saturday evening.

The original Crazy Pedro’s Part-time Pizza Parlour was launched tentatively during the Manchester Burger Boom in an old Starbucks off Bridge Street. Needless to say it took off in a big way with its bonkers selection of frozen cocktails and pizza by the whole or by the slice, and now finds itself packed to the gills with thirsty post-work crews and late night chompers.The whole attitude, look and feel of Crazy P’s was so Northern Quarter it always felt like only a matter of time before they found a space in the area so it’s no surprise we’re here underneath Affleck’s Palace in the Black Dog boys’ latest venue.

Pedro himself will guide you to this den with his neon face gurning away down Small Street, which is fortunate when so many NQ backstreets look the same. Despite it being a Saturday and very recently opened, we found a large table near the front easily and settled down for a post-rugby feed.

Some of our group settled for a couple of choice slices whilst others indulged in giant doughy fun like The Cuban (ham, pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard) which is one of the more sensible items on the menu. We’ve indulged in the Chicken & Waffle and Hotdog pizzas before as well as the specials featuring turkey dinosaurs and potato smilies or chips and gravy among other things and they’ve always been tasty and quickly served. At 16″ and £15 (£3 for a slice) we’d say the food is decent value, even more so if you land during the extended happy hours (5pm to 9pm Sunday to Friday) where pizza comes down to £10 a pop.

Similarly, drinks are reduced with cocktails 2-4-1 during happy hour (try the frozen raspberry margarita for all manner of brain-freezing fun). The offers help Crazy Pedro’s come across as somewhere you could go just for a few scoops of your favourite tipple with its vibe very much pitched towards underground drinking den that happens to serve pizza rather than restaurant proper, although there are a couple of minuses we should mention.

The pizzas we had were great but the nachos (£6) seemed a little lazy and were burnt on top. Also, our old friend the schooner makes an appearance in Crazy Pedro’s, and it’s always pretty galling paying £3.50 for two thirds of identikit NQ lager (see also Kosmonaut’s Special K, GBA’s Guilty Lager etc). Other beers are available in cans but are the usual steep prices, with Kona Big Wave and Red Stripe retailing at £4.50 each.

Overall, you’re going to have a good time at Crazy Pedro’s. The atmosphere’s fun, the drinks flow freely and the food might save your life on a big sauce session. Our advice is to hit during Happy Hour for optimum crazy times.

Crazy Pedro’s Part-time Pizza Parlour

Classification: Pizza Parlour/subterranean drinking den

Food: Pizza and nachos

Drinks: Cocktails/lager & spirits

Price: ££

Related City Centre establishments: Black Dog Ballroom, Black Dog NWS, Dog Bowl, Xolo, The Liar’s Club, Cane & Grain, Crazy Pedro’s Part-time Pizza Parlour

Bongo rating: 7/10

Hold Fast – An NQ Review

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Oh, Hold Fast! I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve sat down to write this review, I really can’t work you out. Where to begin?

Lets start with the interior and theme – a Northern Quarter bar “inspired by the deep and the tales of Jules Verne”. As you descend down from the Hilton Street entrance and emerge into the basement bar beneath Hatters Hostel, I can’t say that this theme is immediately obvious. You’re greeted with a dimly lit room full of NQ-issue high tables, chairs and booths. Along the right hand side of the room is a nice long bar to get served at – a definite bonus, as there’s nothing worse than having to manoeuvre your way through stacks of people to get up to and away from a tiny bar – Allotment, we’re looking at you here.

Once you look closer there are some nautical references around noting the theme of the bar and keeping it the right side of tacky; interesting naval equipment, an octopus mural across the back of the bar, appropriate lighting, and touches like a porthole looking through to the kitchen all keep this place on track.

One place the nautical theme is very apparent is in the cocktail menu. ‘Mermaids Kiss’, ‘Knots and Sails’, ‘Siren’s Song’ and a personal favourite ‘Nautilus’ are just a few of the tasty concoctions on offer. The show stoppers are the big sharing cocktails with ‘The Kitchen Sink’ providing thirst quenching booziness for 6-8 thirsty sailors. No cask ales spotted on our visit, but draught-wise there’s Hold Fast home brew, Goose Island IPA, Beaverton Gamma Ray and Kona Big Wave among many others to keep everyone happy.

