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The Northern

Jonathan Schofield gets angry about pub owning companies but likes the Northern very much

Written by . Published on February 21st 2008.

The Northern

The Sawyers Arms on Deansgate makes me retch. Or at least what it represents: Stella, Fosters, John Smiths Smooth, flashing machines, football screens in every corner. One of those – “awright mate, yer what, fuck off” – places, where men regress to Neanderthals. If Nuts were a pub it’d be the Sawyers.

Most are owned by a non-brewing pub company – pubcos. These are the Devil’s own handy-men, guilty of the rape of the English boozer. They took over from the breweries in the 1990s for worthy reasons concerning brewery monopolies but then started to asset strip.

There are lots of holes like this around. Most are owned by a non-brewing pub company – pubcos. These are the Devil’s own handy-men, guilty of the rape of the English boozer. They took over from the breweries in the 1990s for worthy reasons tied into brewery monopolies but then started to asset strip.

By giving tenants a ridiculously low return with excessive rents and fees, pubcos have been the main reason for the death of the pub in large areas of cities and towns. Crime, violence and changing social habits have been the pubcos sneaky excuses used to justify the closure, demolition and the making of a quick property buck.

At the same time on profitable High Streets pub companies have produced cloned drinking barns. Get young drinkers in, crank the music up, put in big screens, get them pissed quick. As long as there’s a responsible drinking note on the website that’s ok, eh?

There’s a simple judging rule which can be applied with city and town centre drinking dens. If it contains an ATM then get out quick: run while you can. The ATMs are there for all the nutters to abuse whilst getting drunk. Jesus, I should know, having turned into one of those Neanderthals frequently enough.

Simple truth is that most High Street pubs need a re-think. This is where the Northern comes in. It’s a big step in the right direction: a place where you can chat, where the music isn’t too loud before ten or eleven pm: a home from home, still a public house. It feels confident, comfortable yet proper city and ballsy.

In other words it’s a million miles away from shitty Sawyers derivatives but it’s still a real pub not a glorified country tea room such as the Three Fishes in the Ribble Valley – with due respect to Mr Nigel ‘celebrity chef’ Haworth.

The Northern manages this despite being a themed pub, which is usually a very bad sign. The clue to the theme is in the name: there are portraits of Colin Bell, Pat Phoenix, Anthony Burgess and so on. The John Cooper Clarke and Albert Finney print wallpaper is genius. All of this could be an embarrassment but isn’t, because here it's been thought through. Like a good episode of Corrie it’s the humour you catch not the fact that it’s a Northern stereotype.

The Northern was the old Kings on Oldham Street. In a way this was its own theme: the sort of pub southerners and suburbanites imagine when the words ‘working class’, ‘northern’ and ‘city’ crop up. It was forever stuck in the 1970s as though the Comedians was on the box and a pasty, thin stripper was about to appear through a tinsel curtain on stage. It’d had its day, it was horrible, so the new owners not only changed the way it looked but swapped the entrance around, putting it down a ginnel off Tib Street. Wise move: not so many alcos crash in now. It also results in the best smoking area in town, away from the door so the rest of us don't have to take part. .

The pub cares about the food too, which is another differentiating factor from most High Street pubs.

I’ve been having a bit of an affair recently with the hot pot (£6.50) and red cabbage here. This is good chunky, solid stuff at a good price, cooked correctly. But now I’m going to transfer my affections to the fish pie (£7.50). This is a clever collation with glorious mash topping and a drop-dead white wine sauce over haddock, mussels and bream – although I think that depends on what’s available. For this price the flavours are cracking, the blend and proportions just right. It’s a little dream: a bream dream.

The beef burger (£6.50) is very good too although it comes with too many sauces and accompaniments. The chips, though, are very welcome, not too fat, not too thin - the best I’ve had in a city centre place for ages. A sticky toffee pudding (£3.95) with vanilla pod ice cream feels and looks home made, as everything else does. The chef, Rob Lamont, is clearly very good and really seems to care. He even makes his own bread.

A couple of notes of caution. I’d like the hotpot and pie to be sized up by 25%, there isn’t quite enough there for the gents. Also the pub needs to be careful with its food timings. Still it’s more than worth a visit for food as well as for a decent pint.

