Manchester’s Best Independent Music Venues: Night & Day Café

One of the OG Northern Quarter revolutionaries, Night & Day Café is a venue that’s revived the local music scene time and time again.

By Emma Davidson | Last updated 22 November 2022

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When Night & Day founder Jan Oldenburg first took over the iconic red-hued music venue back in the early 90s, the subtle sound of deep fat fryers could be heard in the background. 

That’s because the original space was actually a Fish & Chip shop, complete with the faint scent of cooking oil and buckets of crispy batter that a dutch man saw a lot of promise for. 

Purchasing a venue in 1991 Northern Quarter bore no similarity to the space we know now. There were no bustling independent eateries, sprouting plant shops or 2-4-1 cocktail deals, it was an area of the city that was complete with row upon row of derelict buildings and warehouses, with Oldham Street itself housing clothing wholesalers and pet shops. 

The street was the commercial and shopping centre of the city for years, up until the 70s with the closure of Smithfield Market and the arrival of the brand-new Arndale Centre. What remained was pockets of small residential communities up near Tib Street alongside eerily empty streets and a monotone buzz.

It wasn’t until the early 90s that the Northern Quarter’s forgotten buildings were snapped up as cheap places to take over and start a business. In a nutshell, this formed the basis of the area as we now know it, with creatives and start-ups flocking there over a matter of months.  

So, when Jan decided to take over the fish and chip shop, it was an ambitious move, but one that invariably paid off, with Night & Day Café now an essential part of Manchester’s continually evolving music scene

“Jan was a true visionary,” explained Ben Smithson, who currently works at the venue with his wife Jennifer, Jan’s daughter and the owner of Night and Day. 

“When he took over the space, music was always at the forefront of his mind. The first innovative thing he did was that he started selling beer alongside the fish and chips, which, at the time, hadn’t really been done before, at least not at a fish and chip restaurant.

“He then put a stage and piano in the corner of the restaurant and encouraged local  musicians, artists and poets to visit and play. Night & Day has evolved entirely organically over the years, Jan was a hard worker and the venue is an ode to that.”

Today the interior decor is an emulation of Jan’s infectious personality. It’s a portal to another world, the on-screen set of a Wes Anderson film or the location for another Dolly Alderton biopic – where friendships are made and communities are formed. 

It’s complete with fairy lights, disco balls and walls adorned with the artwork of local creatives. You’ll find a gallery wall dedicated to portraiture artist Stan Chow and his love of Northerners, alongside small exhibitions from individuals currently making waves within the community, that Night & Day offers entirely free spaces to.  

Jan built an intimate music venue that is known and loved by music fans of Manchester and beyond. It’s become a bucket list destination for any local artists beginning to make a name for themselves in the scene, and this also dates back to its formative years when Guy Garvey used to call the bar home. 

“Back when Elbow were just starting out, they used to give Night & Day’s bar telephone  number as their contact details long before anyone used mobile phones, as 99% of the time you’d find them in here,” furthered Ben.

“Guy and Elbow are still huge fans of the venue and recently played an amazing and  intimate show here as part of our 30th celebrations last year, too. 

“That’s only one example of the influence Night & Day has had on the career of so many bands and artists, it’s grown with the changing scene of Northern Quarter – becoming an even bigger cornerstone of the community than ever before.”

Night & Day Café was one of the original pioneers of Northern Quarter’s creative scene, along with Afflecks Palace and Dry Bar. Long gone is the latter, but it’s refreshing to see that both Night & Day and Afflecks have driven the ever-changing scene of the district, no doubt influencing the abundance of independent eateries, retail spaces and bars that now dominate its streets. 

Jan Oldenburg’s legacy isn’t just ingrained in the venue, it could be said that he’s formed one specific part of Northern Quarter’s heart chamber. Taking on such an ambitious project all those years ago has meant that the suburb is intrinsically linked with creativity, innovation and incredible musicians – something that has kept people flocking back for over 30 years. 

In 2021, Night & Day Café was served with a noise abatement order putting the venue at risk of closure. A petition was set up and well over 75,000 signatures were gained from the local community and the likes of Tim Burgess, frontman of The Charlatans. 

Image: Jay Taylor

A resident who moved in during lockdown had complained to the council about noise problems coming from the music venue, citing that they’ve had to spend money on noise isolating material to reduce the impact on the property.

The dispute is still ongoing, but it’s impossible not to note the importance of Night & Day. The petition is still available to sign, and if you cared about one of the most vibrant music scenes in the world, you’d make sure your name proudly made an appearance.