Onto the food. The menu is home to a short list of sandwiches available with a choice of side salads. Most importantly, in my opinion anyway, they have Space Raiders behind the bar – quite possibly the greatest snack of all time. A popcorn machine adds a different snack option and free popcorn is available during Happy Hour (16:00-19:00 Mon-Sat and all day Sunday).

It’s no secret that we like a quiz at TNQR, and so it was awesome to get a little trivia fix in the form of Trivial Pursuit cards dotted about the place on our visit, and that’s not where the Hold Fast entertainment ends. There’s a stack of board games behind the bar, a fine selection of retro video game consoles towards the back of the bar for all patrons, and regular film showings in the cinema room. Unlike other bars, these games and consoles don’t sit about gathering dust either, as Hold Fast hosts a popular Cards Against Humanity competition every Wednesday, and regular console competitions including a recent Mario Kart championship.

Going through the various features and criteria, you have everything I could ever want in a bar Hold Fast, but for some reason I just didn’t enjoy my visit. It feels a little grubby for my liking, maybe that’s the strong student-y feel about the place, or the dim lighting in an underground space?  Either way, I guess you’ll just have to be my weird marmite bar, and I’ll leave everyone else to enjoy your entertaining underground shenanigans.

 

Hold Fast

Classification: Bar

Drinks: Beers, Wines, Spirits, Cocktails

Food: Sandwiches, Crisps, Nuts, Popcorn

Price: ££

Related City Centre Establishments: None

Bongo Rating: 6/10

Bar Wave @ Sacha’s – An NQ Review

bar-wave

So it’s always been on our agenda to hit up some of the less hipster, more rough and ready bars and pubs on the NQ scene and here at The NQ Review towers we like a challenge, so we set ourselves a mission to hit as many as possible of the “less popular with the popular crowd” places as we could in one day. Suffice to say there were some surprises, some good, some less so.

Opposite that ever so popular bus stop at the bottom of Oldham Street sits one of the two Bar Waves to be found in Manchester, this one sitting underneath the infamous Sacha’s Hotel. Our visit to Bar Wave was relatively early in the day, so beer googles were not yet fitted and with some trepidation we descended the stairs to the bar.

The vibe in Bar Wave was ‘somewhat tired looking working mens club’, with the bar propped up by lonely drinkers, complete with “red top” of choice newspaper and décor straight from a bygone era. A hotch-potch collection of poorly tuned TVs (all on different channels) provided most of the subtitled entertainment, supported by a juke box and a selection of well worn bandits – in all it was easy to see why this place has never featured on our regular NQ excursions, of course the sign asking patrons to refrain from pissing on the floor in the toilet doesn’t add to the appeal either.

On to the drinks, surely we’d feel better with some more booze swilling about our guts? Well not so much, the selection was so cheaply generic it was laughable, a facsimile of the days when the pump selection had four taps, a basic lager, an export strength lager, a “smooth” bitter and the obligatory Strongbow, as expected supplemented by a standalone Guinness pump. The fridges didn’t fare much better, an additional selection of unimaginative bottled beers, and a selection of eyewatering brightly coloured vodka based soft drinks for the kids. On to the order, a selection of cheap lager (San Mig was “off”), Guinness, and a vodka diet coke. First the good(ish) points, it was cheap, cheaper than I have seen in a long time – £1.85 for a pint of lager. Now for the bad, it was all served in plastic glasses, something we are never a fan of, even the bottled drinks were decanted. That was the first sign of woe, it was early afternoon after all and I don’t think we looked rowdy, and I doubt Derek in the corner was known to kick off. On tasting it went from bad to worse, the lager wasn’t great, but drinkable, the vodka was described as tasting like “turps and dirty water” and the Guinness was by all accounts intolerable, left with barely a few sips taken from those with the misfortune to order it.

In short, we had to visit in order to cross it off the list, just don’t expect us to venture in again.

Bar Wave @ Sacha’s

Classification: Pub

Food: Bar Food, Crisps and nuts

Drinks: Lager, ale, wine, and questionable spirits

Price: £

Related City Centre establishments: Sachas Hotel Bar

Bongo rating: 1/10

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