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Classic City Pub - The Eagle - Taken Over And Other Stories

Neil Sowerby goes for a walk on the mild side as Castle folk invade Salford to take over a flawed gem

Published on April 9th 2012.

Classic City Pub - The Eagle - Taken Over And Other Stories

POIGNANT and Schofield. Not an obvious association.

But my colleague’s elegiac homage to The Eagle last year was ManCon at its best - click here. I identified. I too had been treated like a hostile intruder at this back street Salford boozer but hung on in to savour the Holts bitter and the feeling that the whole experience was barely changed from my previous visit 20 years ago. Back to basics. 

When they all crumble to dust or are subject to compulsory purchase orders, the only ageing ale-drinkers’ reservation in the city centre will be the Ape and Apple, a 'modern' Holts pub that never quite caught a 'modern' clientele. 

I suspect the flat dwellers braving this new frontier across the Irwell are more likely to frequent the King’s Arms or the Black Lion – if they are not curled up on the futon watching Homeland with a thimble of Sauvignon. 

All that may be about to change. Jonny, Rupert and the gang behind the rejuvenation of the Castle in Oldham Street have taken control of The Eagle, establishing my favourite Manchester barmaid, Esther, in the Collier Street pub.

Holts beers will remain alongside a wider range of cask and Old Rosie cider. It’s still a work in progress with much 'sprucing up' going on. We will investigate. 

Meanwhile, The Castle has freed itself somewhat from the yoke of Robinson’s beer range. The Stockport brewery coughed up the cash to tastefully and coolly renovate its only city centre tied house, which is now to become its first multi-ale pub; ie. three of the pumps will feature guests – mellow and malty Wold Top Headland Red and Goff’s ultra-hoppy White Knight were excellent the other afternoon. 

All of which suits me, since Robbie’s range mostly leaves me cold.  Old Tom, of course, is a classic barley wine/strong ale – but, at 8.5 per cent, to be handled cautiously. Dizzy Blonde is a merely OK session ale, Hartley’s a shadow of a once glorious tipple, while the Elbow beer is just dreary. 

Nice marketingNice marketing

That’s a pity since Robinsons is making significant strides to modernise – with major boardroom changes, improving its food offering (the Red Lion at High Lane was a great start), a new brewhouse on the way 'featuring the biggest Hopnik in the world' (no idea, either)... and a new website, www.oldtombeer.co.uk, with a CATNAV system for locating OT stockists. 

In Jonathan Schofield’s Eagle review he name-checked other ‘old school’ survivors – the Hare and Hounds, Mother Macks and The Jolly Angler. I’d add those Portland Street supping siblings, The Circus and the Grey Mare and the splendid City Arms off Princess Street. Still it is a dwindling bunch.  

Perhaps when they all crumble to dust or are subject to compulsory purchase orders, the only ageing ale-drinkers’ reservation in the city centre will be the Ape and Apple, a 'modern' Holts pub that never quite caught a 'modern' clientele. 

In there recently, eavesdropping on reminiscences of Cyril Washbrook and Colin Crompton, I thoroughly enjoyed the Holts mild. The Bitter, once as uncompromisingly bitter as liquid earwax, is less an acquired taste these days, but Holts Mild seems unchanged in flavour – refreshingly fruity and malty with a hop trap in the aftertaste. And just 3.2 per cent. 

Cask mild, seen as an old man’s drink, is under threat. Hence the return of Stockport and South Manchester CAMRA’s Mild Magic promotion from April 13 to May 20.  Full details can be found here.

It all involves collecting stickers from participating pubs when you drink whatever mild is on offer and there are ultimately prizes of emblazoned t-shirts and fleeces and free entry to the Stockport Beer and Cider  Festival (Edgeley Park, May 31-June 2, www.stockportfestival.org.uk). 

There are some pubs that are just handy. The cask beer isn’t well kept, the food choice is predictable, the staff don’t smile back much, but it is handy (especially when it’s raining). 

The Rising Sun fitted that bill when I worked nearby off Deansgate a few years ago.  

A long narrow corridor of a pub with doors on to Queen Street and Lloyd Street, it bore stoically the last vestiges of its brief fling as an Irish theme pub. Now it has been tarted up nicely with an improved cask showing and a regular mild, too. Black Cat from Moorhouses of Burnley is a likely offering. It’s a moreish dark mild with hints of chocolate and coffee, yet bitter on the finish. Oh yes, and it will get you a sticker.

Scratch meScratch me

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

Jonathan SchofieldApril 9th 2012.

You're right Neil, I'm brilliant me. I truly hope the old Salford topers who went in there are still encouraged in. Or at least find a new 'local' to enjoy - if any remain around there. And when is the Blackfriars going to be be done up?

