To say that the nightlife in Manchester is legendary would not be overstating it, and in this detailed post I will try to explain why, before sharing a few of my top tips on Manchester nightlife.
But first, why Manchester is significant to me?
Firstly, Manchester is pretty much my home city. I grew up in a smaller town a few miles down the road but as soon as I hit 18 years old I basically lived there. On Thursday and Friday nights I did anyway. But times change. These days I live elsewhere but when I go home I always make time for a night out with my old partners in crime.
We tend to stick to the old routine: a pint in a quiet pub; then some trendier craft ales in the hip Northern Quarter, followed by either a livelier bar or indie club where we can stumble around drunk to our favourite tunes in a blurry whirlwind of nostalgia.
Which brings me to my next point:
Why is the Manchester nightlife legendary?
I will try to keep this brief, but please bear with me.
Back in the late eighties and early nineties people used to flock from all over the UK to sample the ‘Madchester’ music scene. A staggering pool of Mancunian talent, which included The Smiths, The Stone Roses, New Order (formerly Joy Division), The Charlatans and The Happy Mondays (to name a few) had transformed Manchester into pretty much the British Mecca of rock and roll. And that was all before Oasis came along.
But ‘Madchester’ was not just a city that produced great music; it was the epicentre of a youth-cult movement fueled by creativity, freedom of expression and a shared loathing for the establishment.
After a lengthy period of conservative rule in the UK (a can of worms best left unopened for now), people were, understandably, very pissed off. The young and ‘misguided’ were demonised in the press for being ‘despicable’ and ‘reckless’, when in reality it was the UK government who deserved such appellations for depriving the poor of a prosperous future. In many ways it was like the 60s all over again, but anyone beyond 45 simply failed to realise it.
Luckily, some bright sparks had had the capacity to channel this collective anger in a creative way, and subsequently allay the frustrations of everyone else and inspire a generation. The ‘misguided youth’ had found a voice. And it sounded amazing.
That was the era that would cement Manchester’s status as a musical kingpin and nightlife capital of Britain. You can read more about it here.
But what of the Madchester scene now? Is it just as good?
Thankfully, yes it is. These days, that Madchester culture is just as rife as it once was; embedded in working-class roots music and proper, old-school club nights. And now there is the added bonus of the city’s popular Northern Quarter, where craft ale enthusiasts might feel they’ve died and gone to heaven.
So, if you’re planning to experience the Manchester nightlife, you had better brace yourself. Here’s an idea of what to expect…
4 Top Bars in Manchester
1) Hold Fast
Hold Fast (hattershostels.com) is one of Manchester’s best kept secrets. If it weren’t for the brawny Mancs on the door you’d never know it was there. Inside there’s a nautically themed bar with an incredible selection of beers, ales and cocktails. The music is pretty tame and veers on the Indie side, but occasionally a DJ is hired to pull in the crowds on Friday and Saturday night.
For battling hangovers the next day, there are board games available and – if your head can take it – some trivial pursuit question cards scattered on the tables you can use if conversation really dries up (they really thought it through). Alternatively, there is a computer area with a couple of SEGA mega drives to keep you entertained!
Where? 20 Hilton Street, Northern Quarter
How much? Free to get in. Beers £4-6, cocktails £6-10
2) The Gas Lamp
A bar which proclaims itself as a “subterranean drinking den” above the entrance is sure to lure many a passing punter. And those who do venture down the staircase into this whitewashed watering hole are seldom disappointed. The Gas Lamp (tripadvisor.com) not only serves up a range of rare and delicious craft beers and gins but provides a fascinating history lesson. The building was a Victorian children’s mission and this story is told through the traditional design and layout of the place.
You can find The Gas Lamp on the other side of town in the slightly more upmarket Spinningfields district.
Where? 50 Bridge Street, Spinningfields
How much? Free to get in. Beers £4-6, cocktails £6-10
3) The Whiskey Jar
Does what it says on the tin, and does it very well I might add. If you love whiskey – by the shot or glass – you can’t go wrong at The Whiskey Jar (thewhiskeyjar.com). The selection of whiskies behind the bar could bring an Irishman to tears of joy.
Even if you don’t love whiskey it’s worth checking out, and of course whiskey isn’t the only thing for sale. Lots of quirky bars in the Northern Quarter overcharge but The Whiskey Jar has reasonable prices. The signature ‘Whiskey Flight’ is a particularly good experience: 6 whiskies from around the world for £15!
Where? 14 Tariff Street, Northern Quarter
How much? Free to get in. Beers £4-5, cocktails £6-10, shots £5-20
4) Albert’s Schloss
With all the refined comforts of a cosy German manor house, Albert’s Schloss (albertsschloss.co.uk) is where Manchester meets Munich. Weisbeer and sausage lovers (you and your dirty mind) can’t get enough. The German theme certainly makes you feel as though Oktoberfest has come early but to its credit, ‘the Schloss’ does not overdo it on the German stereotypes.
The place is huge, has live music every night, great food (we’re talking freshly baked pretzels and sourdough here) and of course – enormous Bavarian beers. You’ll have lots of fun here. The atmosphere, especially in winter, is the best in town.
