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The NQ Review

77 NQ bars. 5 friends. 1 mission.

Month

October 2016

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

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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

Sacha’s Hotel Bar – An NQ Review

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Ask most people in Manchester about Sacha’s Hotel and they’ll know exactly where you’re talking about. Its central location just off of Piccadilly Gardens, behind Debenhams and Starbucks, means that most people have walked past it on the way to the main NQ drag from the tram, or spied it whilst shopping in town, but it’s very rare to find a brave soul who has actually passed through the doors. Cue The NQ Review.

Sister to the Wave Bar next door, the two are separated by a single long fire door which staff can pass through freely, but patrons must enter and exit at the official entrances for fear of being banned from both venues. We’re still not sure as to the reasoning of making patrons exit and walk along a dirty back alley to enter the neighbouring bar – maybe it’s to help distinguish between the two bars, as their drinks offerings and prices are exactly the same – they’re identical twin sister bars if you will. The only discernible difference was that this sister had put in the extra effort and served our drinks in actual glass glasses…classy.

The main pull for this place is the price of its drinks – at £1.85 per pint of Carlsberg, you won’t find many places cheaper right in the middle of Manchester. Sadly, that’s where the good points end.

On descending the steps from the main hotel entrance you’re met with a mix of restaurant and bar with an interior that looks worn, tired and ultimately confused. One wall is adorned with a portrait of a horse, a nearby pillar has an Ayers Rock sign hanging from it, and the main feature is the large 4-man rowing sculls affixed to the ceiling. Unless they’re celebrating the achievement of reaching Ayers Rock by only row boat and horse, this place is definitely lacking identity.

Just when we thought the decor couldn’t get any stranger, our eyes caught sight of an intriguing flashing green tunnel towards the back of the bar. Our hopes were raised that we’d found the entrance to the Crystal Maze, but unless there’s a new disappointing zone featuring psychedelic 70s wallpaper and views of a hotel pool and gym, that wasn’t the case.

They did have the rugby live on the TV in the corner, and they do advertise Sky Sports, but these enticements won’t be enough to get us through the doors again. It’s nice to have visited and to have experienced Sacha’s uniqueness, but one visit is definitely enough.

 

Sacha’s Hotel Bar

Classification: Bar

Food: None

Drinks: Beers, Wines, Spirits

Price: £

Related City Centre Establishments: Wave Bar @ Sacha’s Hotel

Bongo Rating: 3/10

The Lounge Bar – An NQ Review

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We unexpectedly came across The Lounge Bar on our recent Saturday bongo session, and as it is a bar within our NQ boundary, we had to nip in and check it out. Formerly the successful French restaurant 63 Degrees, this small unit on Church Street has been absorbed into the Light Aparthotel and become their hotel bar.

The bar has had a complete makeover since the restaurant departed, and the new look combines various shades of grey and chrome fittings, to provide a clean and modern looking bar. The seating comprises a mix of low comfy sofas and chairs, and long high tables (with equally comfy stools) that are well suited to groups.

On approaching the bar we asked for their ale options, to be told they only have bottles of Old Speckled Hen. Not a great start. The draft options were also limited to either San Miguel or Tuborg, and bottle options were the usual suspects – Peroni, Corona, Desperados and San Miguel. Two pints of San Miguel came to £9, but on this TNQR visit, we plumped for the promo deal of four bottles of San Miguel for £10 – the lesser of two evils. Like the beer selection, the wine and spirits options were limited but covered the basics, and included promos of two glasses of Prosecco for £9, and two cocktails for £10.

Being attached to a hotel, this was never going to be an NQ party bar with music going all night, but its location means the bar has a lot of potential. If as much effort was put into the drinks as the decor, it could become a great place to pop in to escape from the noise of the NQ, enjoy a drink after a long day of shopping, or alternatively as a starting spot to have a natter and warm up before moving onto the livelier NQ bars. However, right now, The Lounge Bar just fulfils its purpose as a functional but uninspiring hotel bar.

The Lounge Bar

Classification: Bar

Food: None

Drinks: Beer, Wine, Cocktails, Champagne

Price: ££

Related City Centre Establishments: None

Bongo Rating: 5/10

The Wheatsheaf – An NQ Review

Another pub that we here at The NQ Review have avoided for quite some time is The Wheatsheaf. Tucked around the back of the NQ on Oak Street, the boozer has been in operation since the late 1880s and is another example of old Manchester living side by side with new.

