What happened to it? A retrospective look back at Manchester’s greatest venues

What’s this? A nostalgic look back at all the great places Manchester once had? Yeah sure, that’s exactly what it is. And it’s written by someone who is only 34.

I undoubtedly have not been to quite a few of these places, being just a glint in the milkman’s eye when they were packed out with punters.

But after extensive conversations with my mam, her mates and (for a few of them) my personal experience – now is your chance to reminisce…

Piccadilly 21s
Towards the end of its time in Manchester, Piccadilly 21s was host to the weekly University AU Social on Wednesday nights and was typically very loud, very messy and very sticky. The drinks were cheap, it was always heaving and I seem to blurrily remember there being some sort of VIP area upstairs which was decked out like an old train carriage. Anyway, this seems to have been the main selling point throughout its long life in Manchester – a place that was dirty, loud, cheap and messy and a great place to get into a fight if you were a short man with anger issues or a member of one of Manchester’s notorious rowdy gangs.

What happened to it? Along with everything else in Piccadilly Gardens, it attracted crime and gangs and shut its doors in 2004. It is now a Premier Inn and Nando’s.

 

Twisted Wheel
Made famous as one of the birthplaces of Northern Soul, Twisted Wheel was open from 1963 right up to 1971 and people would flock from all over the country to listen to the rare and imported US soul records while dancing on the talcum powder ridden floors. The legendary Saturday all-nighters were also famous for having soul artists perform, including Ike and Tina Turner, Jimmy Riffin and Edwin Starr.

The club closed its doors in the early 70’s because of a bylaw which prevented premises from staying open more than two hours into the following day. It paved the way for the Golden Torch in Stoke and Wigan Pier Casino as the headquarters of Northern Soul. The club then became Placemate 7 offering different music throughout its warren of rooms. It then became Follies and finally Legends before closing for good. The premises were then sold and demolition pencilled in for 2013. The final event took place on Sunday 30th December 2012, with around 1000 soul fans descending on the club one last time.

What happened to it? It is now the back end of that hotel opposite Piccadilly Train Station, Motel One. Shame.

 

Pips
Pips was an especially popular night club in the 70s with the tagline “”9 Beautiful Bars, 11 Crowded Dance Floors. Pips (It’s Behind the Cathedral)!” Quite how ‘beautiful’ those 9 bars were I don’t know – but that’s a pretty impressive number of them for sure. Included in the club were different rooms with different music, including a Punk room and the infamous Roxy room with its huge Brian Ferry painting on the wall.

Pips was seen as the place to be, especially after gigs and the story goes that even Brian Ferry himself was once refused entry after a gig at Belle Vue as he was wearing some crappy jeans. He most likely just decided to go back to his hotel and conceive a really annoying toff-child instead. Apparently Warsaw also played their first gig here in Pips, shortly before renaming themselves Joy Division. Not like places today which host Gary McCraphair off of Made in Geordie where all they do is wave on stage, give 3 girls the clap and then go home.

What happened to it? Pips closed at the beginning of the 80s and then later became a club called Konspiracy which closed not long after that. The place is now round the back of the Corn Exchange – once the Triangle.

 

One Central Street
One Central started life as a Gay club conveniently located outside of the Village – offering a slightly upmarket and dynamic venue – often being referred to as the Gay Hacienda. Around 2002 the place straightened up and became One Central Street and its mix of underground dank, immovable resting-post pillars and top DJs ensured that it became a big success.

One of the biggest and most popular nights was Romp on a Thursday – featuring electro, hip hop and 80s grooves, where you could buy a double vodka and a thimble of mixer for only £2.50. Sure, there were plenty of posers there – who would as soon as spit on tramp for not wearing the latest All Saints belt than get up and dance – but it was brilliant. With the addition of Adele and her unisex toilets, nights at One Central were usually guaranteed to be a little bit dirty.

What happened to it? The club reverted back to its gay roots in 2009 with a little help from Federation and is now an up-market tiki club called Mahiki where people buy bottles of booze and wear expensive clothes over impressively tanned six packs.

 

Nick’s Oxford Snack Bar
Nicknamed by many as Nick the Greeks, this legendary eatery was located on the ground floor of Tiffany’s nightclub at the top of Oxford Road and it was open 24 hours a day. That’s 24 hours when you could pop in and get a greasy fry up or massive butty.

The place was perfect for your after club munchies, with Rotters and Club Tropicana just down the road (as well as Tiffany’s above). On top of this you also had the Odeon Cinema next door, which again closed around 2008, after many years of slow decay.

What happened to it? Tiffany’s and the Oxford got knocked down to make way for the current development – home to a Premier Inn, that manky casino, Turtle Bay and the Paramount pub. Nick moved over to Blackpool shortly after where he ran a restaurant for many years. He died a few years back, but his legacy as a purveyor of cheap, greasy, delicious drunk food still lives on today.

