EXTRA Focus on…. Stretford

An emerging beer destination well worth visiting…

Often overlooked while hurrying on or off the M60 or whizzing past on a tram for the city centre or Altrincham, Stretford is emerging as a beer destination well worth visiting. After years of decline, losing iconic pubs such as The Drum and The Old Cock, the area is undergoing a renaissance.

For most, the easiest public transport to the area will be the Metrolink stop on Edge Lane or the numerous and frequent buses which run down Chester Road (including the 245, 255 & 256) or the 23 & 25 from Chorlton and beyond.

The Melville ©Bob Dunbar

After passing through the centre, the 25 & 256 buses stop outside the furthest of the area’s pubs from the centre, The Melville Hotel. This pub on Barton Road is also the only traditional pub remaining in the town from the area’s heyday.

©Bob Dunbar

A large Joseph Holt “50’s estate” style pub which has retained many of its original features through several refits; today its main focus is on dining and TV sports.

Serving Holt’s bitter and IPA through hand pumps, (judging from the taste and appearance the beer is kept very well indeed), as well as keg and bottled versions of other Holts beers and lagers, it still is an important part of the community with regular live music and other entertainment such as regular Friday DJ’s, Saturday Live music and/or featured night and Karaoke on Sundays. Landlord Danny Chambers has been there for 8 years and has an excellent relationship with his customers. The food is of a very decent standard and features “2 for 1” across the entire menu all day every Monday. The pub is dog friendly and accessible – it also features an enclosed beer garden to the rear away from the main road.

Heather Garlick ©John O’Donnell

Following Barton Road south onto Park Road and back towards Stretford Mall the same buses will drop you almost outside the unassuming door of The Sip Club. Their tagline is ‘a living room with a licence’ and with its standing lamps, tablecloths and pot plants it really is. Opened by local businesswoman Heather Garlick in April 2014 it was the first of a new breed of bars for Stretford putting local people, businesses and produce in focus. The pub recently retained its Trafford & Hulme CAMRA’s ‘Community Pub Of the Year’ award for a second year, having also previously picked up awards for Pub Of The Season & LocAle Pub Of The Year.

The two hand pumps serve locally sourced ales, typically Brightside, Marble or Pomona Island and local cider also available. Events range from Speak Easy poetry, prose and music nights, watercolour painting, ukulele jam nights, canine socials and French conversation cafes (to name but a few)! If you feel anything’s missing The Common Room is available for functions and other events. Your little four-legged friend is also welcome.

The Robin Hood ©Bob Dunbar

Diagonally across the junction with Urmston Lane lies the imposing, former Robin Hood Hotel. Having served the locals from the traditional heart of Stretford for many years, the Robin Hood was closed just over a year ago having been sold off by brewer turned ‘pub co’ Greene King to a property developer, RGI Property Group. A traditional meeting place for families and friends and a favoured venue for many local groups right up to its sudden closure, the pub is felt to still be viable and not surprisingly, its absence has caused much concern. 

On its closure, a local group, ‘Friends of the Robin Hood’ was quickly formed and have not only successfully achieved listing of the pub as an Asset of Community Value, they have also defended this status against a recent appeal by the property developer RGI who wants to convert the pub into flats and develop houses in the car park. Whilst the future remains uncertain, there has been some good news in that the current planning application for housing development has been withdrawn.

Elsewhere in Stretford the latest focus on development is taking place in the once vacant units on the Chester Road side of Stretford Mall (formerly known as Stretford Arndale). A very convenient stop sees all the buses from Altrincham to Manchester (and vice versa across the road) stopping on request

Head ©Bob Dunbar

First to open in December 2018 was Head. The large unit of a former branch of HSBC was converted with a double-sided bar and décor very much like a 1960s/1970s pub, or indeed lounge. If you think browns, oranges, tan settees, pictures and some great textile patterns you won’t be far off.

Head – The Bar ©Bob Dunbar

The brainchild of Jim Giblyn it is dog friendly and fully accessible. There are regular live music and DJ nights and the pub hosts events from quizzes to craft fayres. 2 hand pumps serve cask from independent breweries from near and far and there are 10 keg lines.

