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The Great NQ Bar Room Brawl

Ben Robinson and the ever increasing spread of NQ licences

Written by . Published on January 7th 2013.

The Great NQ Bar Room Brawl

BACK in December 2010 Manchester City Council’s Planning and Highways Department refused an application to transform a derelict property at 43 Thomas Street into a new bar.

In a process that took five months, consultations were held with nearly 100 local residents, businesses and relevant third party groups.

The prospective bar in question was Terrace and its ultimate refusal was covered by Confidential back in 2010.

‘It would appear that critical point is about to be reached or has been reached in this part of the Northern Quarter’

One of the objections raised about the venture was there were too many bars in the Northern Quarter already, and the saturation of drinking holes was causing problems.

As anyone who has wandered thirstily down Thomas Street recently will have noticed, Terrace is now open for business having been approved the second time around. Terrace is a good addition to the area with excellent beer choices. It also provides a use for a building which had been empty for ten years.

Nq Night OutNQ Night Out

The startling thing is that in the two years since the Council claimed there were too many bars in the area, thirteen others have opened, including seven in the last six months alone - although some are utilising spaces that previously had a licence.

New NQ Bars:
Dusk Till Pawn, 6 December 2012
Hunky Dory, 16 November 2012
R House, 1 November
Terrace, 25 October 2012
Kosmonout, 5 September 2012
Blue Pig, 8 August 2012
Solita, 20 July 2012
Tusk, 13 July 2012
Tib St. Tavern, May 2012
Lola’s, February  2012
Bakerie, November 2011
Home Sweet Home, May 2011
Port St. Beer House, January 2011

That’s a baker’s dozen of recent bars after the council’s report had stated that, ‘growth in this sector [night time economy] in the Northern Quarter is beginning to cause problems for local residents relating to crime and disorder'. This was seen to be undermining the ‘regeneration of the area’.

‘It is always difficult to assess,' the report continued, 'at what point a shift in balance takes place and at what point in time a use that has been seen as being an asset to regeneration becomes a hindrance to regeneration. It would appear that the critical point is about to be reached or has been reached in this part of the Northern Quarter’.

That was two years and thirteen bars ago.

Taking the case in point of Terrace it was accepted second time around after amendments to the application changing its planning classification from A4 (‘purely a drinking establishment’) to ‘mixed use’ – in other words they do food. Plus Terrace opted against creating any outdoor space, a point which had previously drawn objections.

The Town Hall said to Confidential: “We refused the original application for the reasons stated in the first planning application, and this judgement was later backed up by the planning inspector on appeal. They later made some changes to the application, and put something in front of us which was acceptable”.

Fair enough.

But what seems to have been forgotten in the past two years are the objections raised about the sheer volume of bars in the Northern Quarter. What happened to those objections?

High StreetHigh Street before the 'modern bar' was invented

To give the planners their due their initial report did state that licences for bars 'now need to be considered very carefully in terms of their function, location, size, nature of the operation, access and impact upon amenity’.

So once Terrace had decided to go for food the picture changed. As we said, fair enough. But look beyond the words 'mixed use' and there's still a fully stocked bar lurking in the shadows. After certain times in the evening the food fades into the background and the drink takes over. 

Situations change as fashions shift. The Northern Quarter’s charms appear to be diminishing come the weekends for many of the original regulars, and shifting to a more 'towny' crowd. Thomas Street and High Street on a Saturday in particular. 

The community atmosphere recedes come 7pm on a Friday to return on a Sunday evening. Crowds are often the sign of a good area for a night out but surely there comes a point where an area's reputation for good bars along with increased demand becomes an issue affecting the qualities that made the place special to begin with.

High Street In SummerHigh Street In SummerThe attraction of the burgeoning Northern Quarter scene of bars is self-evident, as a weekend destination it allows for bar crawls where you’re never more than thirty paces from the next bar or three, whether you want wine, beer, cocktails or everything in between. 

The increase in popularity in recent years as a nightlife destination in its own right is testament to the creative and innovative sparks that catch light in the narrow streets.

But there is a problem and this is where some element of control might need to be exercised. If new venues continue to open at the current rate then the Northern Quarter's nightlife may be all we have left up there.

