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Manchester Pub Guide Reviewed

Charlie Butterworth likes the idea but isn't sure about some of the entries

Published on November 10th 2011.

Manchester Pub Guide Reviewed

THIS IS a user friendly guide and a bargain too. Produced by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) it's a good effort but has issues. 

Well done CAMRA, but maybe now you need to look at the whole pub experience in your guide rather than just beer.

Let's start with the good news, especially at a time when so many pubs are being boarded up.

Pay just under a fiver and you get a gazetteer of 140 detailed entries for mainly city centre pubs and bars and those just over the river in Salford, with another hundred or so pubs and bars listed. 

There are also a couple of pub and bar excursions south through Rusholme to Didsbury and into Chorlton.

Each of the main entries is clearly written and gives a decent description of the pub supplemented by the use of those hieroglyphics guidebook folk like, telling people whether there are real fires, food, outdoor drinking areas and so on. 

There are some good feature sections as well on local beer and cider festivals, Greater Manchester breweries, beer styles, and a tour of the city centre mingling history with pubs. 

All the main suspects are there from the Kings Arms to the Britons Protection, Thomas's Chop House and The Marble Arch. New places such as the Gaslamp and Port Street Beer House and re-invented places such as the Castle and the Mark Addy all feature as well.

Beer Book 026

For beer drinking fans there are no real surprises of undiscovered gems, for new city swiggers it will be invaluable - but they'll have to be careful.

The authors should have been more discriminating. Some inclusions should have no place in this guide. For some places it's best to hire armed guards before venturing in.  

Frankly if I had guests getting off a train from London I would never for one second advise them to nip into the Wetherspoons in Piccadilly, or maybe if they miss that, to pop round the corner to the Yates on Portland Street.

As for recommending any Slug and Lettuce anywhere, I'd only do that if they were doing a PHD on the dismal characterless pubs of the UK.

Similarly while Mother Macs on Back Piccadilly has a certain sort of damp cholera epidemic Victorian Jack The Ripper charm, in truth it's a depressing little hole. I could go on, there's a lack of judgement in some of the choices that is worrying.

It appears pubs and bars are included simply because they sell real ale not if they're any good as a pub. 

(Of course, it all gets confusing with the whole bar/pub pub/bar thing anyway, so much so that Parlour, more of a restaurant than a bar or pub, outrageously won Pub of the Year at this year's Manchester Food and Drink Festival. Meanwhile the Port Street Beer House is definitely a pub but isn't one of the traditional kind.) 

The number of inclusions is rewarding in one respect. It proves that since forming in 1971 to prevent gassy keg ale replacing real ale in all our pubs CAMRA has won the war. The tide has turned, real ale is back and dominant. 

I purchased a CAMRA guide to Manchester city centre pubs twenty years or so ago and there were about forty entries. Now there are hundreds. 

Well done CAMRA, but maybe now you need to look at the whole pub experience in your guide rather than just beer.

A pub is atmosphere, service, food if it's serving it, heritage as well if that's there: it's the sum of its parts. As this book amply, if inadvertantly shows, just because you serve real ale doesn't mean you can't be a really crap pub. 

The Manchester Pub Guide is a good guide for those in the know already; for beer lovers new to the city, it's too flabby and directionless.

For instance if I said to my Manchester ale-drinking mates, "Do you want to go for a few in the Lloyds in the Printworks?" they'd think I was already pissed. 

The Manchester Pub Guide is out now in all bookshops priced £4.99.

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

StephenNovember 10th 2011.

In my opinion, the thing which can really spoil a good pub is when the local CAMRA members hold their meeting in it. Bearded anoraks sipping halves and rating them as "Nats P#ss" can lower the tone!

Sadly though Manchester probably needs this guide because if you want to stick on decent ale for the night, it takes a bit of forward planning. Not a problem I find so much when I spend a night on the beer down South.

AnonymousNovember 10th 2011.

Of course the point is that it's each to their own - one man's characterless is another man's cool and modern. I would totally agree with you on the Slug & Lettuces, but somebody must like them to support three of them in the city. And Wetherspoons in Piccadilly for all it's charms is usually rammed!

You should look again at Lloyds in the Printworks. The cellar is now run by the manager who raised the quality and brought all the variety to The Waterhouse. Wouldn't venture in for a quiet pint on a weekend evening, but for othertimes it's improved a lot.

Nice to see Stephen can differentiate between the contents of Viz and reality.

BTW - Also available by mail order from http://www.camragreatermanchester.org.uk and from some of the listed pubs.

1 Response: Reply To This...
StephenNovember 12th 2011.

I actually had a person I know in mind. He must be the Viz reader then?

DrinkerNovember 10th 2011.

The point is that the CAMRA outlook can be very limited. It's more true to say that all good pubs have real ale, rather than all real pubs are good ones. Honestly Slug and Lettuce, Yates?

Piccadilly PalaverNovember 10th 2011.

Anon. But should the fact that The Piccadilly is rammed really make it worthy of inclusion in a Manchester Pub Guide? Would you even put it in your top twenty pubs in Manchester city centre. Just 'cause one of the Chinatown buffets is packed would you include it in a food guide for that reason alone?