Head’s past guest beers ©Bob Dunbar

Breweries often featured include Pomona Island, Torrside, Tiny Rebel and Timothy Taylors. When I visited they were serving Tiny Rebel “Stay Puft” marshmallow porter, which was delicious, and Burton Road brewery Pale IPA from the hand pumps along with Torrside “Autonomy”, Saltaire “Triple Chocolate Stout” and Shindigger “Grand Central” IPA amongst others from the keg taps.

July 2019 saw the opening of Stretford Food Hall, combining an artisan shopping experience with space for food and drink by Mital Morar, owner of the STORE group and Kiosk Coffee in Manchester Arndale. Set up like a mini market including a convenience store with a great beer range, a florist, merchandise and a rotating selection of street food outlets there is also a permanent bar. Keg only but stocking a good selection of local craft beer as well as a wide range of cans and bottles from a wide range of Craft Breweries. Focus is on local, organic and sustainable offerings. Dog friendly and fully accessible. 

The Longford Tap ©Bob Dunbar

Longford Tap opened in an unoccupied former food outlet shop unit in early September 2019. The brainchild of local businessmen, and brothers, Paul and David Burgess it’s a cafe bar by day offering coffee and cake with a more traditional pub feel at night.

Longford Tap’s bar ©Bob Dunbar

Ales from across the region served from 4 hand pumps in addition to 5 keg taps and an offering of cider. The house beer is “Longford Tap” coming in at 4.2% and brewed exclusively for the pub by Beatnikz Republic. Regular guest breweries are Beatnikz Republic, Marble and Manchester Brewing, along with Blackjack and Squawk. Bottles are available for takeaway and they have a menu of traditional bar snacks, Manchester/ Scotch eggs, sausage rolls etc. There is live music on Friday nights, along with “Open Mic” nights and themed offerings during the week. Opens early (10am). Dog friendly. During the day it offers a big piece of cake and a coffee for £3.50 as an alternative to beer. Trafford & Hulme branch have named the pub their ‘Best Newcomer’ for 2020.

Another bar on the Chester Road frontage which was originally announced over a year ago has finally seen progress since Christmas. Soul Juice will open soon, as will the Hive next door to the Head.

Nearby clubs Trafford Social Club and Metro Sports and Social Club offer a warm welcome and some cask beer but do require membership.

Caz O’Donnell & Bob Dunbar

Extra Focus On….. Castlefield

Steve Davis explores the pubs amid Manchester’s Roman ruins and canals

While all the buzz around Manchester’s beer scene seems to be concentrated on areas to the north of the city centre, the Northern Quarter, Ancoats, and now the Green Quarter, other parts of Central Manchester should not be overlooked as they have pubs that have been consistently serving good ale for many years. Following a request from the Editor I decided to organise a quick Friday afternoon crawl around Liverpool Road and Castlefield basin to check out the bars and pubs locally. Castlefield can be easily reached by public transport with the Metrolink stop at Deansgate/Castlefield, Deansgate railway station and from Piccadilly station, the No 1 free bus around the city centre (Saturdays only) or No 3 (Evenings only).

©Steve Davis

I started at the Oxnoble on Liverpool Road. This is a food-led pub but there are areas if you just want to drink in front and to the side of the bar. There were a few small groups eating and one group of four chaps having just a drink, I soon deduced they were Norwegian United fans, the ‘Stavanger Reds’ on the back of one of their jackets was a bit of a giveaway. There is a bank of four handpumps but two clips were turned around, leaving the not very inspiring choice of Doom Bar or Robinsons Dizzy Blonde. I chose Dizzy Blonde and the welcoming barman did pull some through before serving me a half, it was actually quite good. One of the turned around clips was Adnams Ghost Ship, which I would have chosen. I am sure pub industry insiders can give me a plethora of reasons, but why do pubs turn clips round and not take them off? You are left with a sense of ‘And this is what you could have had’.

