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Common Bar Reviewed

Femke Colborne and the bar with the shifting walls

Published on July 7th 2011.

Common Bar Reviewed

“DO you have to have a beard to work here?” I ask the young man behind the bar at Common, whose ample facial hair stretches down almost as far as his nipples (not that they are on display, thankfully).

Common ranks among the best bars in Manchester, and the Northern Quarter wouldn’t be the same without it.

He is the third staff member I have seen with a carefully crafted beard, and all are wearing skinny jeans and super-trendy faux-lumberjack shirts to match.

He stares blankly and I attempt to point out that it was a joke by laughing slightly desperately. But his expression does not change, so I give up and order and gin and tonic. As I scan the main room, I notice that the workforce is not alone in living up to the highest possible standards of Northern Quarter chic. Vintage clothes and asymmetrical haircuts abound; and there is definitely a higher than average quota of unnecessary indoor hats.

Despite this self-consciousness, Common has a laid back and easy atmosphere. A pillar of the Northern Quarter drinking scene since its humble beginnings in 2004, it is primarily a bar but also offers a small food menu. More recently it has also opened a second bar, the Kestrel Suite, which tends to be less crowded than the main bar in the evenings and is usually full of shiny Macbooks during the day.

Those in the know will be aware that the recently opened and very popular Port Street Beer House, just around the corner towards Piccadilly, was set up by the team behind Common – proof things have been going well in recent years and that the spirit of entrepreneurship is alive and kicking.

Common1Prior originality in CommonAs well as hosting various DJ nights spread through each month and a quiz night on Wednesdays, Common also functions as an art gallery. The walls in the main bar have been graced by the weird and wonderful creations of many a local artist, although the current offering from David Bailey – a collection of comic strip-style murals featuring a garish cartoon skeleton – borders perhaps on the wrong side of grotesque. (I love ‘em, Editor)

The rest of the décor is reminiscent of a community café – round tables and canteen chairs – with a few booths tucked away to the side for those who get there early enough.

Generally, there are bars, there are restaurants, and there are bars that do food – most of which are best avoided if you’re expecting more than a plate of chips or some soggy nachos. But Common bucks this trend – despite identifying itself primarily as a bar, it offers some of the best value food in the Northern Quarter, albeit from the lunch and early evening menu – after 7pm it’s toasted sandwiches only.

The lamb kofta kebab (£6.50) was excellent value for money,  two well chargrilled skewers on a bed of impressively fresh salad with a minty yoghurt dressing. The vegetable chilli (£6.50) was also very fine with good fresh vegetables, a nice kick and an almost meaty consistency. The Common cheeseburger (£7.50) was encouragingly pink in the middle and dressed with a brave combination of gherkins and mustard, served with a generous helping of crunchy homemade coleslaw.

We also ordered the houmous, olives and flatbread (£4.50). The houmous was disappointing and could have done with more garlic and a touch of lemon juice, the nachos were out of a packet and the olives were shop-bought and average. But the chips were top notch, thin, crispy and not too fatty, served with good quality mayonnaise.

To top it all off, there is a meal deal available every day until 7pm. If you order any dish on the daytime menu, you get a discount on various drinks including house wine, beers, spirits and mixers, or even a good old-fashioned cup of tea.

The only thing that lets Common down is an occasional element of aloofness on the part of the staff. Call me demanding, but when I approach the bar in a relatively empty room I expect the staff behind it to pay some attention to me, rather than chatting amongst themselves until I am forced to interrupt them.

But despite this flaw, it would be inappropriate not to say that Common ranks among the best bars in Manchester, and the Northern Quarter wouldn’t be the same without it. It sums up the free spirits in the area. If you had to drop a journalist who’d only read about the Northern Quarter and its place in city centre social and cultural life into Common they’d be delighted. It’s the sort of place they’d already have floating around their mind’s eye. 

ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL. £1000 to the reader who can prove otherwise, and dismissal for the staff member who wrote a review scored out of twenty on a freebie from the restaurant.

Common Bar
41 Edge Street
Northern Quarter, City, M4 1HW, 0161  832 9245

Bar Rating: 14.5/20
Food and drink: 3.5/5
Service: 3/5
Ambience: 8/10

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

AnonymousJuly 7th 2011.

spot on review (except i've not had such good experience with the food, reminiscent of a school common room - (so maybe it is what they were trying for?) staff and customers way too pleased with themselves when in any other part of town or society these people would just look a little odd! I asked the barman if there was a leak in the roof because he was wearing a hat inside and gave the same little chuckle to diffuse it (as in the review) and i was told to 'look around me'; more a statement on 'I' was the odd one out, not to survey the ceiling. Way too cliquey and cool for school for me. For a good drink in the NQ with real people head to Noho or Keko.

