Manchester's Northern Quarter has become the heartbeat of the city's music and independent fashion scene. The area boasts one of the most highly concentrated record shopping experiences you will find anywhere in the world, however, how long this will last in the current climate of tumbleweed record sales is open to debate.
On the main Oldham Street stretch you'll also find street, skate and retro clothes shops like Westworld, Café Pop and the must-visit Affleck's Palace. In the surrounding streets of Church and Thomas you'll find cheap Asian food, seedy adult stores, proper Manc boozers and a whole new ghetto of cocktail and dandified bars.
The NQ has become a bit of a tourist trap in recent times. When budget airline, in-flight magazines, are billing it as the place to check out the nightlife action in Manchester, you know the consequences are going to involve random groups of guys on stag weekends, curious tourists and city-dwellers who no longer want to be seen at Deansgate Locks. Thankfully the area still manages to retain its fair share of natives, creatives and the muso crowd so there's always some quality party action going on.
Common is like a quirky six-form common room for grown-ups, a place where the students have taken over the school and emblazoned all kinds of weird and wonderful artwork on the walls. Situated on Edge Street, this sets Common a little bit back from the headlong rush along the Thomas Street axis. Don't think this makes it less busy, though, if you want to go at weekends, arrive early, expect to pay a couple of quid at the door and for it to be rammed inside.
During the week it's a great place to grab a comfy booth, sink a few jars and chew the fat over local tittle-tattle. They serve up some nourishing bar snacks like soup, nachos and beans on toast and the cocktails ain't bad either. The artwork on the walls definitely sets it apart from the rest and if you so desire (and you're bank balance allows) you can purchase pieces from certain exhibitors. Music wise it's a mixed bag with most musical tastes catered for, it makes the most of the millions of DJs in the area and the Vox Pop Record staff from across the road drop in once a week. All in all, Common, is currently one of Manchester's best bars.
39-41 Edge Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester, M4 1HW
When this bar opened it confirmed what every cultural hawk suspected all along: that the Northern Quarter was slowly, but surely, turning into a little piece of Shoreditch, London. This Hoxton import has been a massive success; daft Hoxton Fin haircuts are most definitely optional, thankfully. Inside its cool, spacious and relatively comfy, especially if you get the big puffy sofas. Cocktails are what this bar made its reputation on and while the last couple of times we've been in have not been up to previous standards they still score highly, if, and that's a big if, you get the right member of staff. The food is reasonable and downstairs it's a got a more private area with its own bar and the only toilets in the whole venue, which was a major oversight as far as we're concerned because this space could have been amazing for private parties if everyone else in the bar didn't have to use it as a thoroughfare for the bog.
Smithfield Market, Thomas Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester, M4 1BD
0161 839 7195
If you can get through the front door at weekends, you might have to elbow a few Deansgate Locks rejects out the way before you wet your lips and that in itself speaks volumes for the success of this little cocktail bar. Some say Socio Rehab serve the best cocktails in the city and to be fair they're not far off. The staff are connoisseurs of the mixology and drinks weigh in at a pretty standard rate of £6 a pop. If you want to go and beat the rush, why not try a weekday evening when the place is quieter, you'll get more attention from the staff and you can work your way through the menu at your own pace.
Edge Street, Northern Quarter, M4 1HQ
0161 832 4529
Contender for the smallest bar in Manchester, Rodeo, trades on its tequila-themed image, so that means girls and guys in sombreros, frosted tequila cocktails, nachos for nibbles and a faux-saloon style swinging toilet door. We've had some really good nights drinking in here and we've always been very well treated by the staff. Again, if you're going at weekends and arriving late, expect to form a cue or wait for a while to get a drink.
High Street, Northern Quarter, M4
0161 832 4529
Full of quirky paraphernalia and trippy artifacts, this bar is Odd by name and odd by nature. This hasn't stopped it from walking off with all manner of bar awards since it opened its doors and it continues to do a roaring trade. You will find the extra-fragrant Leffe and the, bursting with flavour, Fruli beer available here. Odd has recently opened a sister bar (Odder) down on Oxford Road, opposite the BBC.
30-32 Thomas Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester, M4 1ER
0161 833 0070
Trof In The City
The original Trof in Fallowfield was a big hit, largely down to it being situated in a residential building and having the air of being a bar in someone's house. This one is set on three floors and is a little bit more grandiose, whilst remaining a cosy experience. Trof prides itself on serving up a vast array of beers, imported lagers and spirits but cocktails are not on the menu. They regularly play host to live music and bands and it's been a success since they opened their doors earlier this year.