Astonishingly, after the opening to this review, the Northern is owned by a pubco. In this case Punch Taverns, one of the worst of asset strippers, a truly rotten organisation. It proves that if, as a tenant, you shout at the bastards loudly enough they might listen before they sell off the site. The brains behind the Northern is the ebullient John Locke, formerly of the Comedy Store and a man of many parts, who sports a goatee beard and a long black coat surgically stitched to his back. A big well done to Locke and his team with this place.

Rating: 16/20
Breakdown: 4.5/5 Food
3/5 Drink
4/5 Service
4.5/5 Ambience
Address: The Northern
56 Tib St
Northern Quarter
0161 835 2548
Mon to Weds 11.30am-2am
Thu-Sat 11.30am-3am
Sun noon to midnight

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

markyoozFebruary 21st 2008.

The article starts by correctly criticising the poor beer selection at hellholes like Sawyers but then fails completely to mention the beer range at The Northern, presumably because its almost as bad as Sawyers itself! Very mediocre for this type of venture. But why let the truth get in the way of a good write-up!

DescartesFebruary 21st 2008.

Either the chips are ridiculously huge or that burger is tiny, which is it?

emma graceFebruary 21st 2008.

Normally a big fan of the Northern, but was thoroughly p1ssed off a few Saturday nights ago when I turned up after finishing work (about 1.30am) and was greeted by a really snotty door picker/door host/whatever (?) and was told it was £4 to get in!!! I thought the Northern was a pub?!?!

GordoFebruary 21st 2008.

Had Sunday Lunch here a few weeks ago, enjoyed it, good value. Spuds weren't as good as mine though. Obviously. :-) Roast beef excellent, as was the yorkshire. Keep telling John to keep the music down and we will be fine.

RaceFebruary 21st 2008.

We have been in every week for the last 5 weeks ( since we found the place ) for dinner !!!Love it, food, service & decor. The staff seem genuine and clued up.The 2 owners are genuine and passionate, I called up re. some of the decor the other week and they could not be more polite or helpful.It's a City venue with a great personal attitude towards it's customers, tres hard to come by these days.

John S.LockeFebruary 21st 2008.

In answer to Roy..if it's fruit beer it's Frulli...others to be confirmed...lots of bottled guest beers ...love the enthusiasm folks x J

Julesy BFebruary 21st 2008.

I paid my first visit to The Northern last weekend so was interested to read your review. I found the atmosphere great and the food simply lovely! And I love the wallpaper! Even before we got to mains, the bread (which had caramelized onions inside) was to die for and came with little pots of yummy hoummous, oil and olives too. Mains were ace. I shall defo be back soon to try out a leisurely Sunday lunch and a nice bottle of red...or black sheep ale(yum yum). How about trying out some of the Lancashire/Cumbrian microbrewery beers - or is that a step too far for your suppliers? I'd certainly help come and with tasting selections :-)

Local Enjoyer of BeerFebruary 21st 2008.

I've been in a couple of times since the turn of the year, this place still has a bit of work to do. Firstly on the plus sides the decor is top notch and since I wouldn't have dreamt of going in the old King boozer, its a welcome addition to the NQ. Unfortunately the lager is -really- rank, that's rank as in "will make you sick!" I've not tried the food, but if the beer is bad it doesn't really rush me on to looking at the menu. Also as mentioned already the music is usually far too loud, don't obther going in here if you want to have a chat. OVERALL: could do a lot better.

John S. LockeFebruary 21st 2008.

