Finest Day Out: An Alternative Northern Quarter

You don't need me to tell you to go to Cottonopolis for brunch, chomp some ribs in Cane & Grain or stand in the sun outside Flok, so I’m not going to even bother.

By Ben Brown | 23 December 2019

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What I will do though is look at an ‘alternative’ NQ Day Out – one that explores the often forgotten or sometimes overlooked little gems that set the NQ apart from most of the other city’s newer, more ‘refined’ areas.

A lot of these are just places that I enjoy going to get away from the usual crowds, so it’s likely you’ll see me slumped in a corner somewhere on your day out. If I look distressed, don’t approach and certainly don’t make eye contact.

Cafe Marhaba
Tucked away in a manky little side street between Newton St and Lever St, Cafe Marhaba is one of those places that has been going for absolutely ages, likely since the area was still just a collection of fashion and fabric warehouses flogging some terrible clobber to the masses. The reason it’s been here so long though is simple – the food. Proper homemade, hearty curries are available day in, day out at Cafe Marhaba, alongside some of Manchester’s best kebabs that are cooked in their ancient tandoor oven. The prices are certainly a big plus point too – as are the myriad of odd and zany characters you’ll find in there any time of day.

Cafe Marhaba, 47 Piccadilly, Manchester M1 2AP
0161 236 7526


Hare and Hounds
Personally my favourite NQ boozer, the Hare & Hounds never fails to entertain anyone looking for a frosty pint, a few packets of Quavers and a bloody good natter with some of the locals. Of particular note should be the little snug room at the back which has a fantastic cosy little atmosphere where everyone gets involved and has a laugh – just like in the old days when you’d find Uncle Albert on the piano and people paid for their bitter with shillings. Saturday is Free & Easy and it’s the best place in the world to listen to a load of old blokes singing some Frank Sinatra. You get free sausage rolls too!

Hare & Hounds, 46 Shudehill, Manchester M4 4AA
0161 832 4737


Science & Industry
Not many people know that Science & Industry exists. Of those people that do know that it exists, not many of those know that Science & Industry makes quite possibly the city’s best cocktails. No shit. Really really. The name clearly refers to the sheer amount of scientific equipment that they use to create their cocktails – of which there’s an entire laboratory somewhere in the back which would make Doc Brown weep into his Wheetos. Reading their cocktail menu can be daunting – there’s so many odd words and flavours knocking about – but luckily the staff are super nice (as well as being drink geniuses) so if you’re struggling – just ask them and they’ll make you The Best Drink You’ve Ever Had™

Science & Industry, Cane & Grain, 49 -51 Thomas Street, Manchester M4 1NA


Mother Mac’s
Another little gem hidden down ‘Smack Alley’ between Newton St and Lever St, Mother Macs is as traditional as any pub can get – and somewhere where you’re always guaranteed a fair range of ‘characters’. If you’re sceptical, know this – Mother Macs is the local boozer of none other than the World Famous Piccadilly Rats – and to be fair to the lads – they’ve chosen well. There’s plenty of cold booze on tap, an excellent range of snackage and a telly the size of a cinema screen which is perfect for watching the footy or the final of Celebrity Big Brother.

Mother Mac’s, 33 Back Piccadilly, Manchester M1 1HP


Eat n Sweet
Hidden underneath the Ridelow building on Church Street, Eat n Sweet offer a lovely menu of Caribbean dishes which are all massive, and all proper fit. You can expect all of the usual fare including Jamaican Jerk chicken, Salt fish and Goat – as well as a particularly amazing bit of Oxtail. Last time I was in there I didn’t even manage to get to the main menu, I was undone by 2 rather large patties and a dead good drink – Guinness Punch – which I can’t really explain using words. Just pop in and try it and tell me it’s not the best drink ever. I dare you.

Eat & Sweet, 27-29 Church St, Manchester M4 1PE


Bar Fringe
Is Bar Fringe in the NQ? Errrr yes it is. Even if you don’t agree with me – it’s my list and just like Santa Claus – I’ll put whoever I want into it. Bar Fringe is located just over the road (ish) from Band on the Wall and features probably the city’s biggest and best selection of Belgian and German beers. As a particular fan of those strong Belgian beauties, this place attracts me like a patio door attracts a daddy long legs. They’ve got a massive range of bottled stuff and they often rotate their draft beers with alarming regularity. This is the only place outside of Bruges that I’ve ever had a draught Delirium and it was divine.

Bar Fringe, 8 Swan St, Manchester M4 5JN
0161 835 3815


A good friend of Finest, Fez, walks from his office down near the Apollo to the NQ to go into Kabana for his lunch. Every. Single. Day. Such dedication surely deserves an award or something? He bloody loves it. And I suppose his award each day comes when he opens the door, sits down and gets to tuck into one of Kabana’s amazing kebabs (I think he goes for the Chicken Tikka one). The NQ is pretty well known for its kebab and curry shops, and Kabana is certainly well up there in terms of helping cement this reputation. The food is spectacular – you really should go.

