What a year it's been...
By now you’ve probably watched the new Charlie Brooker ‘Death to 2020‘ show, consumed a cacophony of ‘review’ shows hosted by Jimmy Carr and looked back at your diary and wept at what 2020 ended up being.
Well, now’s the time to delve into a more Manchester-centric review of the last 12 months, and to be fair – it’s not been TOO bad. It’s been bad, but nothing as apocalyptic as people are suggesting on the telly. Let’s kick things off with January…
As an unknown little virus in China slowly permeated the news waves, things were looking bright and rosy for the year for many people and businesses within the city. As we all enjoyed a wealth of really rather excellent January Deals, we also woke up one morning to discover that Salford had been named a ‘Top Alternative Global Destination’ in 2020.
Yep, Manchester’s sister city was voted in the top 20 alternative holiday spots in the WORLD by The Guardian, as they focussed on the extensive “conservation and community projects” that were taking place – most noticeably the new RHS Garden Bridgewater project – the biggest gardening scheme in Europe.
Finally, towards the end of the month, Northern Quarter favourite Wolf at the Door re-launched with a new menu concept, some cracking new cocktails and a big party hosted by Konny Kon from Children of Zeus.
Their new menu of Tacos and Baos proved to be extremely popular throughout the year, despite the many restrictions that ended up being imposed.
Each year a bunch of blokes in Los Angeles sit down together and decide on what they think are the best movie is of the last year, and typically, it’s pretty shite. In fact, one year they decided a film where a woman bangs a sea monster deserved the prize – which is ridiculous.
2020 was different though as the Academy voted the first-ever foreign language film as it’s Best Picture winner – and it must be said – Parasite is absolutely brilliant.
Also receiving well deserved accolades was Ancoats restaurant ERST who secured themselves a very positive review from The Sunday Times critic Marina O’Loughlin. Anyone who has ever eaten at ERST would not have been surprised that she went away with a smile on her face and proclaiming that it “seems to come from people who genuinely like to eat.” Well done!
Many people’s month was consumed by that most-commercial of holidays – Valentine’s Day – and in an effort to re-create some of the love magic that Cilla Black used to throw around, Manchester’s Finest tried to get 3 singletons dates LIVE on Instagram.
Unfortunately – nobody got a date – which was pretty embarrassing, but more for us than the lovely 3 single people that came out on the night. Back to Tinder I guess.
So, this was it. The month where it all changed. As the COVID-19 virus jet-setted it’s way throughout the world, probably on first class too the little shit, the UK entered its first ever national lockdown, something we’ve all become unhappily used to by now.
Before then though, when spirits were still high and many were proclaiming the virus to be “just like the bloody flu – it’ll be fine”, Manchester welcomed the supremely talented team at Higher Ground into the city, as they took over an old security guard annex at the new KAMPUS development at the top of Canal Street.
Lee and Tim, Finest food writers extraordinaire, we’re suitably bowled over with what they saw, especially the famed ‘Beef Madrasty‘ – essentially a very tasty and very upmarket beef curry pasty.
As I returned from the United States after getting hitched in Las Vegas, the city was abuzz with rumours, conjecture and serious uncertainty – all stemming from a government that was unwilling and unprepared to put the whole country into a lockdown – essentially closing all shops, bars, restaurants, clubs, gyms… everything except supermarkets and takeaways really.
After the ‘Week of Hell‘ when those in charge refused to close everything down for fear of destroying the economy, they closed everything down for fear of the potential thousands that would die from this new virus. And there we all were – stuck in the middle of it all, and now – stuck indoors.
We were all stuck in our houses and Zoom meetings became a thing. And Zoom quizzes. And Zoom ‘drinks’. I hated it. I hated it with a passion, but workplaces all over the world began to embrace video technology to their bosoms, all the while I mumbled my way through 10 minute daily conferences, rarely wearing anything just below the camera line.
A World War II veteran named Captain Tom started walking up and down his front yard to raise money for the NHS, as regular people decided that the best thing to do would be to stand on their doorstep every Thursday evening and clap for our heroic front line staff who were fighting the virus.