 

MTwo / Infinity / Royales
This grand venue was once the Theatre Royal and features a very strange and inaccurate statue of Shakespeare above its door. In 1978 it opened its doors as a nightclub and became Royales.

You’d be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t go to Royales, Infinity, Coliseum or M-Two when it was open – it’s almost as if it was a rite of passage for any growing Manc – you were literally unable to buy a parka and a pair of Gazelles until you went in, got pissed and spewed up over one of the balconies.

Pete Waterman, before he decided to dedicate his life to model trains, once filmed an episode of Hitman and Her in here with Michaela Strachan – which also featured the first TV performance of Take That. I really think someone should bring back Hitman and Her – it looks bloody brilliant. Although nobody really goes clubbing anymore – so maybe not.

What happened to it? The club closed its doors in 2009 and has been empty ever since.

 

The Bop
If there was ever a more messy, dirty, cheap, brilliant night in Manchester as a student – you should let me know and I’ll tell you you’re wrong. Located at the Owens Park Halls of residence everything about the Bop was bloody wonderful – not only was it located in what can only be described as a canteen with a dance hall upstairs – it was also rammed with students wanting to have fun and swap bodily fluids after a short stumble back to their halls.

The queues were always massive, but once you were in you could take advantage of some brilliant cheesy tunes, grab a Green Monster (lager, cider, orange reef and blue curacao) and proceed to get absolutely annihilated. One of my favourite ever memories is going to the last Bop of the Summer, completely blotto’ed dancing to some S Club 7 on a packed out dance floor downstairs while the sun was still out.

What happened to it? It moved to Jabez Clegg in 2009 where it died a death because it was nowhere near anyone’s halls of residence and didn’t have the charm it once had. The last BOP was in 2013.

 

The Plaza
I was reading a great book about the life of Jimmy Saville a few years ago on the beaches of Belize and there were constant references to The Plaza – a place in Manchester which was once managed by the white-haired monster.

Upon further investigation it seems that The Plaza was one of the city’s most popular night haunts to listen and dance to plenty of Sinatra, Elvis and American rock and roll. Unusually it was also a favourite at lunchtime – Saville pioneered Lunch-time Disco sessions for the city’s young workers – where you could enjoy a quick lunch and a soft drink while enjoying the music and having a dance.

Saville also claimed to be the world’s first DJ when he welded two decks together in The Ritz. Surprisingly The Ritz is still going strong to this day, but The Plaza is another story.

What happened to it? After the Plaza closed, it became Tiffany’s which sold itself as an upmarket disco complete with fake palm trees, ancient plaster columns and loads of glitter balls. It finally became Tropicana before closing in the late 80s. It’s now a Pizza Express I believe at the top of Oxford Road – opposite the Temple pub.

 

Hacienda
Probably one of the most famous night clubs in the world, this list would not be worth any of your time unless it featured the Hacienda.

Founded by Tony Wilson and opening in 1982, the Hacienda became to define the whole Madchester era and really put the city on the map. Fitting in with the minimal, industrial style associated with Peter Saville’s best work, the Hacienda was a perfect space in which to worship at the altar of the DJ. Acid House and rave culture was born here – as were the careers of Madonna, the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays.

It managed to lose millions of New Order’s hard earned pounds despite being packed out with drugged up, smiley wearing chew-faces pretty much all the time. The introduction to its rather sinister reputation for attracting drug gangs in the 90s didn’t help either.

What happened to it? The club closed in 1997 and was demolished 18 months later. In its place now is a block of yuppie flats – called the Hacienda.

 

Millionaire Club
Opened up by long blonde-haired leopard thong wearing gargoyle Peter Stringfellow, the Millionaire Club was a disco venue which was very popular amongst the 70s Manchester crowds. It developed a reputation for being rather risqué, with many remembering it to have regular strippers and topless staff.

Although people may have got this information mixed up with Stringfellow’s reputation for tits and arse, there are still many great stories about this place. One I found online was when a group of Salford lads were refused entry, who subsequently returned in a stolen car and rammed the entrance – apparently in a Ford Fiesta. I’m unsure as to whether they got straight out of the car and ordered drinks like heroes – but in my mind they definitely did.

What happened to it? By around 1980 Stringfellow decided to sell the building to Granada and it is now a loading bay for Primark I believe. The entrance is still there round the side of Marble St – probably used by drug dealers now though.

 

The Phoenix
The Phoenix was still going when I was at University, but was a shell of its former glory. Before closing its doors it was a Scream pub offering students cheap pints and manky food, with its large upstairs area being used mostly for karaoke and the occasional weekend piss up.