Kabana, 52 Back Turner St, Manchester M4 1FP
0161 835 2447


Earth Cafe
You may not have heard of Earth Cafe but you will certainly have walked past it. Tucked away just near the Abel Heywood Pub, Earth Cafe is one of the city’s best places for a hearty meal that won’t leave you feeling like you’ve just been mugged in broad daylight and said ‘thank you’ for the pleasure. Each day they get together and cook a selection of proper grub, all of it vegetarian and all of it bloody brilliant. Not only this but the ‘cafe’ bit in the name comes into play with a dead nice, calm atmosphere in which to have a chill, do some work or just twiddle your thumbs.

Earth Cafe, 16-20 Turner St, Manchester M4 1DZ


Clampdown Records
Sure, you’ve got the relative big boys on Thomas Street and Oldham Street but I feel many people tend to forget or neglect Clampdown and I suspect it’s mostly to do with its location. Plonked on a side street just off the dreaded Piccadilly Approach, Clampdown isn’t any less impressive or comprehensive as the city’s other record shops and in fact is manned by people who know more about music and records than that bloke in Merseyside who had all episodes of Top of the Pops on VHS and watched them constantly in chronological order. Although I think he might just have been in a dream I had once. You get the idea though.

Clampdown, 9-11 Paton St, Manchester M1 2BA


Ginger’s Comfort Emporium
Another Affleck’s wonder is Ginger’s up on the first floor near the big piercing shop. Its full name is Ginger’s Comfort Emporium and indeed, if you’re feeling particularly glum or upset, Ginger’s is the place to go to get some amazing desserts down your neck – with their ice cream being pretty much at the top of the list of things to try. They’ve always got new and exciting flavours knocking about so this might all be different when you pop in but you should expect something along the lines of: Blackberry, Rosemary & Sage Sorbet, Black Treacle & Parkin, Apple, Mint & Wheatgrass and of course vanilla. All of them are amazing, except the coffee ones but that’s because I can’t stand the stuff.

Afflecks, Church St, Manchester M4 1PW


The Peer Hat
Round the back of the Police Museum you’ll find The Peer Hat, a great boozer and more importantly a fantastic live music venue. You’ll find a whole host of local bands doing gigs here, as well as plenty of others from around the country with names like Kickin’ Pigeons, Primitive Knot and Captain Stingray’s Groove Machine. They also have regular club nights in here including the brilliant Smith’s Disco and loads more that confuse me just by looking at the flyers. Whether you’re looking for a nice quiet pint upstairs or fancy getting sweaty and shimmying on one foot downstairs – The Peer Hat has you covered.

The Peer Hat, 14-16 Faraday St, Manchester M1 1BE


The Unicorn
When living in the block of flats next door I was always perplexed by just how busy The Unicorn would get, especially on a Sunday night. The place was rammed and it always sounded like a proper rowdy party. I thus made it a personal mission to get myself in there, sew myself within the inner circle of this party crowd and become one of them – infiltrating one of the city’s most obscure underground scenes. When I went in on a Sunday night though all I found was a load of pissed up people going mental on the karaoke machine – and I was instantly sold. The Unicorn is excellent – the perfect place for a quiet pint and a chat during the day, and a rowdy pissed up dance and a sing in the evening. I should point this out too – their Strongbow is so cold that I once saw a polar bear get brain freeze from it. So be careful.

The Unicorn, 26 Church St, Manchester M4 1PN
0161 834 8854


Behind Closed Doors
Okay so Behind Closed Doors might not be as hidden as it once was – especially since they’ve started putting up signs and making little A boards for the pavement but there’s still no denying that it’s probably the best place to head to in the NQ once your time at the bars is coming to an end. Open until 4am, BCD has an amazing cocktail menu and most importantly (and perhaps controversially) – the best music in any club in the city. Perhaps I’m biased though. My love of funk and soul and disco is well documented within the words of this website and so BCD ticks every musical box in my little ears. Even if you’re not too much of a fan though – you most certainly will be after about 30 minutes in here. Trust me.

Behind Closed Doors, 93 Oldham St, Manchester M4 1LW
0161 834 8148


The Millstone
Everyone loves The Millstone. It’s hard not to. Located slap bang in the middle of the NQ, The Millstone may seem a little out of place next to Oi Polloi and down the road from Cane & Grain but it deserves to be there just as much as they do I assure you. If you’ve never been in – stop reading this now and go. Now. Go on. Hopefully you’re reading this at night too because when you pop your head through the door you’ll find yourself in a packed boozer full of proper characters, half of them will be waiting to get on the karaoke and the other half will be downing House Doubles like they’re going out of fashion. Which they never will.

The Millstone, 67 Thomas St, Manchester M4 1LQ
0161 839 0213