The orginal idea of a savvy independent area for shops, small businesses and food and drink may become 'binge central', a new Peter Street from the bad old days. If critical mass was reached two years ago, is the area primed to implode on itself?

For now it’s standing room only in the Northern Quarter.

Follow Ben on Twitter @BenPRobinson.

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

AnonymousJanuary 7th 2013.

Whilst I do agree on most points, have you walked around the NQ in the day? Shutters everywhere.

Before criticising new bars and more people to the area, the problem of closed shops and shutters should be addressed first.

Why aren't there more independent shops opening?

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 7th 2013.

Because we have the internet

Daisy WhitehouseJanuary 7th 2013.

I am very confused by R House, can someone explain it to me please?

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 7th 2013.

The only thing I can think is that they couldn't get permission to open the place as a bar so opened a 'restaurant' instead with the hope that it's easier to transfer the licence to a bar. Very strange place though; always empty and surely can't be around for long

AnonymousJanuary 7th 2013.

Parts of the NQ are basically the same clientèle as The Printworks.

1 Response: Reply To This...
JamesJanuary 11th 2013.

I could not agree more! NQ used to be a Mecca for quirky bars away from the brawling scene a lot of areas have become. But now the Printworks crowd have found the NQ and now to many the NQ is a no go area Friday and Saturday nights. Which is a shame,

AnonymousJanuary 7th 2013.

NQ is good but it's not the only place with decent 'alternative' places to go - Whitworth Street area is going strong, there's the Liverpool Road bars, Chorlton, etc

2 Responses: Reply To This...
KmJanuary 10th 2013.

Good grief - don't tell everyone about Chorlton - it'll happen to us next!!!

AnonymousJanuary 11th 2013.

KM is a perfect example of a wretched exclusionary Chorltonite. WAKE UP! 'It' as you put it, is already happening. Its called economic regeneration. 'It' is a good thing and helps increase your property value (which I'm sure you're happy to hear).

Dan O'tooleJanuary 7th 2013.

This same old article will continue to roll over in 2 years time, and then 2 years after that the same article will roll around again. Ancoats will become the next "in" place for the cool kids to meet, piss up the walls and shit in the street. Sankeys will become cool and popular again but "it will never be as good as it used to be" they'll say, because all the cowl neck wearing nobs that ruined the Northern Quarter will be hanging on to it's walls. Yes the Northern Quarter is saturated with bars and it will probably burn its self out eventually. Let it happen, and good luck to the people that have seen the opportunity to make money and fulfil dreams. I really do hope it picks up in the day time though with things that are not drink related, as its vibrancy has taken a massive hit over the years and the streets look tired.

AnonymousJanuary 7th 2013.

NQ desperately needs better quality pavements and public realm in general. That could act as a powerful catalyst for a more mixed economy. Get a Northern Quarter BID set up. Get some more investment into the place and lets see it finally fulfill its potential. What do you reckon Kev P?

AnonymousJanuary 7th 2013.

I think Northern Quarter can have as many bars as it likes, providing all of them are tiny and do food. There are very few what I would think of towny places there, and the ones that teeter are the ones with bigger floor spaces, as they inevitably allow bigger groups in. If all the new bars are kept to the size and quirkiness of Trof, Odd, Socio, Keeko, Tusk, Blue Pig, Apothecary etc, there shouldn't be a problem, especially as the leases would attract more independents than chains. Can you imagine any saying those places are towny? Oh and anything resembling an alcopop/weakened illuminous shot should be banned as a condition of the licence. If you can't take your spirits, don't drink them.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 7th 2013.

Great suggestion. Wonder how this could be incorporated into policy?

Calum McGJanuary 9th 2013.

Good sentiments, here.

Andy VoJanuary 7th 2013.

Hunky Dory was previously Walrus so wouldn't really count as a new addition. Ditto Tusk. Solita was previously that seafood place so isn't really a new addition either.

HSH and Bakerie are more eateries which sell alcohol rather than bars.

