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Blackdog Ballroom review

Helen Ramsbottom likes almost everything in the recent underground Northern Quarter incomer

Written by . Published on February 10th 2010.

Blackdog Ballroom review

On the corner between Tib Street and Church Street, Blackdog Ballroom is the basement space that was formerly North nightclub, and prior to that Isobar. Having spent many a misspent youthful evening/night/early morning dancing away in the previously smoky, sweaty, expansive pit I was interested to see how the space held up under a completely different guise.

Everything else ticked the box for an excellent night out. I’ll be back there for definite. This is a clever addition to the Northern Quarter and the whole city drinking and idling scene, it's good looking, easy and great place to visit.

Jobe Ferguson (The Northern Quarter Restaurant and Bar) and Ross Mackenzie (Sankeys, One Central, Purple Pussycat) are behind the concept they define as being a ‘Speakeasy, Diner and Poolbar’. Now for a bit of history to set the context. Speakeasies arose in the Prohibition era in America in the 1920s to early 1930s and sold alcohol illegally. The term came from bartenders asking patrons to be quiet or ‘speakeasy’ when ordering alcoholic drinks.

So how does this translate to the Northern Quarter in 2010?

The signage is stylish and understated, no great fanfare to advertise the establishment. Entry is through simple and smart glass doors. Then you head down a dimly lit staircase to the bar area. The facelift from former days is impressive. A long bar against the left wall with funky light fittings, numerous booth areas, bright bar stools and more contemporary chair and table areas. There’s a DJ booth with dance floor space. Then in the depths of the bar are the pool tables. Four of them. Bright red with surround seating. Shoot pool or shoot the breeze and observe. It’s got a nice vibe about it, perfect for both.

I went to the Blackdog Ballroom on the opening evening. It was heaving. Never a measure of how a bar’s future is going pan out I popped back in November after work for a swift scoop, keen to try the cocktails. I was told they’d be ready in the next few weeks. So when I was asked to officially review the place I was looking forward to getting stuck into these .

Alas it wasn't meant to be. We asked the barman for the list to be told it was a work in progress. The lovely barman did try to assuage our grief by informing us the wait was due to ensuring ‘they’re going to be fucking amazing’. I guess we’ll let you know when they finally launch them.

So Daltz, my drinking buddy for the evening, threw in a wild card, “Ok, well how about a Dr Pepper then?” I wasn’t quite sure where this was going. In the absence of cocktails I wasn’t looking for a soft option. The friendly barman regained some favour by instantly recognising it’s a concoction of beer, coke, cherry brandy, amaretto and a dash of lime. Sounds revolting but it was remarkably like the branded drink. We followed that with a few Sailor Jerry’s and gingers – beer for me, ale for Daltz. The spirits list was up to scratch.

Strangely, identical rounds cost different each time but reasonable in the scope of Manchester bar prices. £3.70 on one round, a less impressive £4.50 on the other. There are various beers on draught, San Miguel, Carslberg Extra Cold, Tuborg, Gaymers, Guinness and Erdinger and a reasonable selection of wine.

Perhaps the addition of cocktails to this busy bar could cause some frustration. It was Saturday night and never less than one or two deep at the bar. But in the face of this the service was convivial and accommodating. Blackdog has attracted a well turned out crowd, age range 20s to 40s, a spattering of ‘creative’ but not affected types, generally out-for-a-nice-time human beings. No slappers, chavs or gangsters. Plenty of mixed groups in there: it’s a decent place to gather with good friends.

Music genre is funk, you can get your groove on nicely without the place having a ‘clubbing’ feel to it. And it’s not so loud that you can’t hear yourself think. With the late license you can dance the night away if you wish, 4am on a Friday, 5am on a Saturday and food is served until 1am. Have your whole night out and the en-route home food raid without leaving the building. Winner.

The food features starters; variations of garlic bread, dough balls, olives and bruschetta. Salads from £5.95 to £6.50 starring a few of the old favourites; chicken caesar, steak and goats cheese plus a char-grilled chicken and chorizo. Burgers from £6.95 to £7.95 served on a bun with fries, all made with Cheshire beef, options with cheese, chorizo, chicken, jalapenos and a veggie option. Pizzas at 12” or 6”, £2.95 to £7.50, run-of-the-mill margarita to the more imaginative seafood with anchovies, prawns, squid, mussels, tuna and capers or the hot dog with Italian sausage, pepperoni, chilli steak, red chillies and sliced meatballs. We opted for pizza and a couple of sides. Served fast, they were of a satisfying standard and ideal for the setting.

The only thing I can fault the Blackdog Ballroom on was their lack of cocktails. Everything else ticked the box for an excellent night out. I’ll be back there for definite. This is a clever addition to the Northern Quarter and the whole city drinking and idling scene: it's good looking, easy and a great place to visit.

Rating: 15/20
Breakdown: 3/5 drinks
3.5/5 food
4/5 service
4.5/5 atmosphere
Address: Blackdog Ballroom
Church Street
City, M4
0161 839 0664

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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5 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

TomFebruary 11th 2010.

I remember in the original pitch for Blackdog Ballroom, the owners gave mention to siderooms which you could gain access to with a password or something. Am I imagining this or was this idea abandoned due to some reason?

Stevie McCool (Of the clan McAwesome)February 11th 2010.

Nah man it happened. You (and the reviewer) clearly just aren't cool enough to get access. Sorry ;)

Clan McFeebleFebruary 11th 2010.

Would it be too feeble if I asked ManCon to add a map link to reviews? Tib St I know; Church St I'm hazy...sorry i know I could Google it up but wouldn't it be better for ManCon to map it...?

AvoFebruary 15th 2010.

I was under the impression that the secret rooms were still under development so hadn't gone live yet so nobody is currently getting access regardless as to how cool you are but I may stand to be corrected??<br><br>Anyway, I'm sure the cocktails will be "fucking amazing" once the menu has been finished as Tom Sneesby is at the helm behind the bar.

Dave SpannerFebruary 15th 2010.

Let's hope they work out how to treat there staff in the meantime. A friend of mine pulled up the bar manager because of the way he denigrated a member of staff in front of us. The result? My friend was forcefully removed and barred. He's a nice chap my friend, shame really as I had high hopes for blackdog and now we don't even consider it.

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