The top of Oxford Road was once the centre of all nightlife in Manchester, featuring Rotters, Club Tropicana, Music Box & Jilly's plus many, many more places that I'm too young to remember and too old to care about.
Most of this night action has moved to the Northern Quarter or further afield but there’s still plenty of places to go for a great pint, some top food and an all-round top day.
I thought the best place to start would be right at the University end of Oxford Road, so you can then make your way into town either using those dangly things sticking out of the bottom of your body or on the good old Magic Bus.
Pretty much a fully-fledged Manchester institution now, you’re not a proper Manc until you’ve had a few pints in here either before or after a gig. If you choose to wear a parka and have one of them terrible haircuts with the sideburns too – it’s up to you. There’s a fantastic set of beers available in here, including some cracking Belgian ones if you fancy getting absolutely ratted. Add to this a top jukebox, a great hidden rooftop terrace and some very comfy sofas in which to cuddle – you’ve got yourself one of the city’s best boozers.
Pretty much right next door to Big Hands, and part of the huge University of Manchester Student Union is Manchester Academy. Of course this is primarily a gig venue, so if you’re starting your day off early, it’s unlikely to be open. There may be a big line of goths queuing up outside though that you can chat to and share some cider with. If you want a bevvie – head to the Students Union bar in the main building – it’s pretty cheap (but not as cheap as you’d remember) and there’s pool tables and TV screens galore.
After a couple of pints, discussing the intricacies of the fiscal policy of the ECB and exactly by how many centimetres the circumference of a box of Pringles has shrunk, you’ll probably be craving some culture. Of course you are. Well, the University of Manchester provide yet again with the Manchester Museum – a fantastic collection of artefacts and really old, dusty stuff which you can have a look at pretend you are interested. People love the huge T-Rex that’s in here, but I’m personally a big fan of the mummies – I’ve always had a soft spot for crumbly old hags.
There’s a bit of a walk now (or 2 bus stops if you’re lazy), and this is mostly because the area near the University Business School has been a hangout for builders for a fair few years now. The old University Precinct is gone – which is a shame because it housed a cracking greasy spoon, the best butties in the city and The Phoenix – a legendary pub with some of the best nights this town has ever seen. Ah well, moving on…
The Footage has been around forever and continues to provide students and non-students alike with the perfect place to get some drinks down you, eat some pub grub and play some pool. There’s also a top jukebox in here, and more screens than Cape Canaveral so if the footy is on – this is a great place to watch it. Their selection of ales and ciders is always top notch and the prices are very good. The food won’t set the world on fire, but it will fill you up and leave you feeling satisfied.
Talking of food, no mention of Oxford Road would be complete without at least mentioning Archie’s. With two locations, both of which are always packed out, Archie’s must serve up about a million burgers and milkshakes every single day and I’m not going to lie to you – they’re bloody brilliant. I was always sceptical, thinking it was just a kebab shop with posh branding – I was very wrong. If you’re feeling peckish, grab one of their smashed burgers and a loaded shake and you’ll be ready and rearing to go again in no time.
Further down Oxford Road and just down Chester Street a bit sits Zouk – a restaurant standing at the pinnacle of Indian cuisine in the city, who also do a good turn in cocktails and shisha as well. There’s a brilliant outdoor terrace where you can have a toke on the shish, while having a drink, or if you’re feeling like you want a proper meal – their selection of curries is outstanding. They also have a weekend brunch menu that everyone should try – especially the Mumbai Breakfast Bun – it’s amazing.
Just a few doors down from Zouk you’ll see Pancho’s Burritos – Ben Brown’s personal favourite Mexican joint in the whole of the city. To me it’s the most authentic; with a hard-to-beat range of dishes and drinks available that you will struggle to find elsewhere in the city. Their Pork Tacos are clearly the best too. Oxford Road has quite a few Mexican places knocking about come to think of it. There’s also Chilango’s further up, and well as Chango’s – both of which can offer you a lovely bit of grub and a bottle of Sol for next to nowt. Why they all decided to set up shop so close is beyond me.
There’s a couple of deviations here now, which might feel like cheating but it’s not. I’d still class all these places as being on the Oxford Road corridor, and they’re brilliant so you’d be a bloody mug to miss them out.
Lass O Gowrie
Seemingly closing down and re-opening pretty much every other week, the Lass O Gowrie has had a hard time of it over the last few years – pretty much ever since the BBC building got knocked down and all the alcoholic news readers had to relocate to Media City. It’s open again now and is still providing a great ‘old school boozer’ atmosphere, with plenty of craft ales on tap, some great ciders and a load of little parlour games to get stuck in to. They also have a little outdoor bit where you can have a fag, or just enjoy the Manchester weather.
