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City Arms review

Jonathan Schofield and his love of pubs as a budget petition to save them launches

Written by . Published on March 15th 2011.

City Arms review

THESE ARE THE PUBS I can’t keep out of in the south central city centre: Briton’s Protection, Peveril of the Peak, The Circus, Lass O’Gowrie, Thomas’s Chop House and the City Arms.

I love them all.

The City Arms is a joy to visit, a sanctuary from work, an escape from stress, a place to chat, drink...even read.

After a few in each one I sometimes feel the love spreading and want to buy them as well. Then I could spread my life out living in each one for day at a time, with Sunday as a rest day. The family would love it. Or so I think - after a few in each one.

If I’m close to Manchester Art Gallery it has to be the City Arms.

A former weaver’s cottage from the eighteenth century, the 200-and-something-year-old property has all a pub lover could wish for. It’s got low-ceilinged dark interiors, a fine array of ales and er...that’s about it.

Aside from a cute smoking area out the back. And a fabulous and crazy selection of books including, on a recent visit, Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying, for those who like a bit of sex-literature over a pint of bitter. There’s even probably this writer’s favourite novel Catch 22.

Food is kept to a minimum apart from a limited menu for a couple of hours at lunch. Otherwise there’s a pie warmer, crisps and some unspeakable e-number products such as scampi fries.

The magic of the City Arms lies in its scale. It’s small, so therefore perfect for a conversation, cavernous is never quite so good. It can be grand, like the old banking hall of Browns restaurant nearby, but small-scale is warm and welcoming. Going in a pub such as this is like throwing a favourite blanket over yourself. It just feels right.

It’s no coincidence that all the pubs I’ve mentioned above share this intimate nature.

They sum up the qualities contained in eighteenth century wit Samuel Johnson’s famous lines: “There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much human happiness has been produced as by a good tavern or inn.”

There’s always a choice of eight ales on offer at the City Arms.

The favourite at the moment is that current darling of the beer drinking community Brewdog brewery’s organic Trashy Blonde (£3.05). This is a fruity and sharp ale that’s worth a go. Brewdog themselves describe it as: ‘A titillating, neurotic, peroxide, punk of an ale’. Is that an irritating description or a 'fun' one?

They need to be a bit cautious these hyper-confident Scots that they don’t do a Blacksheep on us and start to bore the regular drinker. Ale fans tend to like variety. Still it was fun ringing up the pub and asking the barmaid, “How much can I buy Trashy Blonde for at the City Arms?”

Landlord Steve Crook’s outlook on a successful pub goes straight to the point: “What you need is a quality product and good service. You have to keep you beer to a high standard and smile at people. It’s amazing how many pubs fail to do this.”

Simple advice, attracting everybody into the City Arms from the Manchester Council Leader to students, with all sorts in-between, accountants, lawyers, office workers and editors of web magazines.

But it’s amazing how many pubs are under threat at present, pubs which do keep good product and do provide good service.

The reasons are well known: the high price of beer charged to pubs by pubcos such as Enterprise Inns and Punch Taverns (The City Arms is unfortunately owned by Punch): the cheap price of alcohol in supermarkets; a change in society which makes pub going less commonplace; and the relentless increase in beer duties from nice middle class Parliamentarians who probably prefer wine at home and if not can at least take advantage of the subsidised beer prices in the House of Commons bar.

This month the ‘I’m Backing the Pub’ campaign is taking place. The campaign is aiming to bring together all the industries that rely on or are affected by what happens to pubs. They want to show politicians the contribution of pubs and highlight the malign effects increased taxation and regulation can cause the industry.

As the people organising it say: 'Currently the campaign is urging people to email their MP and ask them to support a motion in Parliament which asks the Government to rethink the proposed increase in alcohol duty so soon after the increase in VAT. This would add, on average, ten pence to the price of a pint on top of the six pence increase due to the VAT increase in January'.

That’s too much. If you want to support the campaign look it up at www.backthepub.com

One of the walls in the City Arms carries another famous quote about pubs. This one from Hilaire Belloc. ‘When you have lost your inns, drown your empty selves, for you will have lost the last of England.’


But that’s enough of the frown wearing. The City Arms is a joy to visit, a sanctuary from work, an escape from stress, a place to chat, drink...even read. Give it a go - unless of course you’re a regular Manchester drinker in which case you’ll already have done so.