3 Responses: Reply To This...
Jonathan SchofieldJanuary 7th 2013.

Oh I don't know about that Andy. I got absolutely legless in Bakerie once without eating anything - Sowerby and Allan helped me. Naughty I know, but they had this deal on a particularly lush French wine....

JoanJanuary 8th 2013.

JS. Only once?

Ben ShorrockJanuary 9th 2013.

And the Bakerie shop has that leathal wine 'juke box' things...

JimJanuary 7th 2013.

Opening a bar in the NQ is like getting a license to print money. Any new bar is almost instantly packed. It's a great place to go

1 Response: Reply To This...
Swiss JamesJanuary 8th 2013.

Tell that to R House...

AnonymousJanuary 8th 2013.

The principal means of tackling the over provision of Licensed Premises in an area is called Cumulative Impact

Here is Manchester's statement about it:

3.31 The cumulative impact on the promotion of the licensing objectives of a concentration of licensed premises by number, type or density in a particular area is a matter that the Licensing Authority will consider and, where there is good evidence that crime and disorder or public nuisance are happening and are caused by customers of
licensed premises located in such an area, consideration will be given to adopting a special policy to help address such issues.
3.32 Such a special policy will be implemented if the Authority is satisfied that there is evidence to support such a decision, and that it is proportionate and the most effective measure to address the problems identified.
3.33 Types of evidence that the Licensing Authority will take into consideration when considering whether to implement such a special policy include:
-Alcohol-related crime
-The number and type of licensed premises and the hours and activities they are
licensed for
- Ambulance and A&E data in respect of alcohol-related incidents
-Residential density
-Noise complaints
-The numbers of consumers attracted to the area and the availability of public transport

from Manchester Statement of Licensing Policy
2011 - 2014

AnonymousJanuary 8th 2013.

There are new powers available to limit the 'hours' in specific areas but Manchester has not yet said anything using these.

Printwork hours are 3am

Stephen LakeJanuary 8th 2013.

Andy Vo is correct a lot of these were bars before that have been rebadged. Most of these bars are independently owned which should be encouraged. There are a number of comments here about the focus being on bars and lack of other amenities to attract people to the NQ. It's also interesting to note the picture at the top of this article. Bunting aside, Thomas Street does not look like that on a Saturday afternoon. Thomas, Edge and Tib Street should be closed to traffic on a Saturday and Sunday (during the day only). The streets could be used to house a market rather than use Piccadilly. With it's proximity to Aflecks The NQ would have the feel of, dare I say it, Camden....in that there London town. Surely worth putting a badge on and adding to the tourist literature!

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 11th 2013.

This is what should happen and high street should be a street food / food market.

MJanuary 8th 2013.

Manchester is great for a quirky bar crawl; it's the best thing about the night life. Problem is when you get too many bars in one area all someone needs to do is find the main street (e.g. High/Thomas St junction) and follow the crowds. When it gets too easy it get chavvy.

Chavvy bars have their place. There's nothing wrong with catering for all tastes but when you have to put a bit of effort in to find an interesting bar it filters out those who don't really care and just want to be wherever they are told is good. When you take the time to find your way around the city you grow to appreciate and respect what's on offer, not just turn up and abuse it.

No matter what the type of pub or bar, if you get enough of them in a small area it will always go this way. It happend with Deansgate Locks, Didsbury village, a little in Chorlton and it’ll happen to Peter Street in a few years.

Personally I think that during the day the northern quarter is busier than it used to be and has more of a buzz. It’s not packed but I'd bet the streets have not been busy around the northern quarter since back in th' olden days when Oldham Street for proper shopping and Tib street was for pets shops.

I’ve lived here for 10 years and it’s always been pretty quiet in the day time. The increase in decent food options diversifies the area’s offering and I like the effect all these new bars around Thomas street have on any afternoon of the week.

When it gets dark just move out to the back streets of the area. I think that more of the older northern quarter charm has been retained around Piccadilly Basin, Stevenson Square and many of the back streets.

The resident's arguments are a different matter though.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Swiss JamesJanuary 8th 2013.

"The increase in decent food options diversifies the area’s offering and I like the effect all these new bars around Thomas street have on any afternoon of the week.

