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The NQ Review

77 NQ bars. 5 friends. 1 mission.

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

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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

The Ancoats Lad – An NQ Review

We’ve been a tad quiet at NQ Review HQ recently. There’ve been medical emergencies, holidays and all manner of drama keeping us away from the reviewing game. UNTIL WE DISCOVERED THE DRAMA OF A NEW BAR THAT IS!

That’s right ladies and gents, the Northern Quarter has a new bar. It’s on Oldham Street, it’s called The Ancoats Lad and it’s an interesting little bugger of a place.

Opposite The Castle, from the outside The Lad looks pretty unassuming but upon entering it’s instantly intriguing. Almost Circus Tavern-like in its cosiness, The Lad has a small beer selection with a few tables scattered around in its front room style lounge.

On the taps are interesting takes on some NQ favourites with Dortmunder Pils front and centre. The Hop House is off on our visit (the place had only opened two days previous) but Portland Stout gave an interesting option against the Guinness and Theakston. Service from the couple of Corrie-esque barkeeps was friendly, if a little muddled, again, seemingly down to first weekend nerves, and the atmosphere was convivial if a little confused.

The bar itself is small though, and you can’t help but wonder how many will be put off by the constant squeeze. It’s certainly not weekend material but the allure of a quiet weekday pint is tempting to say the least.

Surrounded by other more traditional boozers, The Ancoats Lad certainly fits in and is friendly and something a bit different. Whether it’s one for repeat visits though, only time will tell.

The Ancoats Lad

Classification: Pub

Food: None

Drinks: Beer, ale, wine, spirits

Price: ££

Related City Centre establishments: None

Bongo rating: 6/10

Dusk Til Pawn – An NQ Review

img_3231-1As much as we love a gentleman’s pint here at TNQR, we’ve also been spotted on more than one occasion down the backstreets of Salford in the dark and mysterious corners of Corridor and even longer ago under assorted neon in one of the finest bars Manchester has ever seen in the shape of Socio Rehab.

These days, cocktail bars have tended to be outside of the Northern Quarter vicinity, preferring instead to prop themselves near larger office blocks to pull in the post-work suits, but the game changed a couple of years back with the arrival of Dusk Til Pawn.

Sister bar of ‘only ever seems open on Saturday nights’ drinking hole NoHo, DTP‘s Pawn Shop exterior is confusing punters to this day; on more than one occasion I’ve seen chaps taking guitars and other items in there, emerging shortly afterwards scratching their heads as they try to locate the nearest Cash Converters.

It’s quite easy to be intimidated on entering DTP with its long bar on one side and booths on the other, but as you start walking that gauntlet your eye is taken by the excellent back bar. You’ll need to grab a menu to begin working your way through these spirits and on our visit, eyes were taken by the Pawn Star Martini with its champagne sorbet accompaniment as well as the Brass Balls (whisky, marmalade, ginger and bitters). Both drinks were cobbled together with a smile and served up in quick time and both really did taste excellent. The Old Fashioned flavours of the Balls came through brilliantly minus the stirring wait, whilst the Pawn Star felt luxurious with its butterscotch kiss.

If you’re not after a cocktail, there’s a selection of decent beers on offer (Beavertown, 13 Guns and the old Almost Famous favourite Dos Equis amongst others) along with a couple of wines but you probably wouldn’t pick here to sit and quaff a bottle of pinot noir with many other better options around.

The question with DTP as with Socio before it is whether it can survive solely from weekend trade and cope when only a couple of thirsty boozehounds cross its threshold midweek. Weekday drinking at DTP works for us as we can take our time perusing choices, chatting to the barkeeps and enjoying a drink without deafening music being rammed down our lug holes. DTP also used to do cocktail roulette on Wednesdays where you simply told the bartender what sort of stuff took your fancy and he’d rustle something up for a fiver. It was a great way to get a crazy drink at a decent price (we once said we’d had a dream about Lady Gaga and they knocked something together inspired by that), but we’re unsure if it’s still a thing and it can get dangerous with work the next day, so be warned…

If you look at the top cocktail bars in town, places like the aforementioned Corridor or Liquorice, DTP does hold its own with quality spirits mixed with a twist, and there is a suitable quirkiness to it. It just doesn’t quite have that certain something to take it next level but given a few tweaks might just make it the bar it could be. At the moment it’s a good pit stop rather than a place to settle in for the night.

Dusk Til Pawn

Classification: Cocktail bar

Food: None

Drinks: Cocktails

Price: ££

Related City Centre establishments: NoHo

Bongo rating: 6/10

Twenty Twenty Two – An NQ Review

There’s a typical cycle that most NQ bars go through (unless they have a big marketing budget from the outset). First there’s the days or perhaps even weeks before the official launch when the place is still finding it’s feet. The staff won’t know where anything is, the atmosphere will be a little odd and you’ll get the occasional freebie because they want you to come back and that first meeting with the accountant hasn’t happened yet.