The pub was in a sorry state of affairs by the time it closed, but many would be hard pressed to notice this decay – the place was always a complete dirty shit hole – but it had plenty of charm, and an overabundance of staff willing to turn a blind eye. Head to an Acid Rock or Tangled night upstairs and you’d find a venue hotter and sweatier than a dragons ball sack, with enough gear floating around to make Keith Richards re-think his life choices.

What happened to it? The place closed down a fair few years ago – around 2011 and now the University Prescient has been demolished. Which is a shame really – in addition to the Phoenix there was a great Greek greasy spoon in there, as well as a butty shop which served cheese and bacon baguettes the size of a small baby for £2.50. It’s being replaced by an improved Business School – as if big business hasn’t ruined enough already.

 

Antonio’s Cafe
Anyone travelling from filthy London a few years back would have been greeted by a truly wonderful sight on their way to Piccadilly Gardens. Almost straight away, the southern fairies would be greeted by Antonio’s cafe on the approach, a place where the sausages contained less meat than Linda McCartney’s lunchbox but tasted of absolute heaven after a heavy night on the Special Brew.

Specialising in the kind of food that you would find deconstructed in a gutter at 2am, Antonio’s was never short of butch blokes in high-vis – the only review of a great greasy spoon that matters. Order a full English here and you would not be disappointed, in fact – I once tried to impress a Spanish girl with a ‘proper’ English brekkie in here and she managed to order a burger on the side of hers – it was only 10am and she was suitably impressed let me tell you.

What happened to it? It’s now a Waitrose. Bastards.

 

Bier Keller Piccadilly
If you’re in your twenties then you’re probably thinking that there’s already a Bierkeller in town – that massive monstrosity in the Printworks which took over Lucid and now has about 300 bars, loads of tarts dancing on tables and steins for a tenner a pop.

Well, many years before this Bierkeller opened, there was another one – Bier Keller Piccadilly – located through a tiny door and filled with half-cut punters downing cheap pints and trying to get their end away. The place opened in 1967 and was host to a variety of nights six times a week, including live music on occasion by Billy Fury, the Bay City Rollers and many more.

Throughout the 70s and 80s the place was always buzzing, and typically ended up with everyone swimming in beer by the end of the night, dancing on the tables while the resident Mancunican Oompa band played whatever came in their head. That’s what it was all about.

What happened to it? The Bier Keller closed its doors for good in 2004, after managing to open a few nights a week hosting a couple of student parties for a couple of years. You could probably attribute it’s downfall to the downfall of Piccadilly Gardens and the surrounding area itself – the area has developed a bad rep over the past 15 years, and as places like Piccadilly 21s closed down, people moved their drinking to Deansgate or the Northern Quarter. Shame really. It’s now a butty shop called Fatso’s. I’ve never been in but it’s probably not as good.

 

Tommy Ducks
Probably one of the most infamous pubs in Manchester, Tommy Ducks has so many stories and urban legends surrounding it that I’m surprised Derek Acorah hasn’t tried making a UK Living series about it. Not that it was haunted – at least I don’t think it was – but the place has achieved such a legendary status in Manchester, it would be good for someone to go through and try to separate the truth from the bullshit.

First of all, the story goes that the name Tommy Ducks came about when the sign writer who was painting the name of the landlord, Tommy Duckworth, ran out of room on the sign. Sure that could have happened. It was also famous for its collection of knickers stapled to the ceiling, which had been donated by generous customers who presumably had never heard of the dangers of thrush. There were also a couple of glass-topped coffins used as tables – one of which, the story goes, was ‘kidnapped’ by a rival pub for a while.

The pub was a favourite for many a Manc, and it’s location just next to the Midland Hotel and the GMEX (or Manchester Central) ensured that it was the perfect place to get a few cheap drinks in you before heading off to Rotters or Pips or Tiffany’s on Oxford Road.

What happened to it? By the time the 90’s rolled around, the pub was pretty much one of the only things standing in the area, surrounded by the imposing Midland Hotel and not much else, as everything was bulldozed for development. The pub was bulldozed in 1993 and in its place now is a rubbish Premier Inn hotel with a terrible chain pub below it. Shame.

 

Rotters
I’m not sure how well a place called Rotters would do nowadays. It’s like a new place opening up in the Northern Quarter called Mingers. Or Ugly Sods. Doubt it would work. But in the 70s and 80s, Rotters was a hugely popular nightclub, especially its Monday all-nighters and the typical meat-market weekend parties.

Located at the top of Oxford Road, Rotters was located inside an old Gaumont Cinema – one of the most beautiful cinemas to ever grace the city. Once it became Rotters though it seems that it was one of the best places to go to get absolutely leathered on cheap ale, get off with someone in a dark and dingy corner and then finish the night with a scrap down the old grand staircase inside.

What happened to it? Unfortunately the whole building was demolished in 1990 and replaced by a fucking car park. NCP have a lot to answer for.

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