24th September 2012

A postgraduate’s guide to Manchester

Too old for a typical student night-out? Stevie Spiegl is here to help

There comes a time in every student’s life when he or she experiences an epiphany. The situation: You’re standing in a nightclub (let’s, without wishing to cast ugly aspersions, call this club 5th Avenue), the lights have just gone up, your feet are glued to the floor by a viscous mixture of vodka and Red Bull, and all around you stand individuals whom it would be generous to describe as the millstone round the neck of human evolution, arms thrown across each other’s shoulders as they bellow out the words to Don’t Look Back in Anger. The epiphany: “I’m too old for this.”

If you’re about to start a postgraduate degree, you should have already experienced this, in which case, it might be useful to know some places where it’s possible to eat, drink and dance without resenting every other person for having a good chance of outliving you while showing no outward signs of deserving it.

Given that this guide purports to cater to the more ‘mature’ crowd, it might seem counterintuitive to begin by recommending a club which contains a full-scale Dalek and lets you watch Thundercats while you dance. However, Fab Café (Portland Street) is a real gem, providing refuge from the fresh-off-the-boat indie crowd along with a hefty injection of all things geek. Retro arcade machines line the walls, there’s a TARDIS in the corner, and the DJs play your requests: in short, it covers all the bases. If, however, you’re too cool for all that, then Tiger Lounge (Cooper Street) provides a healthy mix of rock, soul and funk, as well as putting on a range of live music, such as the excellent and eclectic band/club night White Light White Heat (first Tuesday of every month). Prefer pubs to clubs? Then you’ll love The Castle (Oldham Street): from the outside it looks like an impenetrable and unwelcoming old-man’s pub, but step inside and you’ll discover an ample jukebox, a range of real ales and regular live music, while any shaggy, unkempt beards are more likely to be attached to hipsters than decrepit student-hating locals.

Fringe, Great Ancoats, is of a similar, though less crowded, nature. Just round the corner on Dale Street lies Nexus, an underground café which hosts a variety of events such as live music, theatre, exhibitions and book groups. It was also, until recently, home to the Nexus Night Café, perhaps the only place in Manchester where it was possible to drink coffee, play board games and generally procrastinate until 6am. Recent funding cuts aside, Nexus promise that the Night Café will return… Head towards Piccadilly and you’ll find the Port St. Beerhouse, Port Street, with its assortment of Czech-style Buxton-brewed beers, and Jackson’s Wharf, which faces onto the Rochdale canal; ideal if you like narrowboats and watching people fish in water which hardly looks capable of sustaining life, let alone edible life.

Of course, you don’t have to go into town to have a good time. Three excellent bars lie but a stone’s throw from central campus.

The first is a dive named Big Hands, which is one of those places you feel you shouldn’t like – it’s loud, it’s often rammed, you sometimes lose your seat to the resident dog – but inevitably do. Furthermore, if pestering rock stars is your thing, the bar’s proximity to the Academy means that this is the place to spot them. If you’d rather at least pretend to be working, then you could do a lot worse than The Contact Theatre or The Ducie – behind the library; check out the exotic burger menu whilst there. A little further south, off a side-road in Rusholme, you’ll find The Antwerp Mansion. In its time it’s been the Belgian Consulate, the Rusholme Conservative Association, and now it’s a jack-of-all-trades venue hosting live music, festivals, parties and jam nights.

Keep on south and you’ll get to Fallowfield, an area distinguished by pub golf and first-years vomiting down their fronts. The bars aren’t great, but if you’ve never been you could do worse than to give it a look, if only to remind yourself that, if you really think about it, perhaps getting older isn’t the very worst thing in the world.

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