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What To Do in Manchester When You’re Not Grafting

We asked people from McCann, Woodwork Music, Cheetham Bell JWT, Music and gyro how Mancunians spend their time when they’re not being worker bees

What To Do in Manchester When You’re Not Grafting

A famous symbol of Manchester is the Worker Bee. As Matthew Casey, Creative Director of gyro explains, “it’s a symbol of its hard-working past in industrial revolution times. People work hard here. And with the city being such a fantastic place, we have plenty of nice things we can do when we’re not grafting.”

That’s an understatement and a half. Any Mancunian will be happy to regale you with the best tips for ways to spend your time in their city, whether that’s celebrating Manchester’s continuing cultural heritage at a gig venue or art gallery or appreciating all that comes with being host to two of the world’s most recognisable football teams.

We chatted to local creative professionals from McCann, Woodwork Music, Cheetham Bell JWT, Music and gyro to get the local lowdown on what to do in the city. 


“It has to be Australasia and San Carlo every time.” Sue Little, CEO, McCann Manchester

Australasia - expensive; El Gato Negro - mid-range; Katsouris - cheap and quick.” Stephen McCarron, MD, Cheetham Bell JWT

“Anyone new to Manchester has to experience ‘rice and three’. In the city’s Northern Quarter (where Music is based), there are a whole host of Indian cafes that charge around £6 for a generous dollop of rice, followed by three dollops of your favourite curries. For the atmosphere, my recommendation would be This and That on Soap Street, but for the food alone it would have to be Café Marhaba on Back Piccadilly.

“There’s a theme emerging here, but one of my favourite restaurants is Mughli, on Manchester’s ‘Curry Mile’ in Rusholme. The street itself is a sight to behold. Post curry Shisha two doors down from Mughli optional.

“Perhaps a predictable choice, but if I fancied pushing the boat out a bit, I’d head to Hawksmoor. The building is amazing, the interior likewise, and I had a ribeye there once I couldn’t stop thinking about for three days. A particular bonus is that whilst you’re parting with the best part of £200 for dinner for two you can be assured of your server wearing jeans and Converse, not some weird snooker player come fashion victim waistcoat and bow tie affair.” Adam Rix, Creative Director at Music

“Cheap and quick – Café Marhaba (amazing Indian food)
Expensive – The Hawskmoor, Deansgate for great steaks. Or Manchester House, Spinningfields” Matthew Casey, Creative Director, gyro


"There are a wealth of great curry options in Manchester. The infamous curry mile in Rusholme offers seemingly unlimited curry, kebab and sweet options as well as neon signs and a vibrant atmosphere but many of the best options are in the city centre. There are the bigger and rightly lauded places like Asha's, Akbar's, East Z East and Zouk but for a proper Manchester institution look no further than one of the many rice and three options in the Northern Quarter. A lot of these places have been around since the '80s and everyone seems to have their personal favourite but This & That is probably the most famous. Yadgars and Café Marhaba are great as well.

"Also in the Northern Quarter is the excellent Northern Soul Grilled Cheese. It started as a pop up a few years back and is now an award winning Manchester street food staple, offering the ultimate range of grilled sandwiches. The carb-tastic "Pig On A Lead" is a grilled cheese sandwich filled with BBQ pulled pork and macaroni cheese. What's not to love?" Andy Oskwarek, Senior Producer, Woodwork Music


"The beautiful recently refurbished, Grade II listed Mackie Mayor building has been converted into a buzzing food and drink hall by the team behind the much loved Altrincham market. There are lots of great options here including amazing pizza from Honest Crust, top notch coffee from Wolfhouse Kitchen and great beer from Blackjack Brewery's Jack In The Box bar.

"Manchester street food specialists Grub have been putting on brilliant events across a host of cool Manchester locations for years and has gone from strength to strength. They now host an event every weekend (currently at Fairfield Social Club near Piccadilly Train Station) and keep thing fresh by rotating vendors each week. They also have great Vegan options and there's always a selection of delicious (largely local) craft beers to boot!" Andy Oskwarek, Senior Producer, Woodwork Music

"Two of the best fine dining restaurants in the area aren't in Manchester but a very short drive down the A6 in Stockport. Allotment create extraordinary vegan and gluten free dishes using locally sourced produce. Chef Matthew Nutter won Chef Of The Year at last years Manchester Food and Drink awards and Allotment is usually fully booked up for weeks in advance. It's well worth the wait though.

Our fancy favourite Where The Light Gets In doesn't bother with a menu. Instead, Chef Sam Buckley serves up an ambitious and innovative tasting menu in a minimalist Scandinavian inspired environment. Everything here looks beautiful and tastes delicious!" Andy Oskwarek, Senior Producer, Woodwork Music


The Briton’s Protection - a traditional Manchester pub
The Bay Horse Tavern - a traditional pub meets London’s Soho
The Whiskey Jar - dangerous! - does what it say on the tin”
Stephen McCarron, MD, Cheetham Bell JWT

“There’s a lot of cool bars but Common in the Northern Quarter is probably where I end up the most. I’m an old boozer kinda guy at heart though and The Briton's Protection towards Castlefield Locks and Mother Macs on the edge of the NQ are great examples. There’s some great stuff happening out of the City too – Burnage, of Oasis fame has a brilliantly named bar called Reasons to be Cheerful and it has a great range of craft beers and a super friendly friendly atmosphere.” Adam Rix, Creative Director at Music

