The underground Japanese-style listening bar in Stretford with superstar ‘local DJs’, hot Vimto and no booze

Ruf Dug's Rainy Heart is scratching an itch

By Ben Arnold | Last updated 23 January 2024

Share this story

“I’m not a fan of the word permanent,” says Ruf Dug. “I come from a squat party background. So the idea of repurposing an abandoned space, occupying it and subverting its intention, is kind of integral. Nothing lasts forever right?”

The DJ, producer, radio host and record shop owner, known for his Balearic flights into the wild unknown everywhere from Pikes in Ibiza to mucky basements near Strangeways, is talking about opening the bar he’s always dreamed of.

In future, you might just have to seek it out (following them on Instagram might help), but for now, Rainy Heart is clinging to the side of the thundering dual carriageway at Chester Road, in the slowly transforming Stretford Mall.

It’ll be here for one more weekend, after launching the one just gone, and will likely return towards the summer.

Created by Ruf with assistance from Dan Hope, of Firebird Hope and Four Side Pizza, it takes its inspiration from the hi-fi bars of Japan, which began emerging in the 1950s, created purposely for fabulous acoustics and great music curation.

There are a handful of great audiophile bars in London – and indeed Manchester, with Ancoats spot NAM flying the flag for great quality audio – but it was after playing at Brilliant Corners in Dalston that Ruf decided to invest in some gear himself.

Then the pandemic happened. In some slightly unfortunate timing, he’d just bought himself a set of high-end hi-fi speakers, so spent lockdown listening to his vast vinyl collection through them rather than throwing parties with them.

Ruf Dug

For the nerds, Rainy Heart is using Rogers LS5/8 speakers, originally designed by the BBC in the 1970s as ‘elite level reference-grade monitor speakers’, with some JBL 4645 subwoofers, made for cinemas, for some extra oomph. All the music is played on vinyl.

“The dream was putting on a really fucking good party with them when it was all over,” he says. So he did.

With neighbour and Chemical Brothers tour DJ James Holroyd, the uber-underground, semi-legal Open Secret parties came into being, held at an undisclosed location (revealed only once you’d bought a ticket) to a clued-up crowd, with some top-level acoustics going on.

But the itch was still there to scratch. “It felt like the [listening bar] concept really needed to land properly in Manchester,” he says. “Natural wines and high grade sushi isn’t immediately the most Mancunian hospitality concept really. So doing it with hot Vimto and crisps feels a bit more appropriate.” Additional amusement comes from some old school consoles playing games like Double Dragon and

Ruf Dug Rainy Heart

The first weekend found some stellar selectors dropping by unannounced, all local folks. Mr Scruff played on Sunday, as well as Ruf, Eve’s Drop Collective’s Andrea Trout, Holroyd and Red Laser don Woody, aka Il Bosco.

The no-booze bit – they don’t serve it, just cans of pop and the like, coffee and some non-alcoholic beers – both is and isn’t key to Rainy Heart.

“It was originally driven by the factor that the conditions of the lease means we were allowed to overlap with anyone else’s business, and we’re right next door to a pub,” says Ruf. “Also we don’t need an entertainment license because we close at 11, and we don’t need a liquor license.

“I quit drinking 18 years ago, and I’ve only just recently got into the no-alcohol beer thing, because there’s been this paradigm shift, both in the quality of the beer and societally, the way it’s viewed. When I quit drinking, it was almost a radical act, not to be a drinker.

Rainy Heart

“Now attitudes are completely different. But it’s pretty amazing having an alcohol-free space, in a way I didn’t realise it would be. Not one drink spilled. Everybody is pissing in the toilet. It doesn’t smell bad. And at 11, everyone brings their empties up to the bar, and they just fuck off. The vibe is really nice.”

There’s no judgement of the boozers, mind. Some are coming in to listen, and then nipping out to the Head Bar next door for a swift half, and then nipping back in again. “It’s not Sunday school,” says Ruf.

Rainy Heart is a bit of an experiment, to see if a permanent – or at least permanently nomadic – project could work. It sounds like it might.

“We’ve been overwhelmed with the reaction from music lovers, from the local community. It’s been hard for us to get any meaningful objective criticism, because everyone loves it. The number one question is ‘when are you doing it again’.”

Rainy Heart runs from Thursday 25 January to Sunday 28 January, from 6pm daily.

114 Chester Rd, Stretford, Manchester M32 9BH