AnonymousJuly 7th 2011.

Best bar in the NQ by far, go on a Saturday and there is a mixture of families, students and workers... if you feel you are the odd one out then you have confidence issues. It's a bar not a fashion show and who cares what people are wearing?, if anything the place is super laid back and brings something unique to the NQ.

The review has an air of snobbery straight away as it points out what someone looks like and what they are wearing, rather than then beers on offer and the food, take it for what it is which is an important part of the NQ's creative hub which you may not like but it's loved by many.

1 Response: Reply To This...
MaggieJuly 7th 2011.

Hmmmm. Me thinks that you have a bit of spot there!

PhilboJuly 7th 2011.

I disagree with anonymous, for me Common is the best bar on that side of Oldham Street. It does not get as busy as the likes of Trof, Odd, Apotheca, Walrus etc. and it seems to have avoided the influx of stags/hens who used to go to the Printworks. Every time I've been there, Ive always ended up chatting to people around us, of all ages. It also contains some of the best graffiti on the mens toilet wall, especially all the Police Academy references

Richard HJJuly 7th 2011.

"Police Academy 5 is Hightower's best one".

JayJuly 7th 2011.

Can somebody please direct me to a bar/restaurant in Manchester that doesn't use "shop bought olives". Wasn't many olive groves in the NQ last time I looked.

AnonymousJuly 7th 2011.

Jay show me any olive groves in the whole of Manchester?

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousJuly 17th 2012.

The guy with the duplex at the top of the Hilton has one up there apparently.

Naomi ShiltonJuly 7th 2011.

Common is the best bar in Manchester - fact.
Just hope being on Manchester Confidential doesn't make it too popular and ruin it.

Matt VauseJuly 7th 2011.

Agree with Naomi best bar in machester - the special Stew is a meal to behold and they play "interesting" music at a nice low volume!

AnonymousJuly 7th 2011.

Yes Naomi, the last thing you want in a bar is people.

Jonathan SchofieldJuly 7th 2011.

Anonymous there is an olive grove in Manchester. It's on top of Beetham Tower in Manchester in Ian Simpson's flat. And there's an olive press off Deansgate. And an old dear called Olive who's a Madam on Whitworth Street West.

AnonymousJuly 7th 2011.

The food is ok and reasonably priced. Not much of a choice when it comes to beer, and it's a bit pricey for what it is. Also there's a tendency to serve real ale way too cold, it should be cellar cool, not chilled. If you're into real ales you're much better off in The Smithfield down the road, cheaper and lots more choice and not served at australian lager temperature. Clientelle and staff a bit Nathan Barley too!

1 Response: Reply To This...
Tom ReynoldsJuly 7th 2011.

It's well Jackson...

AnonymousJuly 7th 2011.

I love this bar, always found it chilled and relaxed and the general vibe of the place is wicked! Definitely think the staff need to lighten up tho, the review was pretty spot on about. We don't want the place to turn in to a style over substance watering hole. Still a great place to meet and booze, up there with the best. Nice one guys

AnonymousJuly 7th 2011.

Yeah the staff are quite rude/unfriendly/not-very-good-at serving (unless they know you). I went one time whilst wearing a lumberjack shirt and was actually embarrassed at the number of people dressed similarly (don't wear it anymore). I like it because it's avoided the 'printworks overspill'/works-night-out crowd. Never seen any 'families' in there though?!

AnonymousJuly 7th 2011.

i agree with the review that it is a good bar but also agree about the attitude of the staff at times, i've been in wearing my suit after work and have been looked at by the staff like i'm an alien, places like this are meant to be open and accept everyone no matter what you look like but i have been made to feel the odd one out there on a number of occasions (note that i'm not made to feel like this when i'm drinking with my arty friends at the the weekend)

AnonymousJuly 7th 2011.

Jonathan I know I've been inside it but I don't see Ian and Rachel stood at the entrance selling to passers by ;)

p.s. my mum's called Olive, she's about as old as a tree too!

Simon TurnerJuly 7th 2011.

May I review this review? It improves after the seriously inane first few paragraphs.

AnonymousJuly 7th 2011.

It's so loud in there, there's nothing to dampen the sound and when it gets a bit busy it's carcophenous (?). The Bar in Chorlton is the same, they should get something on the walls to stop it being so echoey. I can't stand going there for fear of being deafened!