When it gets dark just move out to the back streets of the area. I think that more of the older northern quarter charm has been retained around Piccadilly Basin, Stevenson Square and many of the back streets."

Absolutely agree with this.

I've been a resident for the last few years and have just bought again in the area. As long as we are getting the right kind of places, I don't see why residents would complain about more choice of food, drinks, and entertainment. In fact it's why I love living here.

AnonymousJanuary 8th 2013.

firstly entrapenurs are a good thing we want more of them and their bars / restaurants and whatever else they have to offer. Almost famous has come along since 2010 it plies everyone with drink and is the darling of the local media. More like it would be a good thing.

secondly the amount of snobery in the ariticle and posts whith there look down your nose attitude to "townies" or "Chavs" is pathetic. Just because someone has less money than you or comes from a diferent area than you or dresses diferent or likes diferent things does not make them less apropriate users of a bar or part of the city than you. live and let live.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 10th 2013.

Completely agree.

if there was an award for being up its own arse, the NQ would win every time.

"Printworks overspill", "townies", "chavs" etc - all very derogatory terms.

When I first started drinking in that area in the late 90's the whole ethos of the place (like the Village) was one of inclusivity as opposed to "I'm going to treat anyone who doesn't dress in head to toe in overpriced tat from Oi Polloi like they're dogmuck on my shoe"

The whole area is on the brink of implosion, and it can't come quick enough; as the denizens of the NQ will only have themselves to blame.

AnonymousJanuary 11th 2013.

Talk about flying off the handle at a single word. You've built a nice little ideology and backstory for the author of the article and journalism as a whole from it.

And "townie" and lack of money do not necessarily correlate. Like the post below me suggests. It's a mindset - and they probably don't crave your "inclusion".

Fight intolerance with intolerance and snobbery with snobbery.... K.

AnonymousJanuary 8th 2013.

Anon, just because someone has less money, it doesn't make them a chav. Just saying.

Poster BoyJanuary 8th 2013.

It's not the job of Manchester City Council to get involved in competition, the march of the 'free' market or become taste arbiters.

An area specific planning policy document (cross referencing Licensing Policy etc) drawn up and reviewed by relevant stakeholders, would help address the issues and concerns raised.

Far better than the meaningless drivel of " I continue to work with residents and applicants / existing bar owners to reach a compromise acceptable to all that benefits our community and doesn't contribute to the problems that are building up, blah, blah, bloody blah".

Alas, nowhere and nothing remains the same. It's called Progress...

4 Responses: Reply To This...
Duke FameJanuary 8th 2013.

Quite right poster boy, why the council think they can decide what businesses start up is beyond me, especially as those involved have never ran a business in their lives.

Councillors & Council staff work for the council for a reason, don't let them get beyond their minimal capabilities.

AnonymousJanuary 8th 2013.

Loathe as I am to respond to Duke's characteristic trolling. I do not even work in the public sector but some of his comments are grossly offensive, divisive and usually, plain wrong. It is worth pointing out that public sector workers are on average better qualified than those in the private sector.


Duke FameJanuary 8th 2013.

If that's true it really is indicative of the problem we have in this country. We have all the dumbos doing the innovating, the wealth creating etc etc and we have all the clever people doing dull worthless jobs.

I think that may be true in parts of the north but in the wealthy areas that achieve things, that can't be true.

Typical of an anonymous poster hiding behind anonymity with silly accusations without being able to debate in a constructive manner.

AnonymousJanuary 9th 2013.

From the man called 'Duke'? ;)

the_bd_ayeJanuary 8th 2013.

The printworks spillover is just a fact of life and has been changing the weekend demographic in the NQ for a while now. Saturday night in Bluu is what the future for that whole area looks like. Decent new bars have been opening up all over the city - Gas Lamp, Whim Wham, Gorilla, all of Spinningfields, Wharf, BrewDog, Alchemist New York St... Plus the rejuvenated medieval quarter, Salford and the NOMA development are all going to have their own leisure offerings - which will pull punters away. The council have to keep giving out new licenses in the NQ otherwise what are you going to do with all those retail units? They can't all sell alternative movie posters, vintage clothing and XXX DVDs

4 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 8th 2013.

