The NQ Review

77 NQ bars. 5 friends. 1 mission.


January 2016

The Whiskey Jar – An NQ Review


Ah, the Whiskey Jar. You are everything an unsuspecting tourist might expect from a Northern Quarter bar and that is why we can never truly love you.

Unassuming entrance? Check. Exposed brickwork? Check. Quirky furnishings? Check. Aloof bar staff? Check. Pricey beers which come in either generic premium or craft flavour? Petr.

Coming along in the wave of bars that saw the far more interesting Kosmonaut and El Capo expand the NQ out beyond Stevenson Square to Tariff Street (much to the delight of estate agents across Manchester), the Whiskey Jar was considerably smaller when it first opened, the long narrow shape making it feel a lot like you were having a drink in your mates converted warehouse apartment. However, that shape was and still is part of it’s downfall.

A few steps away from the bar were the toilet doors which wafted in the smells of poor night out bathroom decisions throughout the evening. Thankfully, they rectified this fairly quickly and for this review we sat in the curious square booth where the toilets used to be. Unfortunately for the Whiskey Jar this vantage point provides prime viewing of it’s other flaw. We were there for a couple of hours (during which time we were served the wrong beer and forced to change our mind when the bottles of Kona Longboard ran out… not great for the start of a Friday night) and in that time we despaired at how slowly people were getting served. It wasn’t particularly busy but the queue was often three people deep and that was without many cocktails poncing their way over the bar.

The position of it doesn’t help, it’s not at the end of the room, it’s not a part of the social fabric of it… it’s just shoved in the corner. To be fair, the downstairs bar is considerably more substantial and much better thought out, but we’ve only ever been down there for private parties and it’s never going to become a night-ending destination like it’s neighbours.

This may all sound a little harsh. If you are a first time visitor to Manchester and want to experience a taste of the Northern Quarter, you could do worse than the Whiskey Jar. Plus we’re sure it’s a considerably more interesting place for avid whiskey drinkers (if not, something is seriously wrong). For seasoned NQ veterans it will always be the copy and paste template version of what the area is threatening to become. If you value character, innovation and soul, look elsewhere.


The Whiskey Jar

Classification: Bar

Food: Bar snacks, pies, cheese and meat boards

Drinks: Whiskey, lager, ales, cocktails, other spirits

Price: ££

Related City Centre establishments: Kosmonaut, El Capo

Bongo rating: 5/10


Affleck & Brown – An NQ Review


Affleck & Brown joined the NQ ranks in February last year and has quickly become a bigger hit than its predecessor, the old Art NQ Cafe Bar…which in all honesty wasn’t that hard to do.

Last year’s refurbishment saw the interiors of this bar fall in line with the rest of the NQ with bare brick walls, leather seating, great light fittings and arguably the best bar top in the NQ.

Drinks-wise you’ll find something for everyone with lagers, sensibly priced cask ales, wine, spirits and a short cocktail list, all served quickly by welcoming staff.

At first glance this place has everything you’d look for in a bar as shown above, yet somehow it falls flat. It’s not cosy enough for a date night, the music’s too loud for a chat over a pint, and there’s not enough atmosphere to get the place going and keep you there all night. This place serves best as a spot for a quick after-work drink, or a central NQ meeting place before heading on elsewhere.

Affleck & Brown

Classification: Bar

Food: none

Drinks: Cocktails, wine, ale, lager & spirits

Price: ££

Related City Centre Establishments: None

Bongo Rating: 6/10

Keko Moku – An NQ Review

Keko MokuThis tiny little tiki shack is an originator and an innovator, without which numerous other fiery dens of iniquity would not exist.

Tucked below Almost Famous and Luck, Lust, Liquor & Burn, the former Rodeo is small but perfectly formed, with stools and tall tables snuggled in next to a rum-pocalypse of a bar stocked with around 50 different makes of the spirit.

A late night bar of some repute, Keko often holds rum clubs and tasting events on weekdays before partying throughout the weekend with an array of cocktail mayhem, ranging from the Daiquiri and Mai Tai all the way up to ridiculous sharing vessels full of danger and rummy fun.

If you need to take a break from the cocktails, a few beers are available (Red Stripe, Mahou etc) alongside a few shots of naughtiness; civilised wine bar this ain’t.

Their trademark tipple is the Zombie which has often been imitated but rarely bettered. Yes, it’s a bit of a show as well as a drink but the fiery lick compliments a sweet sensation perfectly. The only downside is the price which has risen quite a bit over the years, so don’t expect much change from a tenner for your undead chalice.

Some might criticise Keko Moku for being a one trick pony but given its size and its theme, it does what it does very well indeed. Tiki as fuck.

Keko Moku

Classification: Tiki Bar

Food: None

Drinks: Cocktails, lager & spirits

Price: ££

Related City Centre establishments: Almost Famous (NQ and Great Northern), Home Sweet Home (NQ and Great Northern), Luck, Lust, Liquor & Burn

Bongo rating: 7/10

Cord – An NQ Review

CordAh, Cord. A Northern Quarter institution, one of the first and most well-loved of all the NQ bars, and a place we should all be thankful for having done its bit in putting the area on the map.