I was now joined by fellow Central Manchester member, Steve Ingham, and we moved onto the next pub, the White Lion 100 yards up the road (passing Manchester’s Roman ruins on route)

The first thing that struck me as we walked in was how cold it was, was the heating not working or not switched on? Again there is a bank of four handpumps and two clips were turned around leaving the choice of Doom Bar (again) and Sharp’s Atlantic. The barmaid struggled a little in getting two halves of the Sharp’s as it was very lively, but the beer tasted fine. It was £5 for two halves and this was the most expensive pub we visited in what is generally an expensive part of town. The only other customers were the Norwegians, but I know during the summer it can be a lot busier with the large outdoor area facing Liverpool Road. The pub itself is pleasant; bare wooden floorboards, a nice fireplace and lots of United memorabilia on the walls including signed player photos mixed in with old prints of Manchester, including the pub when it was a Threlfall house.

Our next destination was Cask, a Good Beer Guide regular on Liverpool Road. This was by far the busiest pub that we visited; we couldn’t get a seat. Many office workers were having a pint and their lunch there having brought their fish and chips in from the Fish Hut next door. There were four cask ales on. I chose Ilkley Fireside, a smoky Porter, this was not a bad beer but I couldn’t detect smokiness in the taste or the aroma. Steve chose a pale ale, Thirst Class Mosaic, which he pronounced very good. The other cask ales on offer were Pictish Wakatu and Rooster’s Highway Fifty-One, an American Pale Ale. This pub does also serve many excellent keg and continental bottled beers, and these were proving more popular sellers than the cask ale.

The Wharf (©Steve Davis)

We next proceeded to The Wharf, the furthest pub away of the three remaining to visit. In hindsight I should have started there. The Wharf is a Brunning and Price pub and this chain do deck their pubs out to a very high standard. It does possess, I believe, the best outdoor drinking area in central Manchester with the view over the canal basin surrounded by warehouses converted to offices, but on a cold November afternoon it was only populated by one man and his dog. Inside there were small clusters of drinkers, many also dining. There were ten cask ales and a cider on, pleasingly three of the ten ales were dark beers. I chose an Epic Beetle Juice, described as a black ale and I struggled to identify exactly what beer style a ‘Black ale’ is, notwithstanding that it was very good. Steve had one of the regular beers, Weetwood Cheshire Cat, which he really liked.

The Wharf (©Steve Davis)

Out next stop in Castlefield was Dukes 92, named after the adjacent Lock No 92, known as Duke’s Lock after the Duke of Bridgewater who used to control it.I

had no great expectations as on my only previous visit about four years ago I had a very poorly kept pint of Holt’s bitter here. We walked in and the place was certainly busier that the Wharf. It is hard to spot the two handpumps as they are at the left-hand end of the bar and are metallic cylinders but we spotted a pump clip. This was offering Joseph Holt’s Paterson’s, one of a series of one-off beers being brewed to celebrate 170 years of the brewery. It tasted to me like a stronger version of Holt’s IPA and was very pleasant. The other clip was turned around, Brightside Odin. I warmed to the place, it had a buzz to it and whilst the many indoor artificial trees might not be to everyone’s taste they did separate the large room up well.

Our final destination was the The Knott, a one-time regional pub of the year. This is now described as ‘The Home of Wander Beyond’, the brewery which is under the same ownership. This brewery provided one of the six cask ales on sale, Peak pale ale, which Steve tried and liked. I had the Beatnikz Republic Boardwalk, a gluten free pale ale which was my favourite of the day. As well as the cask ales there is a bank of 25 keg fonts which featured beers from such highly rated breweries as Cloudwater, Buxton, Pilot, Tiny Rebel, Northern Monk as well as four keg beers from Wander Beyond. This pub was smartened up a couple of years ago and the entrance moved onto Deansgate, though people still try to get in through the old now locked glass doors.

In summary a very enjoyable afternoon with friendly bar staff in all the pubs and neither of us had a bad pint, even in pubs where cask ale is not a big seller. So, if you don’t know this part of town get out and explore!