Isobel WestonJuly 7th 2011.

Well i've been knocking around Manchester for a few years now and been frequenting common ever since i moved up here. Re comments about the staff, they all seem pretty safe to me and they've all hotties. To be honest i met one socially.... she's not alloof just a bit dopey. Think forest gump/ lloyd christmas (dumb and dumber). She's really fit though so i'll stomach it, she's got the longest blonde hair, mmmm and smokin gruff welsh accent so i'll keep going back to common for a bit of eye candy. p.s. I saw the one of the staff stack it off his bike the other day so they're not so cool.

FionaJuly 7th 2011.

Common is a bar, but it is also a fashion show. Personally I love an unnecessary hat.

DaisyJuly 7th 2011.

There is nothing wrong with a fashion show, you don't have to join in if you don't want to. Common has character, it might not be for everyone but so what. The falafal kebab is excellent along with the Lamb, only complaint is that they no longer serve shots! Please reconsider this.

AncoatsJuly 7th 2011.

Maybe the barman was a big fan of Grizzly Addams. Dan Hargerty who played Grizzly was quite the dish in the 70s and there seem to be many youngsters following his look.

Simon TurnerJuly 7th 2011.

Common isn't really a ManCon kind of place. Not poncey enough.

Jonathan SchofieldJuly 7th 2011.

Simon don't be silly we love variety of life. Common one day, HN next day, Blackdog Ballroom day after that, Cicchetti the day after the day after that, A&E to round the week off.

SmittyJuly 7th 2011.

Perhaps the, er, joke about the beards made the staff slightly less inclined to provide lightning service... Any time I've been in they've been lovely. And the beards are very fetching.

Eddy RheadJuly 7th 2011.

Manchester Bar Staff In "Being A Bit Aloof" Shocker!
Next you will be telling me that someone in a record shop was a little bit 'short' with you once and a bus driver was not as helpful as you had perhaps have wanted.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
LeeEdgeJuly 8th 2011.

I agree with Eddy

Eddy RheadJuly 8th 2011.

I agree with LEEEDGE

AnonymousJuly 8th 2011.

Common is the way it is. If you're more comfortable in Apotheca or similiar bars then drink in them instead. The staff have always been fine. If they don't happen to put fake smiles on for you then don't take it personally, just go and drink elsewhere. Fashion is always welcome in Common as it represents the Northern Quarter style. If you're into fake tans, false lashes etc (That's just the boys) then stick with Walrus and Bluu around the corner. Like someone else mentioned, they are the Printworks overspill bars. We could do with Cord bar returning to the way it was as well; the small narrow bar used to intimidate the Deansgate Locks people and alike and Common has taken over that. The NQ is managing to fend off most of the mainstream crap that tends to trail the better areas and attempt to dilute it with cheap boyband trends. Get this!! Revolution Bar even tried to open a bar in the NQ. FCUK RIGHT OFF!

Richard HJJuly 8th 2011.

Aloofness is an underrated charm in bars and restaurants of the city. Indeed it's actually an essential skill to learn working in record shops as it's often the only line of defence against members of the public in search of attention, service, whatever...

Need a cuddle when you enter a room? Go visit your Mum, tell her you've been chucked and take a cake.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Eddy RheadJuly 8th 2011.

I hate the way Piccadilly Records are always so pleasant and helpful. I always feel cheated and that they are some how letting the side down.

Richard HJJuly 8th 2011.

Yes, that's the very reason I stopped working there. Kids these days...

AnonymousJuly 8th 2011.

The "is that the one that looks like a special bono" graffito underneath the Hightower bit is funny. It's Zed you're thinking of, by the way but good effort.

Most of my mates go in regularly and absolutely love it. I don't think much of it at all so don't go in much - easy, really.

AnonymousJuly 10th 2011.

The thing is, the attitude that you are speaking of is essentially the same kind patrons of this place would recieve were they to enter the kind of place Confidential is more likely to review; however perhaps this time it would be more of a sneering 'you're not smug/rich/successful to be in this bar/restaurant' atttiude than than the aloofness discussed in this article. Swings and roundabouts & more importantly different cultures.

Working Class MancJanuary 29th 2012.

Went to this bar last night. Oh dear - full of soppy, strutting, coke-fuelled posh boys who think they've become Liam Gallagher/Ian Brown because they're going to live in the, ahem, 'Northern Quarter' for a couple of years. Odious, pretentious little hole. Are people really still falling for this sh*t? If you're discerning, best avoided. Deary me! Tut, tut.

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