5/8 Thomas Street, Northern Quarter, M4 1EG
0161 832 1870
Blurring the lines between a bar and a pub, The Bayhorse is set on two floors, with the basement having one of the only remaining pool tables in the area. To be honest it has never left a lasting impression on us, but it can be handy if other drinking holes in the area are too rammed and you need to get a drink quick
35/37 Thomas Street, M4 1NA
0161 661 1041
Night & Day
Home to bands, live music and indie kids galore, Night & Day has seen so much action it's become a legend in Manchester's music circles. Practically every night of the week it has some sort of performance or band on and it gets very rowdy in the heat of the night. During the day its a much more chilled affair with half-decent food served up along with coffee's and booze, although you're quiet chat might be disrupted by some aspiring band doing a noisy sound check.
26 Oldham Street, M1 1JN
Many years ago we used to drink / eat / party in Dry Bar on the regular. Then the permanent sight of tracksuit-clad-spliff-toting screw faces started to put us right off. Now we never go in and even though we've heard reports that say the venue has started to change, the last time we went past the same aforementioned scrotes were parked outside and we thought ‘nah, let's not bother.'
28 Oldham Street, M1 1JN
0161 236 9840
Very respectable bar situated on the discreet little street known as Tibb Street, Centro opened in the area about the same time as neighbouring Cord and you could say it triggered off the bar explosion nearby. This is a good place to have a drink, with a cheery crowd, especially if you're heading to Matt & Phreds Jazz club or The Mint Lounge later on.
Tibb Street, Manchester, M4 1LG
0161 835 2863
Vernon Kay actually did a shot to camera from Cord on his BBC Holiday report some time ago and from that moment we thought we'd venture elsewhere. We were kind of getting bored of it by then anyway. In its favour Cord has a snug style vibe, if you can get a booth with mates it can be a real hoot, if not prepare to jostle for elbow room. The pies are supposed to be very good and downstairs there's a pretty tiled basement, which looks suspiciously like an old toilet, but now plays host to live music.
8 Dorsey Street, Manchester, M4 1LU
0161 832 9494
We've been drunk in Simple, many, many times, but we're yet to be thrown out, which is quite remarkable. The food during the day is good value for money and of a better standard than the average grub in the area. The space is nothing out of the ordinary but overall it's a good little bar.
44 Tibb Street, Manchester, M4 1LA
0161 835 2526
The Mint Lounge
Midweek live gigs have become a thing of the past at the Mint Lounge and regular club events have established themselves. Weekends now feature the highly acclaimed Clique on Fridays. This digital-pop-disco party attracts an arty student crowd that know their cutting edge alt-pop. That veteran event Funkademia takes place every Saturday and they of course play a mix of funk, soul and disco to an older NQ crowd.
45-50 Oldham Street, Manchester, M4 1LE
0161 228 1495
Matt & Phreds Jazz Club
Jazz... nice! We're big fans of Matt & Phreds. Now the smoking ban is in place it won't be the same as jazz and smokey rooms go together like house and diddlers. However that won't stop the place being absolutely full to the gills at weekends when an array of damn fine jazz musicians drop into play into the wee small hours. Top marks have to go to the barman who last served us on our last visit. Having requested a cocktail he proceeded to freestyle his way through a basket of tropical fruit before serving up something that was incredible. If only all bar staff were so talented. Tables can be reserved in advance by contacting the club. One of Manchester's best night's out.
64 Tibb Street, Manchester, M4 1LW
0161 831 7002
Sweaty, dark, dingy, dirty, and that's just us reeling off The Roadhouse's best assets! Seriously though, The Roadhouse is another part of Manchester that needs to be preserved or at least given a little care and attention to keep it as a venue for underground music. The amount of spaces that have disappeared over the last ten years and not been replaced is out of order in our eyes. Please let's not have a city with millions of flats and bars but no soul.