On our last visit here a few years ago we felt it to be one of those places you get looked at on your way in if you’re not a regular and although not intimidating per se, we weren’t in a rush to return.

Going on a dark October evening however, the place has been tidied up a tad (not as much yellow on the walls nor suspicious holes in picture frames) and it’s got a decent, buzzing atmosphere.

On the wickets are a selection of guest ales such as Lakeland, nestled in with standard lagers and a decent array of crinkly crisps that we worked our way through.

As with many pubs of this ilk, there are various entertainments available including that night’s Premier League match on one of the tellyboxes as well as a pool table and darts.

The patrons on our visit ranged from regulars to NQ residents to your normal Saturday night drinking crews and although there were some, shall we say, ‘intense’ conversations taking place at the bar, the pub was largely relaxed.

Another good old school boozer kept going by a loyal clientele, The Wheatsheaf is worth hitting to escape the identikit NQ bars and to get a taste of what traditional Manchester drinking is all about.

The Wheatsheaf

Classification: Pub

Food: Crisps and nuts

Drinks: Lager, ale, wine, spirits

Price: ££

Related City Centre establishments: None

Bongo rating: 6/10

Mother Mac’s – An NQ Review

Ah, Mother Mac’s. We’ve got history you and I. The first time I came here, I had to prize my feet off the sticky carpet with a car jack and one of our party was molested by a terrifying old crone. ‘Proper Manchester’ I believe it’s known as.

For those unaware of this establishment’s history, Mother Mac’s has been knocking about since the late 19th Century and was the site of a horrific mass murder in 1976. Quaint, eh? Despite this, Mother Mac’s has always brought in a mix of older locals, football fans looking to watching United on the old CRT telly in the corner and the odd rock band pre-Roadhouse gig. Unfortunately for many boozers of this ilk, times have been tough and with stiff competition all around, something needed doing.

Now taken over by the landlord of nearby NQ boozer The Crown & Anchor, Mother Mac’s has had its first spruce up in a few decades. Wooden floors and modern greys replace the carpet and fag-stained walls and the beer moves slightly more upmarket (Coors Light) alongside decent ales (Timothy Taylor for £3.80) and a random £5 Sharp’s Pilsener which we haven’t seen for years.

The clientele remain mixed; a chap with no vocal chords, a couple of twentysomething guys meeting for a lunchtime pint, a few older locals and a mid-40s group of friends all swing by whilst we were there despite the pub’s backstreet location.

Has the place changed for the better then? Yes, but it couldn’t have been much worse. There’s a fine line between ‘tradition’ and ‘downright dirtiness’ and Mother Mac’s always used to fall in the latter, for which there’s no excuse in this day and age. Following its refit it’s now a decent pub; it’s nothing out of the ordinary whatsoever but it’s a nice piece of old school Manchester kept alive, and for that, we’re grateful.


Mother Mac’s

Classification: Pub

Food: Crisps and nuts

Drinks: Lager, ale, wine, spirits

Price: ££

Related City Centre establishments: The Crown And Anchor

Bongo rating: 6/10

Gullivers – An NQ Review

Refitted in the past couple of years, Gullivers is certainly shiny; a vision in dark wood, its nooks and crannies are well placed to ensure there are plenty of seats on offer as well as elbow room at the bar.

Being a J.W. Lees boozer, you’re likely to experience Manchester Pale Ale at a little over three quid on one of the four hand pulls whilst the spirits and lager selection is decent and varied. A stretch of comfy booths dominate the area directly in front of the bar while a large snug tucks itself around the back making the pub a good choice for larger groups of chums.

The other big feature for Gullivers is its live scene. Along with sister pub The Castle directly across the road, Gullivers is responsible for putting on all manner of shows from comedy to theatre to punk. Yes, it can get messy in the upstairs venue with all drinks being served in glassware and little in the way of tables to put your pint down on, but in some ways this adds to the old school charm. The orange curtained stage makes you feel as if you’re inside a David Lynch movie and despite the venue’s small size, the sound is always bob on.

Another old school boozer in the heart of the NQ, Gullivers adds a traditional and affordable way to enjoy a pint or three without compromising on its polished look.

Gullivers

Classification: Pub

Food: Crisps and nuts

Drinks: Beer, ale, wine, spirits

Price: ££

Related City Centre establishments: The Castle Hotel

Bongo rating: 8/10

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