Although some might argue that the best way to understand a place is by walking around it and finding your bearings, I would say that the only places that you need visit are the pubs. Regardless of their size, shape or age, pubs all around Britain are full of sociable creatures who are usually more than happy to give you the low down on their home, help steer you clear of any rough spots and enlighten you as to the best places to drink (with that usually being right where they’re sat).
Pubs are more than just an endless mine of cultural tips though, they also serve to inform visitors as to the general zeitgeist of their surroundings. After a few brief conversations with the bar man and a couple of locals, the observant drinker can quickly ascertain the general mood of the local populace and better understand the minutiae that make this community distinct from its neighbours.
There’s no greater example of this than in Manchester, one of the great Northern cities and home to dozens of iconic, historical pubs. On a recent trip up North, I took a day off to visit a handful of charming pubs and better understand what makes this one of the UK’s biggest, thriving metropolises.
Don’t try and look for The Briton’s Protection website, this is not the kind of establishment to bend to such trifles as the inexorable passage of time, this is a pub drawn from the Great British Book of Classic Pub Designs (a tome that doesn’t actually exist). Ornate tiling is combined with impressively preserved original wood features and a sterling lineup of real ale and whiskies. I stay to sample a dram of locally brewed Manchester Pale Ale and get chatting to the landlord who is more than happy to talk me through the history of the building; what a lovely chap.
A little more out the way, but nonetheless impressive, this pub is run by Marble Beers, a local brewery that has built up a reputation for fantastic quality and a welcoming public house. Set up in another stunning traditional building, the vibe of this place is much more modern than Briton’s Protection, yet is still populated with a range of folks from young student times, to rosy cheeked older chaps with a twinkle in their eye – thoroughly pleasant drinking hole.
My final stop is a drinking spot notorious for its outdoor drinking area (a rarity in a built-up city such as Manchester) and ‘No swearing’ policy, which I hear broken frequently by drinkers of all ages. The building sits handsomely alongside the nearby Cathedral and is a great example of a city boozer, brimming with locals, tourists, students and all other manner of folks seeking shelter and a glass of beer. The prices here are, quite frankly, outrageously cheap and I spend half an hour arguing about Brexit with a group of half-cut Millennials: great stuff.