Bang on. I chose to rent an office in the NQ and it's terrific in the day. Loads of places for meetings, good food at lunchtime and a real buzz.

Duke FameJanuary 8th 2013.

That argument broke down with the claim that "Decent new bars have been opening up all over the city....all of Spinningfields."

I'm not aware of anything decent in Spinningfields, plastic bars & eateries for plastic people.

AnonymousJanuary 9th 2013.

@ Duke,

Whilst it may not be to your taste, you can't deny that over the past couple of years Spinningfields has become a new destination for people to go to of an evening. It is especially decent in the summer with The Oast House, The Alchemist and the river-side restaurants all having nice outside drinking/eating areas.

the_bd_ayeJanuary 9th 2013.


I do sympathise with your views on Spinningfields but those bars are busy and are pulling people away from the NQ, especially in the summer

ChadewicksJanuary 9th 2013.


FentonJanuary 10th 2013.

I would've thought Hunky Dory and Tusk are operating under the Walrus license (as per by Andy Vo's comment)??!! Tib Street Tavern is what used to be Centro and Lola's has already been a bar for years, Solita was Sole. I think the recent 8 additions are fantastic ones and represent the types of places that originally attracted people to the Northern Quarter years ago. Agreed with Dan O'Toole about the state/cleanliness of NQ streets having lived here for 6 years +. For the rates charged by Manchester City Council to bars and small businesses in NQ they should be doing more to keep the streets clean (other than 1 man in a little electric sweeper driving around at 5am).

AnonymousJanuary 10th 2013.

I currently have a workshop in the northern quarter, and have witnessed the 'bars everywhere' explosion in the last couple of years.

One of the main problems with the area as far as things to do in the day is that rent is insanely high (because its the northern quarter) which increases the start-up costs massively for small independent shops, and rent doesn't get much cheaper for the crappy run down buildings that have been neglected and ignored for years.

As others have mentioned, the pavements and streets are awful, i have turned my ankle 3 times on edge street / oak street because of falling into potholes.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 10th 2013.

Have you reported it to the Council. The threat of legal action is always a great incentive to get the pavements fixed. Particularly if an utility has worked at that location within the last 2 years and they instruct them to complete the works and can fine them inspection charges.

BaggioJanuary 10th 2013.

everybody is entitled to their opinion and nobody is obliged to agree.

1 PeteJanuary 10th 2013.

This article is interesting, certainly, but would have more gravity if it didn't appear next to a list of money saving deals for bars/restaurants in the Northern Quarter and surrounding areas...

Darren HJanuary 11th 2013.

I live in the NQ and have done for nearly 10 years, when I first moved here from the suburbs Bluu bar was just opening up. Bluu bar became the focal point for the few residents that did live in the area, then boom all of a sudden the clientele from Deansgate Locks started to come, which changed what the NQ was all about. Luckily in a way though the NQ was reviving itself and continuing to develop with new residential and commercial properties. So there were always somewhere else to go for a drink to a 'local' bar. It started to become a success.

Unfortunately though over the years the council have agreed to far too many licences and the NQ is now at a limit, if not gone over that limit. There should be a good mixture of residential, retail and leisure premises. However I agree with the comment above that unfortunately the Internet has closed a lot of retail businesses down, so now we're just left with mainly residential and leisure.

I personally think that when the NQ used to be cool and quirky with fewer residents and bars etc it was good and could have been great if the redevelopment of the area was managed properly. But no greedy developers building on every piece of open space and the council allowing this to happen, along with signing off licencee applications left, right and centre changed the NQ forever.

Don't get me wrong I think there are some really great bars in the NQ, but ones I would only go to during the week. The weekends are just like what Peter Street used to be like a few years ago, and look what happened there.

It's a shame that there isn't that balance in the NQ of leisure and retail, or even cafes/coffee shops that just open during the daytime to attract a different clientele, with no alcohol licence. But it's all about alcohol which will always attract a certain crowd and become a success to the bar owners which it looks like it has done, but will the NQ become a victim of its own success?

Tony DoyleJanuary 11th 2013.


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