Manchester’s businesses, bars and restaurants stood up to be counted, launching a dazzling array of delivery services, DIY boxes and whatever else they could do to support themselves, their staff and us at home.
Live Facebook and Instagram videos began in earnest, including our very own Positive News, Home Concerts, Paint with Pete, Mindful Meditation and Isolation Conversations.
As many of us sizzled in our newly purchased hot tubs, others decided to stay indoors in the shade to watch Netflix’s Tiger King – a story featuring “murder, mayhem and madness“, plus some truly terrible fashions, a pretty mad 3-way wedding, ripped-off arms, hit singles and even one moment when we all realised that Louis Theroux had interviewed this guy about 5 years ago and seemingly didn’t mind him.
Finest hosted their very own ‘Massive Manc Quiz‘, hosted by Hattie Pearson and featuring quite possibly the greatest set of prizes you could ever win on a quiz show. Bar Bullseye and Who Wants to be a Millionaire of course.
The deliveries continued by some of the city’s most creative independents, with the Crafty Cheese Man delivering cheese and crackers door-to-door, Grandad’s Sausages getting in their van with tonnes of meat and ShinDigger impressing us all by managing to get ice-cold beers on your doorstep within 40 minutes.
This point of the year will stick in many people’s memories due to the horrific murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of 4 police officers and the subsequent Black Lives Matter movements that encapsulated the world.
Manchester was no different as thousands of people took to the streets on the 6th and 7th June to show solidary to the many lives of people of colour lost as a result of systemic racism.
It was also in June when we were being told of the city’s radical overhaul when everything opened up again, with many of its busiest areas being pedestrianised and prepared for social distancing. Thomas Street, Deansgate and Stevenson Square would be closed to cars, with businesses gaining huge outdoor terraces to combat the reduced capacities inside.
We were all kinda getting sick and tired of this whole lockdown shite now, well I certainly was, as I’d managed to put on about 2 stone of weight and had been forced to start calling myself a ‘fat lad’ whenever I spoke to anyone.
It was around this time of the year though that we first heard mumblings of when the lockdown would end, with another ‘fat lad’ telling us on the news that bars, restaurants and shops could re-open on Saturday 4th July. Carnage was guaranteed. Yes!
So, people began to get excited and ready for the world after COVID-19, and many of the city’s walls were plastered with posters asking us to ‘Escape to Freight Island‘. Well, most of us were a little perplexed, and after a bit of investigating – we were none the wiser.
June saw the release of the first episode of our new series, Cheap Eats – as we asked Matt White to run around the Arndale Market finding the best food for under £7. It’s safe to say – he found A LOT.
Here we were – ‘Super Saturday‘. Bars, pubs, restaurants and all of the places that we’d been missing were allowed to re-open and many predicted it would be absolute carnage and end up a complete mess. It wasn’t – it was actually rather decent, with many of the city’s businesses making some well-needed cheddar after months of empty tills.
As a result, we saw a whole host of new openings in the city, as people either used their lockdown time to get everything together, or capitalised on the success of their delivery service to launch fully.
We welcomed the outstanding Pho Cue in Chinatown, Another Heart to Feed into the Northern Quarter, Gooey into Ducie Street Warehouse, Delhi House Cafe, Doner Summer at YES, New Wave Ramen at Mackie Mayor, South Manny Flavas, Southside in Withington and probably loads more that I’ve missed.
How are we still only on August!? This year was fucking mad wasn’t it!?
Anyway, the biggest thing to happen to August was the government’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out‘ scheme which gave us all a tenner to spend on food in any of our favourite bars and restaurants, in order to encourage us all to go out and re-invigorate the economy.
In hindsight, looking back from our December tower – we know now that this was all pretty much bullshit – as the effect on the economy was negligible and it helped usher in our ‘second wave’ as millions mixed and passed on the virus in ignorant bliss.
Some of the deals were bloody brilliant though, especially Hawksmoor who offered up Steak & Chips for £10 and everybody lost their heads. Everyone except for me, as I totally forgot to book anywhere so didn’t manage to take advantage of any deals at all.