I would really like to thank Mr Schofield and Man Con for a great and very intuitive review - I'd also like to point out that the criticisms on the real ales etc. are well and duly noted. The one incorrect thing is, we are not 'owned' by Punch - we are an independent business...Punch supply our beers and lagers etc. and own the building, but we are privately owned as a company. The real ale situation is being addressed and we will soon have 3 real ales - Bombardier as our permanent ale and guests such as Speckled Hen, Black Sheep etc....We have had issues with Punch's Cellar services division about the problems with our ale pumps (which were not replaced during our refurb by Punch's wonderful servicemen) and this is why our selection has been limited up to this point. As far as the lagers are concerned and our selection of other beers such as a fruit beer and our bottled lagers - this has also recently been reviewed and is being added to and altered accordingly.As far as the music is concerned - we ensure that we keep the music at a very low level every evening until 9pm and it is then taken slightly louder after this time, at around 12 pm (Gordo and his pals really should be at home tucked in with a cocoa at this point anyway) and that is when the volume increases...In fact Gordo, the last time you and I had a drink in there together after 9pm on a Friday night, you were singing at the top of your voice to the fabulous selection played by Jason Boardman and Rob of the 45 Kings DJ ensemble - so please stop moaning!... We have a very varied an inclusive customer base and we endeavour to keep everyone as happy as we can - the music is selected to be condusive to our day time atmosphere, and is always played at a very low level - or wrists are seriously slapped. I am extremely pleased that we seem to have ignited such passion and debate - because that is exactly what we wanted to achieve with The Northern...a place with passion for great food, great drinks, great music in a safe and pleasant enviroment - an original and modern Manchester boozer! Thank you for the comments, thanks for the support and in reply ...The people of Manchester we salute you!

Emone 59February 21st 2008.

The King was, without doubt, the worst boozer in town and the transformation is incredible. However, the beer is bog-standard. There are two real ale taps but only one is ever working and the Black Sheep or Old Speckled Hen often runs out. A far more imaginitive range would make this a brilliant pub.

FentonFebruary 21st 2008.

Good little pub.It's nice to have something new which combines YUPI and art student delusions of grandure. The size of the place is spot on as it will never be one of those places where you get more than a couple massive groups of people..................but the walking space by the side of the bar is useless.Good work what's his name.Fenton

GordoFebruary 21st 2008.

Johnboy, are you paying attention to the comments about the beer, secondly, that f*****g DJ and noise thats too loud? Three people have commented on the noise to me today.....

Ale JohnFebruary 21st 2008.

I would be happy if only places which sell real ale - at least one permanently available (not just pump-clip turned round, sorry-it's-just-run-out, even tho' it's only Friday) - were allowed to call themselves a pub.

StanFebruary 21st 2008.

I thought you were supposed to be reviewing a PUB, you should be more interested in the beer they serve rather than the food. If they serve decent real ale liklihood is the Landlord will run a good pub. If they serve only John Smiths(this has to be the worst drink on the market)then you get a Sawyers type establishment. If you care about food go to a restaurant.

ancoats girlFebruary 21st 2008.

The King made my life a misery when I lived in a flat looking out onto that side of the quarter. I haven't checked out the Northern yet and I will definitely do so soon - what a transformation!

beerFebruary 21st 2008.

Your an idiot.Local pubs are a place to go and relax and get away from the hum drum of life. Im sick of bumping into neanderthals in the likes of deansgate locks or the printworks, with their lacoste hats and fake prada ****s.Why cant we just have some proper pubs like the chop house but on a slightly larger scale? whats wrong with that?

Jonathan SchofieldFebruary 21st 2008.

As the writer of this review and a real ale enthusiast I'd love at least one decent micro in the Northern. But at least it does do ale. More to the point having ale is no guarantee of a decent pub, the CAMRA Good Beer Guide proves this every year with many entries that are terrible pubs aside from the ale. I reckon a good pub is about atmosphere, ease, drinks and food in that order - if it's got a bit of history all the better. I can't think of single good pub which doesn't do at least one real ale, but I can think of lots of really bad ones which feature several real ales.

GrandwazooFebruary 21st 2008.

The King was probably the one pub that I would never enter and believe me I am not too fussy normally. Everytime you walked past late at night there seemed to be some kind of 'domestic' going on. I will check out this new one when I get into Manchester next for a few bevvies and a burger.

CharliFebruary 21st 2008.

I went there after too many months living in London and loved the Nothern on a Saturday Night...the atmosphere, drinks price, the people and the friendly face of Mr Locke is just what you need when you've been stuck in the Big Smoke for far too long...places like that make me realise why I love Manchester and should move back!

lesleyFebruary 21st 2008.

The Northern is indeed a great place. We ate there before Xmas and it was superb; fish and chips. However we went on a recent Saturday night for a meal and it was completely the wrong ambience; a high table in the middle of the pub. We didn't stay but will go back perhaps for lunch or early evening food.

neilwythFebruary 21st 2008.

its all very well having these kind of pubs in the centre, but i feel that mcr has to have a seedy side, somewhere even the scum can go. our rough and ready attitude is being eroded by places like this, long live the kings!

