What is there to be said about Manchester’s cultural identity that hasn’t already been perfectly articulated countless times over? The history of this remarkable city is pored over with such frequency and exactitude that there’s little fresh light to shed on the subject here; its present, however, is a different matter. As rich as the city’s past may be, this has always been a place of progress, whose residents have been responsible for vital innovations across the artistic, scientific and humanitarian spectrums.
The recent Manchester International Festival, in which Mancunians old and new celebrated their heritage by repositioning its bent towards the future (best exemplified by New Order’s dazzling ∑(No,12k,Lg,17Mif) residency at Old Granada Studios), perfectly demonstrated the city’s brilliant reluctance to bask in nostalgia. Therefore, to get a true feel for this place, it’s essential to examine the Manchester of today, rather than that of Walter Greenwood, Ian Brown or Stephen Patrick Morrissey. So, as a visitor to Manchester in 2017, where should you go, what should you do, and what should you drink? Allow us to offer you a few pointers.
Like any discerning visitor to the city, you’ll probably end up in the Northern Quarter at some point, and this is as good an entry point as any. This cluster of hulking former mills and warehouses, gathered around Stephenson Square and Oldham Street between Piccadilly Gardens and Ancoats, is Manchester’s answer to London’s Shoreditch. Here, you can find some of the city’s finest music venues (Soup Kitchen, Night & Day Café, Band on the Wall), record shops (Piccadilly Records, Vinyl Exchange) and vintage clothes emporia (COW, Pop Boutique). Furthermore, no visit to the Northern Quarter would be complete without a little time set aside to explore the labyrinthine Affleck’s Palace, a countercultural Mecca several stories high quite unlike anywhere else in the North-West of England. Expect the unexpected.
Further afield, the Whitworth and Manchester Art Galleries both rival any art museum in the UK for their sheer breadth of exhibits and the expertness of their curation. The latter is currently displaying True Faith, an exhibition which parallels New Order’s aforementioned MIF residency, mirroring its vogue for progress by spotlighting the wealth of visual artwork that band has not only inspired in the past, but continues to in the present.
A highly diverse, internationalist city, you’d be hard pushed to find a palate (and, indeed, budget) to which Manchester’s enormous range of high-quality gastronomic options doesn’t cater. Rusholme’s renowned Curry Mile is well worth a visit – in fact, several of the southerly thoroughfares into the city centre are home to South Asian restaurants of the highest order. Further into town, The Eighth Day Café on Oxford Road serves excellent vegan food at a very reasonable price for a city-centre eatery, and for something a little swankier, it’s worth a stroll along Deansgate, Manchester’s urbane high-end district.
This is the easy bit. This is the city of Madchester, 24-Hour Party People, “Cigarettes & Alcohol”. You’ll doubtlessly find your own way through town after dark, but for what it’s worth, we can point you in the direction of places like Mr Thomas’ Chop House (a striking, stately pub slap-bang in the city centre) and the Deaf Institute (one of Manchester’s finest music venues and an excitable, atmospheric nightclub come the small hours). For those who desire something a little more refined, Salford’s Islington Mill is a peerless hub of experimental music and immersive art. It’s a little further out of town, but with pubs like The Old Pint Pot and The Eagle Inn within spitting distance, it’s well worth the trip.