Follow Jonathan Schofield on twitter @JonathSchofield

Rating: 15/20
Breakdown: 8/10 ambience
4/5 drinks
3/5 service
Address: City Arms
46-48 Kennedy Street
M2 4BQ
0161 236 4610

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

AnonymousMarch 15th 2011.

Why has the poor review of Browns been firstly buried, (ie no picture reference on main F and D page) and now removed completely?

Maggie TooleyMarch 15th 2011.

Probably because the review was an inaccurate reflection of the restaurant! I've been twice now and thought it was brill both times, good food, good value. If you read the review by Schofield you will see that he had a £40 bottle of wine - a bit rich for my wallet, (and remember, dear reader that the subscribers to Mancon etc have paid for that, not Schofield!)but the food is 'High Street' prices. You get what you pay for. The prices are dead reasonable, the food isn't up to 'French restaurant @ The Midland' standard, but then neither are the prices. get down to Browns, the food is great and very affordable!!

Jonathan Schofield - editorMarch 15th 2011.

Anon, Browns hasn't been removed, it's headline under the British section. Why it's not in the general food and drink section is being investigated. Weird. Seems to have fallen off there. Then again we have loads of techies working berserkly to revamp Confidential.

Jonathan Schofield - editorMarch 15th 2011.

Maggie bless you. No we paid for the wine with the money we'd earned by running a business employing around twenty people, which takes advertising, does tours and is lucky to have readers who are Heros who like what we do. Would you rather the restaurant pay for the food and booze and we do a Cheshire Life and say everything is lovely?

suepabsMarch 15th 2011.

...or a Sugar Vine which doesn't publish ANY poor reviews as they informed me.

I found Browns Sunday veggie lunch to be poor and the coffee lukewarm. We'll not go again even to give them the benefit of the doubt. All fur coat and no knickers

AnonymousMarch 15th 2011.

Maggie, whether a review is an "accurate reflection", is subjective and has never been grounds for removal of a review before.
Your other views on the wine being "a bit rich for your wallet", well tough, if someone can afford a bottle of wine at that price its up to them, deal with it.

Your comment regarding the French is equally baffling, we know browns is not the French because we've been blessed with a brain.....charging £5.00 for crap is poor value, charging £30.00 for a sublime main course in the right environment can be excellent value...
there was a tidal wave of views and opinions that supported the conclusion of the review, (indeed many were more derogatory), that has to tell you something.
I personally think the review was probably too kind and forgiving giving Browns several attempts to impress them, (many new openings dont get that many bites at the cherry), there was a huge anticipation for the launch of Browns with many people have fond memories of the venue and I honestly feel there is an overwhelming feeling of disappointment for what has been served there.

Andrew RevansMarch 15th 2011.

What a shame that not one of the rants posted so far has had anything to say about this excellent article. It's not surprising the Great British Boozer is in terminal decline if all people care about is handbagging each other over a second-rate chain restaurant.

Mark JorgensenMarch 15th 2011.

Here here revaulx.
So, Jonno, how much does it cost to procure a trashy blonde there?

Mark JorgensenMarch 15th 2011.

£3.05 sounds unfeasibly cheap.

AnonymousMarch 17th 2011.

Still no review for Browns......

DibigoMarch 17th 2011.

'south central city centre'???? FFS. Stopped reading at that point.

Secret SquirrelMarch 17th 2011.

Isn't the City Arms in Salford? Mind you, southern city centre yeah sounds right.

Jonathan Schofield - editorMarch 17th 2011.

Anon the Browns review is there plain as day: www.manchesterconfidential.co.uk/…/ew_17281.asp…

BlondeMarch 18th 2011.

On the basis of this review I will endeavour to give it a punt this weekend.
I'd also like to know more about all the pubs listed above...
But, as a Blonde (not a trashy one I assure you) I'd like some more details in the review. Are these lovely little boozers are also female friendly...? Do they have big screens where I can watch the rugby... for that matter, where is the best City Centre (not Didsbury)pub for ruggers (preferably where the Six Nations wont get switched off because someone asked for the Derby County v PNE match !) Thanks Confidants

April PudseyMay 9th 2012.

The City Arms is v. female friendly, yes. And what a place for a cheeky lunchtime Pie & a Pint! Landlord Steve's words above ring true: he always seems perky and lovely when the punters are well fed, watered and smiling.

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