Monday, 5 July 2010

All Bar One

South Manchester, the domain of Clarkey* and his pals, is a bit of an unknown quantity to me. I don't often go there and don't really know it that well, but visit I did on Saturday afternoon. My destination? Chorlton - or Chorlton-Cum-Hardy to give it its full moniker, is the Notting Hill of South Manchester and an area I lived in very briefly, for about three months, more than twenty years ago. Then it was leafy, posh and had one or two decent pubs. Now it is leafy, posher and has loads of new bars, yes, bars to have a go at. None were there when I padded these streets and nor were the Worker's Hand Knitted Yoghurt Co-operatives, Organic Delis and such like which the "yummy mummies" need to make their existence complete. Still they all added colour and variety. Chorlton had changed and to my mind, had changed for the better.

I went with my oldest mate Mike, who was armed with the splendid crawl which appeared in the summer edition of "Beer". Now Mike is of the ilk that when he has a pub crawl in his sticky mitt, deems it essential to follow it to the letter. Thus we started at the only bit of Chorlton I recognised and that's only because the supermarket and railway are still in the same spot. The supermarket then was Safeway, but now is Morrisons. I know we lived near there, but buggered if I know where.

There is much talk about whether bars can replace pubs, or complement them, or just be there for those that want something a bit more modern, trendy, cosmopolitan and different. Chorlton provides at least a circumstantial case, that done well, bars are a great alternative to pubs - sometimes at least. Now it has to be said that on a lovely sunny Saturday afternoon, with a decent pint in your hand, a place outside on the pavement and the prospect of one of the finest and most compact pub crawls around, it would have taken a dedicated curmudgeon not to enjoy it. This is of course the limiting factor. Outside, pavement drinking and watching the world go by makes these place. Inside they all tended towards the gloomy, constructed as they they all were out of former shops. While gloom may have suited the butcher, baker and candlestick maker of yore and may well suit the trendy young things at night, it would have been a bit of a melancholy experience to be inside in the peeing rain. Still, it wasn't raining and they shone brightly like the sun.

Two things struck me. The cheerfulness and friendliness of the staff, who all seemed genuinely happy to be there and the very high standards of the "offer" generally. Posh food was available in all it seemed. There was a plethora of interesting imported beers in both bottle and on draught and all offered cask ale. Most in fact offered very good cask ale, carefully chosen and in top form. All were amazingly clumped together, as if the bar fairy had carelessly dropped them all from his sack. A lot were next door to each other, which gave an opportunity to compare and contrast and to try and divine why one was chosen by customers over another.

Now here's the thing. While all were enjoyable (bar one) they were all pretty samey and herein lies a possible catch. Pubs, apart from JDW that is, are all different. Bars are superficially at least, much the same. I think then that the "offer" is the distinguishing feature and they fight for custom on that basis. That is a good thing. I have severe doubts if I'd have found them quite so attractive and enjoyable at night with packed, dark interiors and their outside drinking areas dominated by smokers rather than people watchers, but for a different and very pleasant afternoon crawl, it was enjoyable and refreshing.

So what were the highlights? I have to say all were good. The standouts for me were the first stop which was Oddest (there is an Odd and an Odder in Manchester) with stumblingly charming service and superb Mallinson's beer and the two Marble outlets, which frankly, on this showing, served better quality beer than the main brewpub itself. We had one pint that perhaps wasn't at its best, (in Pi I think) though Mike was mollified by a delicious (so he said) asparagus and mushroom pie - yes Pi sells pies! Oh and the title of this piece? One bar, again I can't remember which, had no customers at all. We checked it out. Only Pedigree and Hobgoblin and run of the mill lagers here. Maybe that's why? All the other bars had carefully chosen local ales and a selection of imports. The difference showed. To paraphrase Mr Clinton, "It's the offer stoopid".

I think my conclusion is that when bars are done well, when the circumstances are right and when you can drink outside, bars can be every bit as attractive as pubs. But pub or bar, it is all about the offer.

Despite Mike's best efforts, we missed out quite a few on the crawl, but we'll be back to finish them off. On a sunny Saturday of course.

* No it isn't. See comments!


Curmudgeon said...

To be pedantic, Chorlton comes within the Trafford & Hulme Branch of CAMRA and thus outside Clarkey's domain ;-)

Tandleman said...

Ah well. What we need is a City Centre Branch!

Coxy said...

I lived in Chorlton for a year in 1988, ,other than around the green where Curly from Corrie was always hanging out it was a dump! Ive been back a couple of times recently and it has changed a hell of alot ,the pubs/bars are great but i still don't think its that posh an area.

ChrisM said...

Chorlton is an area I've never been to, but after reading the article in Beer, and this post, I will definitely seek it out when I have chance to. I quite like 'bars', but I agree that they're not always great for evening drinking.

As for the CAMRA branch boundaries, they definitely need looking at and a City Centre one forming, it's far too confusing!

Curmudgeon said...

It seems that not everywhere in Chorlton is thriving.

Tandleman said...

Interesting on the day Middleton becomes Tescotown "officially" as our new megastore opens.

NAM said...

Also famous for Carrington's off-license.

So, what's the difference between a bar and a pub, then? I'm not sure I can put my finger on it.

Tandleman said...

Good question NAM. I think it is just something you know when you come across it, but there will always be blurred edges. A blog subject for someone?

granata said...

Chorlton is a great crawl, try out Dulcimer, The Bar, Abode etc next time - all next door to each other.

We cover the recent Chorlton Beer Festival in our Pencil & Spoon World Cup sweepstake entry

Erlangernick said...

Is "yummy mummies" proper English for "MILF"?

Curmudgeon said...

No, I would say a "yummy mummy" was somewhat younger than a "MILF" ;-)

Jeff Frane said...

NAM beat me to it. Sounds like another one of those fishy Brit terms. Like Mild. "Ah, well, you'll know it when you see it."

Is a bar fully-licensed? Tom Cruise in there flinging cocktail shakers around? Someone tinkling away on the piano?

Generally speaking, a Yank would expect a "bar" to serve primarily spirits. Unless it's a sports bar, of course, or a ... well, never mind. Did we visit a bar in Chicago?

Tandleman said...

That's the thing Jeff. It's like a pub but isn't and it doesn't relate to the Yankee definition at all.

In Chicago? Well they were all American drinking establishments. Beyond that I couldn't say.