Where? 27 Peter Street, Spinningfields
How much? Free to get in. Beers £4-6, cocktails £7-9, schnapps shots £3-4
4 Top Clubs in Manchester
1) Warehouse Project
Manchester might be a city better known worldwide for its roots in rock but it’s also the home of the rave. This is where techno and acid house first invaded dancefloors back in the 90s, and today we have the Warehouse Project (thewarehouseproject.com) to remind us of that.
This special venue – literally a huge warehouse found beneath Manchester Piccadilly Train Station – houses the world’s very best DJs three times a week, through autumn and early winter, climaxing with an epic closing party on New Year’s Day. Tickets are expensive, but it’s no surprise when household names such as Carl Cox, Richie Hawtin, Simian Mobile Disco, Jackmaster, Joy Orbison, Andy C, Goldie, Four Tet and Bonobo frequently hog the lineup.
Where? Store Street, under Manchester Piccadilly Train Station
How much? £25-35 entry. Beers £5-6, spirit & mixer £6-8, Red Bull £5, bottled water £2.50
Sankeys is where you go if you love dancing to hard techno all night until you can’t feel your legs anymore. Once you’re in, you’re in it for the long haul. For years, the isolated Manchester venue has continually stayed ahead of the curve in the electro house scene, hosting a long list of revered underground-DJ talent including The Chemical Brothers and even the elusive Daft Punk. On such nights the price for tickets can be eye-watering.
However, there is respite from the swarming dancefloors – you can lounge about on the sofa-bedecked terrace or even watch a film in the cinema-bar. You’ll need to brush up on your lip-reading skills though.
Where? Beehive Mill, Jersey Street
How much? £20-35 entry. Beers £6, spirit & mixer £6-9, Red Bull £5, bottled water £3
3) Manchester Academy
The Mancunian spirit is rooted in live music, and there’s nowhere else better in town to experience live music than the Manchester Academy (manchesteracademy.net). This is where all the biggest UK bands come to play to roaring crowds. The venue is quite intimate with an electric atmosphere, since the stage is so close to the crowd and there is nowhere to sit. Service at the bar is fast and friendly.
If you’d like to go to a gig at Manchester Academy while in town then I highly recommend this website (gigsandtours.com), where you can find listings for all the upcoming acts and buy cheap tickets. The venue is in a great location too – very close to Oxford Road train station and Piccadilly Gardens where you can find some other great bars.
Where? Moss Lane East, Manchester
How much? £15-35 (depending on act) entry. Beers £4-5, spirit & mixer £5-7, bottled water £2.50
And finally, for the ultimate hit of Britpop and indie soaked nostalgia, head directly to Oxford Street’s legendary 42nd Street nightclub – a.k.a. ‘42s’.
There’s literally nothing you could add or take away from a Thursday or Friday night at 42s to make it better than it already is. Tunes that will prompt you to embrace sweaty strangers like best friends, dance like an absolute lunatic and croon as loudly and atrociously as possible – just because you can and you don’t care – ring out relentlessly, all night. It’s also really cheap to get in and the drinks, while not gold standard, are next to nothing too.
Don’t go if you don’t like indie-rock and jam-packed, sweaty dancefloors.
Where? 2 Bootle Street, Manchester
How much? £7-10 entry. Beers £2-4, spirit & mixer £2-5, bottled water £2
There are too many bars, pubs and clubs to list and detail in one post so I’ll reel off a few more worth checking out if none of the above take your fancy…
Cloud 23 (Beetham Tower, 303 Deansgate)
Swanky cocktail bar on the 23rd floor of the landmark Beetham Tower. Part of the floor is made of glass. Not for the fainthearted but definitely the place to go for the best panoramic view of Manchester.
The Alchemist (1 New York St, Northern Quarter)
Another chic cocktail bar with a ritzier feel to it. Great bar for going on a date.
Revolución de Cuba (11 Peter Street, Spinningfields)
The go-to bar for rum lovers. The Cuba-themed décor here is very cool, the service is excellent and the cocktails, which are made with top quality rums, are not absurdly expensive like in some others in de Cuba’s league.
The Birdcage (Manchester Arndale, Withy Grove)
Worth a peep if you enjoy Vegas style cabaret performed by drag queens, glamourous showgirls and ripped dudes. The place can hold up to 1400 guests and there is apparently seating for 500. Music-wise, expect anything from the 70s through to the 00s. Entry isn’t too expensive but drinks are. And one last thing – don’t wear flimsy shoes; the floor gets incredibly sticky!
5th Avenue (121 Princess Street, Manchester)
Another indie stalwart in the Manchester club scene where you can hear all the classic or latest Britpop indie anthems. Probably as good as 42s but tends to attract a younger crowd.
Why is Manchester’s Nightlife the best?
The UK is a cultural hub where any young traveller with a taste for nightlife is destined for a good time. You could make a list of all the cities, clubs and bars you want to go to, but top of that list should be experiencing the nightlife in Manchester. Trust me, you will not have a better night out anywhere else.
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