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Odd and Odder

Jenny Wilkinson talks to the owner of the Odd empire about why her bars are about more than just selling booze

Published on February 24th 2009.

Odd and Odder

When Odd first opened its doors four years ago, it was greeted with delight by bar-goers. Here was a little haven of individuality within a largely bland drinking scene. Depending on where you looked, the décor could remind you of your best friend's bedroom when you were 17, a 1960s lounge bar, or an Alpine lodge. It served lovely food and drinks in an atmosphere that was endearingly warm and unassumingly cool. No wonder then that it won a large, regular clientèle and several awards.

All that was four years ago and in the time since, it's spawned several imitators, all going for that eclectic, thrown-together look. Odd's own close relation Odder was launched two years ago in the 'Southern Quarter' and there's been tantalising rumours of an Oddest for the last year or so.

When I met Cleo Farman, the brains behind Odd and Odder, she wouldn't give anything away about the location of this third point in the Odd triangle, but she had plenty to say about her first two babies. Talking to her, you get a sense of what's really unusual about Odd and Odder (and it's more than just the interior design).

Like many bar/restaurant owners, she's full of enthusiasm for the food and drink they peddle, particularly as they've just got a new menu and a new chef, Mike Wardell, who was trained in a three rosette restaurant in York. But what makes her stand out is her excitement about the role the bars can play in the city's creative scene.

“I never wanted this to be a place that just sells booze – I think that would be a bit boring,” she says. “I wanted Odd and Odder to be about people joining in and being interactive. I'm into people having a go at things so if I can help someone – an artist, band or DJ or film-maker – through the bars, then I will.”

Hence the imaginative events schedule for Odd and Odder. Their 'What's On' page reads more like the listings for an activity club than a city centre bar, with art exhibitions and launches, live art, film nights, quizzes, massage evenings, live band nights, and of course, plenty of DJs.

Both bars host the cream of local artistic talent, with exhibitions changing on a monthly basis and all artwork for sale, and you can get involved in the art yourself when the Sketch City collective take over Odder every Wednesday. 'Music to doodle by' is their apt description. Up-and-coming street artists draw live on large canvases while DJ Johnny Dub plays the tunes. You can stand and watch or you can get sketching yourself; art materials are provided. It's free, and there's half price house wine and £1.50 beers to get the creative juices flowing.

Continuing with the theme of audience participation, Odder is now home to the Filmonik night which used to be held at Matt and Phreds. Cleo describes it as an “open mic night for film-makers” and anyone who's been will know that, like at comedy or music open mic events, you're never sure what's going to happen next. The short films submitted by professional and amateur film-makers are diverse in quality as well as style. But it's a great place to go if you want to see something fresh, or if you want an audience for your own celluloid creations.

Film fans flock to Odder again every third Sunday of the month for the Mini Cine Picture Show. It's similar to Filmonik except that this time the films are submitted in advance, so you could get a comedy from Spain or a horror short from America – the only stipulation is that they be as 'odd' as possible. It's free in and there's free popcorn. And if you've got a mini masterpiece that you want to see on the big screen, get in touch with Odder (contact details below).

Film-makers aren't the only creative-types who Odd and Odder want to nurture. Cleo explains how new artists are also welcomed. “We give them space to display and sell their work for a month and we don't take commission. Artists also get a free launch night with a case of wine to share amongst friends and other art lovers.”

She goes on to say that they're working on plans to do something similar for up-and-coming musicians. New bands will get the bar for themselves and their fans for the night, without having to pay for room hire.

Music is a big part of Odd and Odder, with regular album launches, band nights and DJ sets. On every fourth Sunday at Odder, hotly-tipped local indie act The Travelling Band put a night on, booking the bands and bringing their favourite records. Over at Odd, the DJs have equally impressive credentials. Regular nights are hosted by the Detroit Public Radio DJs, El Diablo, Piccadilly Records and Modernaire's Oscar Wildstyle. The first Sunday of every month sees Your Mamas Cookin’ hosting live folk acts and playing tunes from the 1920s to the 1950s. Or if you just want a quiet, relaxing night, go down on a Tuesday when professional masseurs provide head massages for a small donation.

Cleo sums up the Odd/Odder experience as: “Really good nights, wicked food, and cool, friendly staff.” If you add to that 'art, films, new bands, and loads of creativity and passion', you might be close to what these two bars are all about.

For details of all the events listed above, go to www.oddbar.co.uk or www.odderbar.co.uk

Odd Bar. 30-32 Thomas Street, Northern Quarter. 0161 833 0070.
Odder Bar. 14 Oxford Road, Southern Quarter. 0161 238 9132.

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