Unfortunately, for “institution” you should now read “tired” as no matter how many refurbs they have, Cord simply don’t have an answer to some of the newer kids on the block. Tree trunk tables from the most recent revamp are a nice touch but the whole place is cold, damp (the smell is slightly masked but still hits you, especially in the basement) and crying out for a major overhaul.

The toilets quite frankly are terrible and as you search them out downstairs it feels more like going to an outdoor Victorian latrine than a modern pub convenience.

It’s a shame, because the cocktails, especially the Espresso Martini are very good indeed. For beer drinker though, the reliance on bottles unless you want anything other than Moretti, Brooklyn and Amstel on tap is frustrating.

It’s a pretty relaxed place with a mix of people swinging by, whether it’s a few blokes after a match at the Etihad or a bunch of students hitting happy hour, and the basement if you want to risk it can be hired out for nothing (although surely free hire is something of a standard these days).

Just like Centro before it though, it may take something major to turn Cord back into a force to be reckoned with. For now, it’s reputation as a forefather of the NQ scene is the only thing holding it above water.


Classification: Bar

Food: Bar snacks

Drinks: Cocktails, wine, lager & spirits

Price: ££

Related City Centre establishments: Simple, Wood Wine & Deli

Bongo rating: 4/10

Tib Street Tavern – An NQ Review

Tib St Tavern is a well-established football watching destination for us at The NQ Review. We’ve even rolled out of bed early to watch Lions tours there and sat in stunned silence as Andy Murray won Wimbledon, so it was only a matter of time before it showed up on this blog.

The former Centro bar (where certain TNQR members were when Michael Jackson died, fact fans) has been in existence for nearly four years now and has transformed a classic rough-round-the-edges NQ bar into a hugely popular pub, not just for sports but also for shoppers popping just off the main drag for a snifter.

There’s no doubt about it, the clientele at Tibbers errs towards the sausage side of the gender equation more than most of the others on our list and this has been reflected in the recent toilet refurb where the gents and ladies have had a switcheroo, moving from a ‘room for a little one’ tiny trough to a magnificent four-man splash palace.

This will be a godsend on big matchdays when we strongly advise you to get down early as Tib Street does get rammed and they will start operating a one in, one out policy for obvious reasons. Because of its popularity the atmosphere is one of the best in town but be prepared for spillage and a tight squeeze.

The booze is no-nonsense but rotating ales on the wickets (at very reasonable prices) compliment the bottles and tap lagers as well as a couple of rarer beverages like Portland American Ale. You won’t get much in the way of a cocktail in here but happy hour offers on wines and spirits keep things sensible.

Food-wise the menu has changed a fair bit over the years but the core has always been burgers and hotdogs which are both good if not spectacular. On our review visit, one of us did get a piece of plastic wrapper in their food but on reporting this to management an apology and drink were offered. These things happen.

What you see is what you get with Tib St Tavern; a modern boozer specialising in socialising and in getting the basics pretty much bob-on.

Tib Street Tavern

Classification: Sports pub

Food: American

Drinks: Ale, wine, lager & spirits

Price: ££

Related City Centre establishments: None

Bongo rating: 7/10

Black Dog Ballroom – An NQ Review


This subterranean speakeasy was the first outing of this now well-established chain of Americana. Along with its sibling venues Black Dog NWS (housed in the former Space venue near Font) & Dog Bowl, an inventive bowling alley on Whitworth Street West, Black Dog Ballroom underneath the world famous Afflecks Palace has enough to bring the punters in day or night, whether it’s spending a rainy afternoon on the well priced pool tables in the back hall, a decent value lunch or dancing the night away until the early hours, Black Dog has it all.

Having been coming here since its opening, some of our fondest memories are grabbing a cheeky Friday lunch and hanging out with Bruce (the black dog for which the venue is named) & whilst the venue has evolved it still retains its original charm. Food wise there’s a selection of pizzas, burgers & hot dogs alongside salads & bar snacks (think loaded nachos & wings). On the drinks side there’s a focus on cocktails with a well enough stocked back bar to meet most agendas, while the beer selection is more limited than at many NQ venues but includes some options to avoid those tasteless generic lagers. Priced at NQ averages, expect to pay around £8 for cocktails & don’t expect too much shrapnel back from a fiver for a beer.

As well as the main bar, it’s also worth noting there is a more relaxed back room cocktail bar accessible to those lucky folk in possession of a Black Dog collar tag!

One of Black Dog‘s USP’s has always been its late late licence (to 5am on weekends) and because of that this place does tend to get really busy later on, particularly Thurs-Sat. This, however, has lead to a fair share of controversy & negative press over the years and after 9pm on weekends the staff are obliged to swap your glass mugs for plastics for the rest of the evening which we here at TNQR are never fans of (although it must be said the staff will transfer your drinks with aplomb & without spillage!)

That said Black Dog remains a crowd pleaser and has become an established fixture in the fabric of the NQ.