MahsApril 10th 2012.

I do hope all the essentials stay the same.

AnonymousApril 10th 2012.

I wish some one would do something with the Blackfriars on the corner of trinity way and Blackfriars . Is a grand old building.!

AnonymousApril 10th 2012.

Blackfriars being done up ...Well the spare land Just over the road by on Sprigfield lane by the Irwell is in the process of being built on with new houses and flats and a 'super'market!!?

Reader XxxApril 10th 2012.

an ailing pub saved as a business but unfortunately this may be at the expense of the existing clientèle - gentrification ! shame really as the old boozers are dying out and whilst the re-invented versions are ok, they are more along the lines of a slightly more atmospheric Starbucks...

Alan ThurmApril 10th 2012.

The Eagle is the best pub in Greater Manchester by a country mile. Priceless and now (sadly) unique. A reminder, I guess, of what corner locals must have been like in Victorian times. I sincerely hope that the old regulars come back to this pub and are made to feel totally at home in the new, re-decorated Eagle. Cheers!

Richard HJApril 11th 2012.

I recall a time when most pubs in the city were profoundly unfriendly as late as 93 - it was just the way they were. Like it or lump it. Then some smartypants demanded new concepts like customer service and they were doomed. Swan With Two Necks, The Topcat Tavern (A David Peace set if ever there was one) and The Sportsman on Market Street. All sh*tholes, all in their own way amazing. And they had a pool table in The Swan.

Probably have to head out of the city for a bit of boozer tension now. Even Mother Macs ain't that bad these days. You wouldn't guess now but there was a time when the city centre was like a Hopper painter with flat caps and flatter beer. I don't miss it but I'm glad I knew it.

1 Response: Reply To This...
RevaulxApril 26th 2012.

Don't remember the Topcat; where was it? The Sportsman was truly a dump, complete with fizzy Yonger's Tartan.

Richard HJApril 11th 2012.


AnonymousApril 11th 2012.

I'm with Richard on this - mind you I still miss The Cornbrook - remember that? No matter how busy it was the bar staff remembered your order...now THAT is class...

AnonymousApril 11th 2012.

Get down to the Commercial in Castlefield for some Holts ,the landlord is still fighting off the developers

Hayley FlynnApril 11th 2012.

I had a whale of time at daytime karaoke one Saturday afternoon in here a few years ago. An old man made me rap to Simply Red and ran ahead of me to lock me in the pub so I couldn't make the exit I was dashing for :)

AnonymousApril 15th 2012.

And what about reopening the Albert Vaults as well? Not totally related but when are the pubs in Ancoats going to reopen? I mean the Cheshire Cheese, Edinburgh Castle and, if it doesn't fall under the wrecking ball after standing for over 200 years, The Smith's Arms?

AnonymousApril 15th 2012.

Also meant to say - surely reopening the pubs in Ancoats is a must to draw people across the physical and psychological boundary that is Great Ancoats Street. And whilst I am ranting, what about starting a group to approach Manchester City Council about reopening the Mackie Mayor building as a market? Surely the city deserves a great market?

John MatherOctober 30th 2012.

Does the Eagle still have the Manchester dart board?

tblzebraNovember 20th 2012.

No they don't unfortunately John, I asked a few months ago.

Basil WatkinsAugust 11th 2013.

I remember this pub when it was on the "Manchester Dirty Dozen" pub crawl in the mid Seventies, involving 12 different real ales in 12 different tied houses owned by 12 different breweries. It started in the John Willie Lees in the old Arndale, went into Ancoats and then to the Boddingtons Brewery for the Ducie Arms RIP across the road from the brewery tap. The latter was tiny, cramped, dirty and full of miserable bell-end postmen, but the Ducie was patronised by the inmates of an enormous doss-house RIP on Greengate which also supported many of the other pubs around. The Ducie had a floor of stuck-down lino squares for ease of cleaning when one of the old dossers let the urine leak through the holes in his boots (no knock-off trainers back then). After that you went into the Old Shears RIP, "oldest building in old Salford" for Wilsons, then the Eagle for Holts and finally the Three Legs of Man RIP to go out with a bang by hitting the floor after the 12th pint, Robinsons Old Tom on draught. The Eagle was dominated by old scrotes in flat caps who were liable to take their teeth out before supping their mild. I think it was saved by being the nearest Holts pub to Manchester city centre back then; the brewery had no tap house, only an off licence, and most of their pubs were in loser rat-holes like Swinton or Tyldesley (went there once, made Salford look like Wilmslow). So CAMRA members started visiting regularly. The beer was iffy, the brewery had some sort of infection and so there was a vinegar tang. They would probably deny it now, but I think they were waiting for a larger brewery to make a takeover offer and nobody wanted them.

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