8 Newton Street, Manchester, M1 2AN
0161 228 1789
Afflecks Palace has three entrances: one through the arcade on Oldham Street; another on Church Street; the third round the back on Tibb Street. When you first venture into Affleck's, it's like a rabbit warren of stalls and shops. Cool, cutting-edge, designers, sit happily next to piercing and tattoo specialists; goggle-eyed fluro club wear makers stand toe-to-toe with vintage clothing shops. All in all it's a remarkable experience and one that everyone who visits Manchester should try at least once. Story's surfaced last year that Afflecks was to close, if this was to happen it would be a very sad day for Manchester and for the independent's, many of whom get started on the ladder in Affleck's.
52 Church Street, Manchester, M4 1PW
0161 834 2039
Westworld is the high-street arm of the Bench and Hooch labels and as such stocks a huge range of these brands. If they aren't your thing you can also find Carharrt, Miss Sixty, Supreme Being, Levis and Dickies amongst others, for both guys and girls.
59 Church Street, M4 3TR
Primarily a skateboard shop, Exit is one of the longest standing surviving retailers in the area. They might not do as big a trade as a few years back, but it's still worth a visit as they have exclusive clothing from the likes of LRG, Zoo York, Daniel Frank, with trainers from Nike, Etnies and Addidas.
41-43 Oldham Street, Manchester, M1 3JG
0161 832 4028
Fresh seasonal ingredients, a homely welcome and a cottage like interior, this could almost be The Lake District rather than Manchester. The food here is consistently great; one look at the menu has the mouth watering in anticipation. It's only small and cosy inside, so you will need to book well in advance for busy periods. And you'll need side orders with your mains. The prices represent the quality of the food with starters and deserts averaging £5-£6 and mains about £15.
104 High Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester, M4 1HQ
0161 834 3743
The Northern Quarter
This restaurant prices itself on sourcing local ingredients and serving up high-quality food. One look at the menu will have you purring in anticipation. The Scallop starter is served with smoked paprika, lemon and lime chutney and frisee leaves, for meat eaters there's black pudding and apple wontons with celeriac, while veggies can feast on the roast asparagus, goats cheese and red pepper cake. Mains keep it simple but show that some care has been put into it: classics like Cod & Chips and Rib-Eye Steak are there but so are pesto marinated halloumi with spiced aubergine and roasted Mediterranean vegetables and sea bass with fragrant Asian broth and crisp soft shell crab. As you would expect prices reflect the quality, so starters are between £5-£6 and mains range from £10-£17.
108 High Street, Manchester, M4 1HQ
0161 832 7115
A visit here left us with mixed feelings. The service was great, the starters perfectly reasonable but the our choice of mains wasn't brilliant and both the dishes and the quality of meat wasn't as good as we expected. That said, we would give it another go, but with so many excellent Chinese restaurants in town, it may be a while before we return.
19 Copperas St
Manchester, M4 1HS
0161 832 8848
The Northern Quarter is a district built on vinyl and here's a quick summary of what you need to know. Eastern Bloc (Oldham Street) is perhaps the most internationally known record shop in the area, made famous by shop staff giving a visiting Eric Morillo an earful for trying to jump the queue and for telling a bemused Josh Wink that Josh Wink's music was rubbish. Banter aside, the shop stocks house, drum 'n' bass, techno and dubstep, and is a must for promo whores. On the opposite corner of the traffic lights is Vinyl Exchange, a shop that stocks second hand rarities and hard-to-find gems. Expect to pay hefty prices on sought after items but you can also find bargains in here, if you know what you are looking for. Next door is dope hip-hop, funk, soul, reggae purveyor, Fat City, if anywhere's going to stock a fat, obscure, DJ Premier joint, this is the place to find it. Across the road you'll find Piccadilly Records, from what we've heard every record shop in the area is having a hard time of it, but Piccadilly is doing big business online. This is good to hear, as this shop is the most versatile and well stocked shop in Manchester, catering for indie, rock, house, techno, funk, soul, broken beats, electronica and a lot more besides. Other than that hit up the vast Vox Pop and Vinyl Revival on Thomas Street for second-hand, rare vinyl and Beatin' Rhythm for obscure funk and soul, with past customers including DJ Shadow, Giles Peterson, Kenny Dope and Mr Scruff!
If you're after a hair cut, in relaxed surroundings, done by two very friendly and professional guys go to Mufti (28 Thomas Street). For a cheap scran, as they say in these parts, Yadgar on Thomas Street offers 3 types of curry with rice for about £3 to £3.50 and you can sit in to eat. Also on Thomas Street Rustica is good for a buttie.