AnonymousFebruary 21st 2008.

I agree that the transformation is amazing. The food is fab and the atmosphere is always really great. The 241 pizza deal at lunchtime is a real bargain, but unfortantely the same cannot be said for the drinks. At a staggering £4 for a single gin and tonic (and Gordans at that!!) I'm not sure it will become one of my regular wateringholes.

mishm20February 21st 2008.

Very local to where I work, visit there at least once a week, lovely food, nice ambience and they sell Grey Goose Vodka!

JonathanFebruary 21st 2008.

No wonder overseas visitors who wander into places like the Sawyers look alarmed. They've been sold the charm and warmth of traditional English inns through tourist literature. What’s this, you can almost hear them say: a load of men and a few women, drinking Aussie lager and eating micro-waved lasagne, while swearing at a TV?

LADY RENFebruary 21st 2008.

This place is just fantatsic and i'd push everyone to go there. The staff are firendly, the decor is great and the atmosphere is just right.

ancoats girlFebruary 21st 2008.

And let's not forget the Northern has also played host to the wonderful and eccentric DJ KDJ/Moodymann - wish I could have been there but tickets sold out in a flash!

DJ GeliFebruary 21st 2008.

If you don't want loud music, call into the Northern on Wednesday nights Cosmopolitan Nights when we (DJ Hot Pepper and myself from ALL FM) play really laid back world music (including classic reggae and more lively orientated world music after 10.30pm for those who would like to move around the dance space!!

Sarah PFebruary 21st 2008.

The Northern restored my faith in finding somewhere decent in Manchester to have Sunday lunch. The roast beef was excellent & my friend had a delicious veggie option. Previously I'd tried & failed to find somewhere to have a good Sunday lunch in the city centre. I will definitely be going back!! (Trof NQ remains at the bottom of the pile - avoid the food there at all costs).

Kid DiscoFebruary 21st 2008.

I've not been so impressed with a transformation since Jesus turned water into wine. The Northern has rapidly become my local. And let's not forget that whilst yes, the smokes kept away from the none smokers, it's also the only smoking area in town that's actually anywhere near what smokers deserve (ie: not stuck out on the street because venue's can't be botheredto come up with a good idea of what to do post ban)

DodgyPubExpertFebruary 21st 2008.

neilwyth you obviously arent lookin hard enough. The Waldorf is a real s^&t hole of a place and don't forget the Northern is just a few doors down from Gullivers, The City etc... go down any alleyway within 500 yards of Piccadily and you'll find the seedy underbelly of Mcr is alive and kickin!

The One And Only BenFebruary 21st 2008.

Was in The Northern again on Saturday night. Had yet another good night in there.Late licence, great atmosphere, good mixed crowd, good music, door staff on hand to discretely deal with anyone getting a bit too carried away with themselves.I've never even got as far as ordering food in there, never been in there early enough.The place is like a breath of fresh air.Can't be faulted.

Phil TaylorFebruary 21st 2008.

Three Fishes etc.. What is this trend towards calling a restaurant in a former pub, a pub.The world is being taken over by these restaurants in denial. Former pub, white walls, log fires and beer taps don't make it a pub if there are tables set for diners on 75% of the available spaces.If it's devoted to food, it's a restaurant, if it's devoted to beer, it's pub.Just don't get me started on drinking barns with flocks of girls on blue WKD, with thumbs sealing the tops in case they get spiked and date raped!!

paddyFebruary 21st 2008.

They server Guinness, what else do you need?

Roy Victor ParkesFebruary 21st 2008.

Beer, Jon, what's the beer?

John S. LockeFebruary 21st 2008.

Without this becoming and advert instead of a review can I answer the other comment about drinks prices from Anonymous - we charge three pounds a single shot with a mixer with the choice of doubling up to a fiver with said mixer..don't know if any other places offer the double choice in the NQ - but can I say that all the above comments have been noted, discussed and actioned.Thank you again everyone for your thoughts, suggestions and support...it really does mean a lot to us as new operators...and thanks to all who voted us best new pub in the recent Galaxy Radio awards!..Top one!

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