Man in a ShedNovember 10th 2011.

Charlie, on a personal level I agree with what you're saying in terms of some of the particular "choice" venues that are included in the guide. From my perspective, there are probably only forty or so in the city centre that I would consider attractive options for a beer (and out of those, probably only visit half a dozen more than a few times each year). However, what I would consider "good pubs" probably only marginally overlaps anyone else's selection. I do know of some people who rate certain national chains quite highly and yet do still appreciated their ale. There are indeed those that take one look at the City Arms and bob into the Waterhouse instead for their pint of (admittedly decent) bitter. At the end of the day, CAMRA's aim is to maximise choice and consumption of good ale, regardless of the venue. They cannot afford to be arbiters of taste, especially when many pubs are going to efforts to include real ale in their offer. As you say, the guide does provide expanded descriptions of 140 of the (presumably) more interesting pubs on offer in town, so it is presumably up to the punter to interpret whether a particular watering hole is their cup of tea (or in fact, pint of ale).

Great to read a good article on beer in ManCon by the way!

Man in a ShedNovember 10th 2011.

Stephen, which places down South did you have in mind? Is the issue with Manchester pubs and bars quality rather than quantity?

2 Responses: Reply To This...
StephenNovember 12th 2011.

I find that when in the south its easier to fall upon a decent boozer, rather than have to know one, as is the case here. On my frequent travels I frequently find myself in some pub wishing I could transport it back home. So either I'm extremely lucky so far in my choices, or it must be the quantity of places elsewhere?

StephenNovember 12th 2011.

Frequent Frequently! Did I say that?

MNovember 10th 2011.

Consistency (in application, not texture) is important to me with both beer and larger. And cocktails too for that matter.

Granted the former usually pulls it off better than the others but there's nothing worse than looking forward to you first pint of [XXX] (note the lack of a fourth X there) only to find it doesn't taste like it's supposed to.

Should you include Wetherspoons in there? Sure, so long as the pub description explains what type of place it is. Wetherspoons does a great job in bringing affordable real ales to the punters, just steer clear of the standard stuff which is on draft.

They could have perhaps picked the best Wetherspoons in the city centre though (any suggestions on what is?) but all types of people drink beer and pubs are aimed different types of people. The reviews should be clear but not snobbish about chavvy ones so long they are the best in who they cater for. Some chavs and people without beards will buy this book.

If I *had* to go to the Printworks. Which pub is best? Probably worth knowing if you meet up with some out of town mates. Saves the 'pleasure' of doing the leg work yourself.

The Slug and lettuce I could live with not reading about but if they are suggesting that it's the best of the chain pubs in the city for ale, well, why not. But the article should suggest they try to be more adventurous and try elsewhere.

Yates'. I've never been. Call me judgemental but I don't want to go. I doubt the beer's any good either.

Does it highlight specially recommended pubs though? That it should also do.

Charlie ButterworthNovember 10th 2011.

There is no top ten list, or essential list or any ranking. The guide misses that. This is more of a directory than a guide, I'd have obviously preferred a guide.

HHHNovember 10th 2011.

Yes. Not much in the way of directing people to the right pubs here. That would have been useful. Still I bought and enjoyed looking through it.

Jean Verity-DoyleNovember 10th 2011.

I agree with the write up it should be on food quality of Bear and service in the pubs not just camra's reasoning. really good food at the English lounge but told failure in Beer quality. Wines are excellant tho.

1 Response: Reply To This...
StephenNovember 12th 2011.

I've always had you down as more of a wine quaffer myself Jean. Whats is it you say? "Nothing under 13%"?

PaddingtonNovember 10th 2011.

I think the Rembrandt has the best Bear quality

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousNovember 10th 2011.

Paddington you may recieve some grizzly responses to that posting ....or some pooh ones!

StephenNovember 12th 2011.

Somehow I think that it'll be left to me to explain this one to Jean when I next see her?

Tom HallNovember 10th 2011.

Mother Macs is ace.

scott neilNovember 21st 2011.

i'm a real ale bore myself but have to agree, Camra are one-eyed. must second Tom and disagree re the criticisms of Mother Macs though, smashing little gaff!

also the nearby Marhaba is one of our better curry caffs IMO...

scott neilNovember 21st 2011.


Camra CAN be one-eyed, i should clarify, though not necessarily always. OPENING TIMES is the best Mcr, Salford and area food and drink publication (print at least anyway!!) i know of anywhere, to be fair.

who can argue with columns of the quality of STOCKPORT SUPPING WITH CLIFTON BELL?!

Paul DouglasJanuary 3rd 2012.

I agree with most of the comments. But,,,,
Just because a pub sells real ale DOESN'T mean they keep a good pint.

Richard PhillipsApril 6th 2012.

One pub to definitley stay well clear of it the Organ Tavern on Acres Lane, Stalybridge.
Violence, Drugs and Thugs are the norm here, I visited once ...never again.

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