Black Dog Ballroom
Classification: Bar/pool hall

Food: American

Drinks: Cocktails/lager & spirits

Price: ££

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

Bongo rating: 7/10

Dive Bar – An NQ Review

We’ve got a lot of memories here at TNQR HQ of Moho Live. We’ve seen some classic gigs there with that giant staircase in the way of more amazing moments than we’d care to admit. So when Paul’s Hair Extravaganza burnt down a couple of years back, taking Moho with it, we were pretty gutted all round.

But now there’s a new player in town. Numerous bars have opened claiming to be a dirty underground drinking den but only one has had the oversized bollocks to call itself that and Dive Bar is well and truly open for business.

Overall though the experience is mixed. On the plus side, watching football in their snug is arguably the best sporting experience in town with your own bar and super-comfy leather upholstery as far as the eye can see, whilst the best screen in the NQ does the job before your eyes.

Food (in January especially) is also great value, although the ‘mix and match’ sliders where all three have to be the same are a conundrum to say the least. Similarly there’s confusion over where to order food with waitresses telling us to order, and pay there and then at the bar whilst bar staff tell us tills can’t cope with that and we need a waitress.

Despite all that, orders are taken quickly and food is delivered more swiftly than most places, and when it arrives, it’s all super tasty and served with a smile; it’s just a shame that on such a quiet night the bar and waiting staff couldn’t be communicating better, but hey, it’s early doors.

Since opening, whether it’s been the slightly off the beaten track location or something else, the increase in Dive sandwichboards, emails and offers has been somewhat disconcerting and frustratingly, it shouldn’t need this as the place has a lot to offer. It’s a big old space with plenty of room for eating, drinking, or any other merriment you could imagine, and for sport it could go on to be unparalleled.

Hopefully this is just the start for Dive as it finds its feet alongside the NQ big guns, but for now it’s a bit of a scattergun approach to a lot of what the area already has in abundance.

Dive Bar

Classification: Bar/restaurant

Food: Mexamerican

Drinks: Cocktails/craft beer/lager & spirits

Price: ££

Related City Centre establishments: The Milton Club

Bongo rating: 6/10

Luck, Lust, Liquor & Burn – An NQ Review

Back to work and back to filthy food, the fifth stop on the opening day of this little adventure saw us take in Luck, Lust, Liquor & Burn (or Triple L B, Liquor & Burn, assorted other abbreviations, delete as applicable).

The former Socio Rehab/Miracle On High Street is a two storey burrito paradise, and these days has a more defined bar/restaurant split. Upstairs you can fulfil all of your Americana gluttony on a fine array of burgers, burritos, tacos and nachos (and the pint of shrimp & squid is an absolute must), or head downstairs for a bar full to the brim of naughty little numbers like the ginto cocktail or maybe a lagerita or three.

Carrying the torch for the aforementioned Manchester institution Socio, the bar is a great place to pull up a stool and unwind on any night of the week. The décor is irreverent yet doesn’t feel forced, whilst the staff always seem so laid back they’re almost horizontal, yet more than willing to recommend a tipple dependant on your general disposition.

The great thing about Liquor & Burn is that it ticks so many boxes it’s a crowd pleaser in all the right ways. Okay, so if you just want burgers, you should go to Almost Famous or Solita. Burritos? Changos is arguably your best bet. For cocktails you might consider Apotheca and if you want a pint of ale you’re out of luck here. But if you’re with friends all pulling in different alcoholic and culinary directions you can guarantee that if you hit up L&B, every single mother funster in the room will leave coated in sauce and more than satisfied with the experience.

Luck, Lust, Liquor & Burn

Classification: Bar/restaurant

Food: Mexamerican

Drinks: Cocktails/lager & spirits

Price: ££

Related City Centre establishments: Almost Famous (NQ and Great Northern), Home Sweet Home (NQ and Great Northern), Keko Moku.

Bongo rating: 8/10

The Blue Pig – An NQ Review


Part bar, part French bistro, The Blue Pig is an interesting addition to the run of the mill bare brick walls & polished wood found in much of the Northern Quarter.

Located on High Street round the corner from its older sibling Odd, The Blue Pig is faced with competition on all sides, so to combat this the team have had to bring something new to this corner of the NQ. When walking through the door nestled in the corner of the room you are transported across the channel into a trendy Parisian bistro complete with open kitchen. The dark interior is furnished well with pieces that would not look out of place on French boulevards overlooking the Seine.

As is common in France, food plays a big part of The Blue Pig‘s offering,  the current menu takes inspiration from around the globe, with the sub-continent & Mexico appearing to be the current favourites of the chefs. The food is backed up with ample drinks choices, including a number of rotating ales and an impressive back bar, well stocked with your standard brands but also a raft of more interesting selections for those with more discerning liquor tastes. As you would expect, this enables the bar staff to knock up a range of cocktails to order with an extensive menu on hand for those who don’t know what they want.

In all The Blue Pig adds a bit of European flair to an area that at times is in danger of little differentiation between the ever increasing count of bars. A perfect spot for a quiet weekday date night, or a rainy Saturday afternoon.


The Blue Pig

Classification: Bar/bistro

Food: International

Drinks: Cocktails/craft beer/lager & spirits

Price: ££

Related City Centre establishments: Odd

Bongo rating: 7/10

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