Marcus Johns and Charlie Spargo explore the Northern Quarter’s newest concept café where you only pay for the time you spend
Up a small lift, behind a small door on Edge Street in the Northern Quarter is Manchester’s newest quirky café experience, Ziferblat. The concept is very simple: you only pay for the time you spend here—your drinks, toast, cereal, fruit, biscuits, board games, and cake is all free; all they ask that you wash up after yourself.
Relaxed design and friendly staff embody the Northern Quarter ideal of enjoying the time you spend here. Upon arrival, you’re buzzed in and follow the signs; up the lift, round the corner, and you arrive to ‘check in’. Here, you choose your favourite clock from a wide range, including Colin (a gold phone box, chosen by Marcus) and Horse (an old alarm clock with a horse on it, chosen by Charlie). Check-in is simple—all that is required is your name, e-mail, the name of your clock (Colin), and time of arrival.
The name Ziferblat is derived from Zifferblatt, meaning ‘clock-face’ in Russian and German, which seems apt given the pay-as-you-stay method the so-called ‘anti-café’ employs.
We were checked in by a genuinely friendly member of staff, who reminded us to wash up and of the important rule in Ziferblat; this is a shared space, so be respectful to those around you, “but apart from that just relax and enjoy your time.” At £3 per hour, it’s hard not to.
The communal space itself is littered with mismatched old furniture—from green leather sofas arranged around a fireplace to ornate red settees with plush cushions and a matching rug. The space seems perfectly designed to relax and pass the time. As we were told by the staff, it’s “your home from home.”
We arrived late in the afternoon, as the fluorescent lights were turned off in favour of small table-lamps. These created a gentle orange glow, which further emphasised the relaxed atmosphere created by Ziferblat, perfect for the end of a long day.
The space is surprisingly large, yet intimate. Small stations are provided with kettles, coffee machines, and condiments—which allow you to set your own pace as you browse the free Wi-Fi or enjoy some scones. In one corner of the space is a small kitchen, with labelled drawers to help you find plates, cereals, bread for the toaster, and milk if the coffee machine runs dry. It’s easy, friendly, and, most of all, it works.
At half past three, it was busy, but not cramped. We found a comfortable sofa easily and went to get coffee, a scone, and some toast. It feels like being at home; toasting your own bread, looking in the fridge for butter, and finding a spoon for your Nutella. While moving round an unfamiliar kitchen with strangers felt a little awkward at first, it was soon clear that people were polite and accommodating, and the strangeness of the situation quickly felt normal.
With a wide range of cereal, fruit and, cake on offer for £3 an hour, it would be hard not to overindulge. Yet the atmosphere and ideals of the social space seem to worm their way in; it’s hard to want to. All you want to do is to sit back, relax and take it all in.
Should you find yourself bored of the free Wi-Fi, you will find a large selection of board games and puzzles. It feels like an old ideal, left over from a time when cafés didn’t provide internet access, but there’s something about Ziferblat that allows the board games a space in the present day. Groups of strangers could be seen playing Scrabble, Cluedo, and Jenga, something that would definitely not be seen in a Starbucks or Costa.
Open from 10am – 10pm, it offers almost anything. You could come for breakfast and enjoy a bowl of cereal with toast, or enjoy a sandwich you’ve made yourself at lunchtime. As well as those chatting and playing Connect-4, we could see people using it as a calm and comfortable place to get some productive work done.
The coffee’s good and the contents eclectic. Of course, at 5p a minute, you could use it on the fly to down a cheap coffee and a sandwich, but the atmosphere is so relaxed and friendly that you’d gain so much more value from spending a little time there, really appreciating the cosy, attractive surroundings, and not feeling as if you’re being rushed out of the shop for another paying customer.
We’ll be back very soon. It has a great atmosphere and a great price, if only we had had longer to spend there.