Then it’s the opening night itself. Cheap drinks galore and a bunch of people who will probably never go again, but they will tell enough of their friends to put it on the map. The penultimate stage, otherwise known as the glory weeks, is what follows as the early adopters enjoy the perfect balance of a not-too-busy bar filled with the right people.

Unfortunately Twenty Twenty Two seems to be in the final phase. The dickhead phase. It’s when a once promising venue (that is still great at the right times) gets swarmed upon by people who have heard it’s cool but were not cool enough to venture in when it actually was cool. The debut album is a distant memory, welcome to the difficult second album.

It’s only on recent visits that the NQ Review team have got this vibe and maybe it’s just us getting old, but the spacious basement bar where you could casually sample a game of beer pong and get to the toilets without fighting your way there seems to have gone recently and that’s a shame because 2022 is everything an NQ bar should be, even down to the revolving artists work adorning the walls (remember that, Common?).

This current incarnation of 2022 is actually the second coming, it opened in 2012 (ten years ago) and we’ll be honest, it didn’t really get on our radars as we were mostly hanging out at Kosmonaut. However in 2014 (eight years ago), when 2022 more-or-less doubled in size by opening up a second room containing four ping pong tables, it piqued our interest again. This addition of sport does seem to have brought with it an unusual smell but it certainly sets it apart in the NQ (sorry Kosmonaut but your wiff waff table just gets in the way). The pitched seating and alcoves that form a makeshift viewing area being a particular highlight if you’d rather not take part in the paddle action.

Compared to some of it’s peers the beer selection is a little limited, a few smaller brewery ales and the usual selection of bottled craft beers make up the menu, but it does seem to be a little cheaper than the going rate and if you’re going to use it for beer pong who really cares about the quality?

2022 used to feel like a small gig venue without the band, lately it’s turned into more of a club. Open until 4am, it’s certainly a preferable end of late night destination to Black Dog Ballroom, but we’re all in bed by midnight anyway. Perhaps we should start visiting earlier on in the night, those old sofas do look darned comfy after all.

Twenty Twenty Two

Classification: Arty bar & Wiff Waff Locale

Food: None

Drinks: Small selection of draught beers, lots of bottles, cocktails

Price: ££

Related City Centre establishments: Cherry’s

Bongo rating: 6/10

Hula – An NQ Review

Hula

One of Manchester’s growing number of Tiki havens, we recently hit up Hula on Stevenson Square on one of those, accidental all-day bongo fest type of days, and what a day it was! Descending the stairs into Hula’s basement transports you through time & space into a 50s-inspired Tiki heaven, and whilst the décor is distinctly (as you would expect) tikified, it is still somewhat unique & definitely a step up from the cut and paste bare brick & reclaimed wood that is so pervasive in these parts; run of the mill this place is not.

Drinks wise it’s all about the cocktails as one would expect, and largely rum based ones at that. You’ll get no complaints from me about this, that sweet dark nectar is my spirit of choice so mashing it up with tropical fruits & setting it on fire will always go down well. The selection of sharing drinks is impressive, if pricey, and the “Volcano” we ordered is a drink of epic proportions, it’s just a shame they no longer have the volcano shaped dishes of old, apparently all broken or stolen over the years. Whilst with all bars of this type, the selection of rums available is the main event on the back bar, it’s well enough stocked with other choices that there should be no need to go thirsty, and the fridges have a selection of bottled & canned beverages for those unwilling to partake in the cocktails.

The atmosphere in here is all about the party, and that is reflected in the clientèle & the music. The funky beats were even enough to get some of our crew up & dancing (which is not a common sight) but speaks volumes for the fun atmosphere they manage to create down there. Of course this also means it can be a bit on the rowdier side on Friday & Saturday nights & don’t be surprised if confronted by a gaggle of Hens clucking about the dancefloor either.

Overall, Hula is good for a quick fruity pit stop or indeed a destination bar in its own right, which is why I suspect this place normally has a queue thronging outside on the weekends. If you are looking for a bit of fun, some dancing & fire in your drinks then you could do a lot worse than putting in a visit to this place. Yes the Zombies at Keko are probably just that little bit better, but Hula has got space for you to bring more than just a couple of friends, throw some shapes and have a real party.

Hula

Classification: Tiki Bar

Food: N/A

Drinks: Rum cocktails, spirits, beer

Price: ££

Related City Centre Establishments: RosyLee, Tusk, Walrus, InFamous Diner, The Fitzgerald

Bongo Rating: 7/10

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