It’s always a pleasure to get down to Joshua Brooks. Not only do they have a great selection of beers available – including good old Big Wave, but they also sell some cracking cocktails and some of the best burgers in town courtesy of Big Grillie Style. Think of a huge stacked meaty monster, complete with cheese, bacon, sauces, Doritos, chips, pork pies and whatever else you can find at the deli counter of Tesco and they’ll do it. They also do some mint nights here so it might be a good shout later on.
Back across the way, down the side of where Monsoon’s kebab shop used to be, you’ll find a row of some cracking places, including Sound Control, The Font and Black Dog NWS.
Every student’s favourite place for a ‘cheeky’ cocktail before they go out-out, Font has been an Oxford Road stalwart for bloody ages now and they continue to bang out Purple Rain’s and Cherry Coke’s left, right and centre every day. It’s not just all about the sugary cocktails though – they also pride themselves on a fantastic selection of beers and ciders, including one of the best selections of tins and bottles anywhere in the city. The food is proper decent too – as long as you have curly fries on the side. Nothing else can compare.
Black Dog Ballroom NWS
Just next door to Font is Black Dog Ballroom NWS, a mecca of pool, beers, cocktails, food and footy – perfect for an all-day session or just a few swift ones before moving on. Everyone knows what to expect from Black Dog, the place is always pumping, there’s always a top atmosphere and there’s always plenty of things going on. The place is also open right into the early hours – with the added bonus of the Underdog right below where you can get a bit of a groove on. In the unlikely event that it’s a nice day, there’s also an excellent roof terrace up top, which is actually mostly covered up anyway to be honest – so if the weather is shite, you can still enjoy yourself.
Conveniently located within the railway arches, the Thirsty Scholar is a proper indie old school boozer featuring a couple of Pac Man arcade machines in which you can try to beat my high score, as well as a packed live music calendar usually featuring guitars, long hair and beards. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine to sink some pints while sitting outside watching the world go by – Oxford Road has its fair share of weirdos walking past and the covered beer garden is perfect for copping a look. Their cider is exceptionally cold here so anyone with sensitive teeth – steer clear.
By now you’ve probably had around 7 drinks and around 4 big burgers, so it might be a good idea to do a bit of exercise to work it off. Luckily for you just round the corner from Black Dog you’ll find Dog Bowl…
Although it’s not proper exercise in the Olympics sense, Bowling gets you up and moving about whereas usually you’d just be sat on a seat boozing and chatting shit. Always a load of fun – bowling is the perfect game to play with a couple of mates, even if you do have to wear a pair of stupid shoes while doing it. It’s not all just bowling though – you can just chill in here, eating and getting drunk from their extensive menus – of which their cocktails are a highlight. You can’t really go wrong in here – if you find yourself getting bored, you’re an idiot.
Located within The Principal hotel, The Refuge is so far away from what you’d expect from a hotel bar that you’ll pop in expecting a lounge singer and a load of prostitutes and you’re actually greeted with a fantastic indoor space featuring their stunning Winter Garden, some top notch food and this winter – their Winterway Bar in the courtyard. Run by the same geezers who brought Electrik to Chorlton and Volta to Didsbury, The Refuge is as cool as you can get and is the perfect space in which to drink a few cocktails and have a chin wag with some mates. You probably won’t find a more spectacular space anywhere else in the city.
The Temple of Convenience
In complete contrast with the grandeur of The Refuge, the Temple is located in an old public toilet and comfortably holds around 15 punters with a bit of leg room to spare. Don’t let its past history as a shitter put you off though – this place is a Manchester institution and one of the best places in the city to have a beer and listen to their fantastic jukebox. The atmosphere in here is brilliant – because it’s so small, I’ve never been in here longer than ten minutes and not made a new friend – chatting some absolute bubbles and putting the world outside to rights. The beer selection is ace too!
Just further up from the Temple, past Maccies and next to the Paramount is Turtle Bay, a place that serves up a slice of the Caribbean but without the sun, sea and sand. I’ve only eaten here a few times but it’s always been pretty good, with a wide range of Caribbean dishes available, including everyone’s favourite – goat curry. Expect plenty of spice. Additionally, they always seem to be running some sort of happy hour, which is perfect for getting drunk because their cocktails are notoriously strong. Especially their Ting Wray which is the most simple cocktail ever – Wray & Nephews rum and Ting – which will manage to absolutely blow your socks off and have you crawling on the floor in no time.
So now you’re at the top of Oxford Road, technically I don’t even think it’s even called Oxford Road anymore – it’s called Oxford Street, which is confusing for everyone, especially the gang of tourists expecting a load of shops in which to piss away their Euros. By now you should be suitably merry – but there’s one final place to visit and that’s Don Giovanni. If it’s a Friday or Saturday, they run a Late Night Sessions event where you can sip cocktails and dance away to your hearts content right up until 3am. If you fancy a bit of Italian grub too – that’s just a bonus.
If not there’s plenty of places you can head back to, Black Dog is open until the early hours, Refuge will likely have their basement bar open or you can just get a kebab and head home on the Magic Bus.