Call it a little bit of good timing or a whole lot of luck, but the weather in Manchester, England, stayed downright pleasant for the duration of Matchday 8 on Saturday, October 14 as Manchester City took on Stoke City at the Etihad Stadium just east of the town center. As I began planning my itinerary, I made it my mission to fit in as many bars as possible before, during, and after the match. This ended up in a 14-hour boozing marathon that started bright and early at 10 am, fresh off a bus from Liverpool.
We had our first pints at The Bank, a watering hole nestled into a bank that dates back to the early 1800s. A much older crowd frequents this old mare, but it’s a nice, tame choice to start the day.
As we hauled our bags around town, we were recommended to stop by another pub called The Grey Horse Inn. With gear in tow, we walked into one of the smallest bars in Manchester, full of visiting Stoke City supporters. The space proved to be more of an obstacle course inside of a standing-room only horseshoe bar with one bartender running half a dozen taps and a small well. It appeared this was a traditional stop for visiting fans and we were immediately bombarded with questions about our trip and how we ended up at The Grey Horse of all places. We navigated through thick-as-molasses Midlands accents and ended up learning quite a bit about the life of British football supporters. After another beer, we saw a clear path to the exit and hailed a cab to our Airbnb.
If you’re attending a match at the Etihad (as the locals shorten it), you may want to stay halfway between the city center and the stadium on match day. About a mile from both, we were a quick ride to The Corner Shop Public House on Rylance Street. What originally led us here were reviews of “hot and cold food,” so something had to be edible enough to break up the booze (now that we were four pints in). That “something” was a quintessential British baked pie — golden discs filled with steak, cheese, onions, and gravy that sat idle in a warming case underneath a heat lamp. Two pies and two more pints were ordered as we settled in for the second half of the ongoing Liverpool vs. Manchester United match on the television.
Quick note for non-football fans: Football in Manchester is as much of a pastime as American football is in the South. It provides a real sense of community and connection in a city divided by two successful, yet wildly different football clubs competing in England’s Premier League. These clubs are Manchester City (affectionately referred to as Man City) and Manchester United (Man U).
With a bit of stewed meat and pastry dough as fuel, we were set to make one more stop with 90 minutes until kickoff for the Man City vs. Stoke City match. As far as famous football pubs go, Mary D’s Beamish House is one of those places that is considered a must-stop before any Manchester City match. Just 10 minutes walking distance from The Corner Shop, Mary D’s is unassuming, but it all unfolds into a massive drinking hall connected by a long bar. Hundreds of supporters cram in and crowd around an array TVs to watch whatever happens to be on (in this case, the end of the aforementioned match). It’s been packing in fans for years and will continue to do so, being just steps from the stadium. It’s a sweaty, humid sight to behold and a must-see to truly soak in local football culture.
The Etihad itself has bars set up throughout its grounds, most with reasonably priced beer, wine, and cider (anywhere from $4-$7). Lines are about what you’d expect from a professional sporting event: long and unforgiving. On this day, Man City put up seven goals against an overwhelmed Stoke side — a master-class performance worthy of some post-match celebrations. Many headed back towards Mary D’s or The Corner Shop, but we opted to venture further.
The center of Manchester’s nightlife is in and around the Northern Quarter; the city’s developing yet gritty hub for galleries, vintage shopping, and record stores. There’s something for everyone, from Tib St. Tavern, a choice American-style sports bar, to Behind Closed Doors, a basement cocktail bar where you order drinks via a rotary phone at your table.
After a 10-minute walk south, we found ourselves at Salut Wines, an impressive wine bar with more than a dozen options on tap. You can even pour them yourself by purchasing a prepaid card (which proved dangerous near the end of our marathon day of drinking).
Next time you’re headed to northern England, do yourself a favor and plan your trip around a football match. You’ll find that 10 am will turn into 10 pm in a hurry — and you’ll make some new friends along the way.
As a last note: If you want to make a weekend out of a Mancunian visit — since there’s much more to see beyond football (and bars) — The Principal Hotel on Oxford Street makes for a fine home base. The property is the result of a gorgeous renovation and is situated minutes from just about everything.
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