I rarely write in any detail about Manchester pubs, but I've been meaning to say a few words about the Unicorn in Church St for quite some time.
This former Bass house is one of the few remaining traditional multi-roomed pubs of what could be said to be the old school. Along with the Hare and Hounds in Shudehill and the Millstone in Thomas St and maybe one or two others in the same broad area, the Unicorn is the haunt of those of a certain age who have been around the block a bit. It is rough and ready and for many it will be daunting, as it is a no holds barred, old fashioned but attractive, city centre boozer of a type that was all too common in the days when I lived in Liverpool, but nowadays is a bit of an endangered species. It is invariably rammed.
My last visit was unplanned and perhaps not the best date to choose. While E and I awaited a table at a Northern Quarter restaurant, we had 45 minutes to kill, so nipped in for a pint, completely overlooking that this most traditional of pubs was celebrating St Patrick's evening and was a lot more chokka than it usually is - and it is never not full. Fighting our way through the throng of smokers at the door, we were nearly bowled over by the Fields of Athenry at top amplified volume. An almost impenetrable wall of celebrants made progress onwards and inwards a bit of a challenge. To the uninitiated this would seem like a near impossible task, but a wriggle here and an "excuse me" there and we were in and within sight of the bar. To me there is only one drink to order here and it isn't Guinness, though there was plenty of that in evidence. No. Draught Bass it must be, for the Unicorn, in a nod to its previous ownership, stocks Bass as its regular beer.
The bar is broadly horseshoe in shape, with one closed off end, a small room beyond that and to the right off the main corridor, a larger rectangular area split into several distinct parts, with a neat snug like area in the front. It is all wood, leather and brass, with the passageways rather too narrow to comfortably squeeze past the stand up drinkers who invariably huddle there as they most likely have done for many years. Additionally on this busiest of nights, every space was taken. Clutching our drinks we made for the corridor from the crammed bar. I watched as E deftly moved out and with alarm noted as she did, that a fellow imbiber turned to watch her go, in the process swiping a drink off a ledge and onto the floor. I was unprepared though to be accused the crime and warily protested my innocence. These things can easily get out of hand, but a worrying situation was defused and all became sweetness and light as it became clear the drink was unattended and unclaimed. Its demise and therefore who dun it, didn't matter. Whew.
From our new perch at the bottom of the stairs leading to the accommodation above and opposite the juke box we watched three rather inebriated young women swig wine like beer and shriekingly discuss moving on to the Millstone, while still singing off key along to the music. A warning by a staff member to "keep it down" was to no avail and frankly, above the merry din, a touch pointless. They stayed for another and like as not, another after that. Around us there was young and old. The young - mostly pretty pissed - seemed just as at home as their older counterparts who rigidly claimed their usual spot while being inadvertently jostled. Staff filled glasses at lightning speed and the tide of people ebbed and flowed. It was all very jolly and just a tad edgy.
A point to note is that actually, though the noise and numbers were enhanced by the occasion, it is pretty much like this all the time, with an amazing array of divergent characters; ne'er do wells, respectable types, older couples and everything in between can be found within. In short it is a proper pub of a type that was common once, but isn't now, so well worth a visit for that alone. And you get to try Draught Bass.
Do keep your wits about you though. Another plus is that the staff are very quick and friendly. You never have to wait long for a drink in here. Also handy for the bus station, local bus stops and the rest of the Northern Quarter.
Why no photo of the pub? I hadn't actually intended to write about it and these days, you can't just nab a photo off the web. Draught Bass it is then and not even from the same evening. I'm rubbish at this.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink. He also judges beer at both the International Beer Challenge and the World Beer Awards.
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