As many of the city’s businesses extended the EOTHO scheme into September, thousands of students moved into their brand-new student accommodation, and then subsequently got locked inside them like extras out of Tenko.
Protests at the University of Manchester ensued, including the erection of an iron fence to keep them closed in, with the hard-done students managing to win a “big victory” in November with a 30% rent cut. Whether they’ll go back in 2021 remains to be seen.
September saw the launch of our Facebook Support’s Group, where for a couple of quid a month you can get access to some pretty impressive freebies, giveaways, events and loads more. We kicked things off with 3 FREE Gooey doughnuts and have kept up the good stuff ever since.
The former Palace Hotel, then Principal re-opened in September as the Kimpton Clocktower Hotel, and we welcomed Scottish beer outfit Fierce Beers to Thomas Street. Oh, and Manchester’s first trainer consignment store opened in Chinatown – Sneaker 63 – so we naturally went down to chat to them and check out their £10k Air Jordan’s.
As the nights began to draw in and the days got progressively more brassic, the government introduced a new Tier system which was set to revolutionise the way we dealt with the pandemic and curb the ever-increasing rates of infection which were brought about by students going to University, kids going back to school and EOTHO.
We were faced with the whole concept of the ‘Substantial Meal‘ as anywhere that wanted to serve booze to people had to do so with a ‘substantial’ bit of grub.
The first night of the whole ordeal didn’t go especially well for the Manchester’s police force as they shut down NQ pizzeria Nell’s – citing a slice of their 22-inch pizza as ‘not substantial enough’.
After a couple of days of wrangling, the police reversed their decision – clear in the knowledge that they couldn’t actually take the word ‘substantial’ into court with them.
Again, this arose again later in the year as the people of London discovered (through the help of the humble Scotch Egg) that the government didn’t have a clue what they were doing and there was no scientific basis for the decisions they made.
We were also forced to leave venues at 10pm, again, something seemingly just pulled out of the cat’s arse at Number 10. It subsequently saw hundreds of people mill about on the streets of the city, head over to Tesco to get bottles of Blue WKD and generally spread the virus more than they would have done in a socially distanced pub.
There were plenty of new openings and exciting things going on though, including the opening of Osma in Prestwich – which is quickly becoming a must-visit foodie destination, 24-inch pizza at Crazy Pedro’s, the re-opening of the 280-year old Crown & Kettle pub.
Right, don’t worry – I’m going to start wrapping things up now because, let’s face it – this year has been a slog and re-living it through this article isn’t helping me with the fact that I’m fed up and want to just curl into a ball and hibernate until it’s all over.
November saw ‘Lockdown 2.0’ rear its ugly head and once again we were back indoors and once again, we were ordering DIY kits from Hawksmoor, Higher Ground and Six By Nico, and once again we were getting our food delivered from our favourite restaurants.
Surprisingly enough, through all of this shite there was the odd shining beacon of hope as some cracking new venues opened up in the city. First there was 3 Hands Deli on Deansgate Mews, headed up by former Edinburgh Castle Head Chef Julian Pizer, the Crafty Cheese Man Jonathan Pearcey and the team from Holy Grain Sourdough.
As we all geared up for Christmas, plans were changed, Tiers were entered and the relentless onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic continued. Not even the promise of too much cheese and chocolate could abate many of your out seriously bad moods.
These moods were further shattered when we all assumed that Greater Manchester would be placed in Tier 2 in December, meaning we could re-open our bars and restaurants and generally have a bloody good time for a few days before Christmas officially arrived. We even interviewed Children of Zeus at Freight Island in preparation.
Restaurants fired up their booking systems, located their furloughed staff and got ’em in to dust off the cobwebs and everybody was certain we’d be living the high life – even it was just for a few days. Alas, it was not to be and we spent Christmas locked up, and now, as we enter Tier 4 – 2021 doesn’t look that much better either.
Or does it?! All we can do now is think positively and work positively to get ourselves out of this rut – and it WON’T last forever – there is a light at the end of this tunnel and we’ve all just got to believe that.
I struggle sometimes, in fact I’m struggling right now, but we’ve got to stick together, talk to each other and I promise – things will be okay soon.
Oh shit. I forgot about Brexit.