“In the city centre Cloud 23, which always acts as a reminder to the speed of the city’s evolution. But for me, it’s as important to get out of the city as it is to celebrate everything that’s great about it and there’s a whole host of great pubs and bars in the suburbs and surrounding countryside. And from a selfish point of view I would have to say our very own pub, The Haunt which we have on our campus.” Sue Little, CEO, McCann Manchester

“The Refuge bar by the Palace Theatre is a must for any visitor to Manchester. It’s a tastefully put together bar and dining experience in a beautiful historic building that has to be seen to be believed. But when it comes to just popping out for a beer after work, you can beat some of Manchester’s more iconic and historic pubs like The Britons Protection and The Peveril of the Peak.” Matthew Casey, Creative Director, gyro

"A new bar seems to pop up in the ever expanding Northern Quarter every other week but Common still remains one of the best. It's been here since 2004 and offers a good selection of cocktails, ales and decent bar food. Comfy, cool and casual.

"Peveril Of The Peak (The Pev to locals) is an iconic, traditional Manchester boozer. This beautiful, tiled, grade II listed building has been here since the 19th Century and the cosy, unpretentious bar attracts a mixture of locals, students and professionals. It's also had its share of celebrity patrons including Steve Coogan, the Gallagher Brothers,  Bill Tamey (Jack Duckworth), Robbie Coltrane and Freddie Flintoff. A Manchester classic!

"The ever popular borough of Chorlton lies a few miles outside the city centre and is host to an eclectic selection of bars, restaurants and cafes. In amongst them is the excellent Electrik. This was the first bar opened by Manchester House music legends Luke Cowdrey and Justin Crawford (The Unabombers/Electric Chair) who have since gone on to enjoy further success with Volta in Didsbury and the awesome 10,000 square foot Refuge dining room and bar in the city centre." Andy Oskwarek, Senior Producer, Woodwork Music


“Where do you start? Sport, shopping, cuisine, the arts and a fantastic national park less than an hour’s drive from the city centre. Manchester and its surroundings really have got the lot.”
Sue Little, CEO, McCann Manchester


“If you backtrack through the city’s musical culture you’ll know that Manchester really gave birth to a whole host of off-the-wall venues. From the Twisted Wheel and the Lesser Free Trade Hall to the Hacienda and Dry Bar, it’s been dreaming up cool venues and places to go for the past forty years. As for what’s hot now, I’m not even going to attempt to answer that one, because if I’m saying it’s hot, then it’s probably not.” Sue Little, CEO, McCann Manchester

“One thing Manchester has always done exceptionally well at is music. We’re lucky to have some amazing venues in the city and regularly play host to some of the world’s biggest acts and some lesser-known but brilliant ones.”  Matthew Casey, Creative Director, gyro

“My favourite gig venue is the Albert Hall. Small enough to still be intimate, they serve decent beer (not just cans of Carling) and you can even have a bit of time out sitting on the steps upstairs – until your bum goes numb anyway.” Adam Rix, Creative Director at Music

"You are spoiled for choice when it comes to great gig venues in Manchester. Soup Kitchen in the Northern Quarter is an intimate basement venue with a history of booking amazing up and coming bands and DJs. White Hotel in Salford is one of the coolest venues to rise up in recent years. This old warehouse space sits in the shadow of Strangeways prison and definitely has a no frills, edgy, industrial feel. It's played host to a series of experimental gigs as well as anything goes club nights form local and international DJs. On a larger scale there's the Albert Hall which is a renovated Grade II listed Weslyan Chapel. It's run by Trof (who have two other excellent Manchester venues in Gorilla and The Deaf Institute) and have put on gigs by the likes of Beck, Mogwai, Bonobo, Laura Marling, Tame Impala and more. Finally a mention for the forthcoming new venue (as yet unnamed) from Manchester's finest gig promoters, Now Wave, set to open in September 2018. Now Wave have a well established record of booking the best indie artists around and have put on shows by the likes of King Krule, Mac DeMarco, Four Tet, Beach House, The Kills, Caribou, James Blake and The XX.

"Manchester International Festival launched in 2005 and is staged every two years with the next edition due in 2019. It's a wonderful, one of a kind celebration of contemporary arts spread across various venues in the city centre. It's featured performances/work from artists, writers, performers and musicians such as Adam Curtis, Kenneth Branagh, Willem Defoe, Marina Abramovic, Akram Khan, Bjork, Kraftwerk and more." Andy Oskwarek, Senior Producer, Woodwork Music


“Obviously, Manchester is home to greatest football club in the world and another team who play in the blue that international readers may not be familiar with.” Matthew Casey, Creative Director, gyro

“If you love sport Manchester has incredible facilities. If you have a kids this is a real pull. The British Cycling Institute, top tennis clubs, cricket clubs, athletics clubs. There are a couple of decent football academies around too!” Stephen McCarron, MD, Cheetham Bell JWT

The Countryside

“If you love the Great Outdoors it is brilliant. The Lakes are one or two hour’s up the M6 -  a Mecca for fell runners, climbers and walkers. Plus you’ve got the Peak District 40 minutes to the south.” Stephen McCarron, MD, Cheetham Bell JWT


“The city art gallery is always worth a visit as is the Whitworth Art Gallery and it’s always worth feasting your eyes upon L.S. Lowry originals at the Lowry Gallery which is a stone’s throw away from Media City.” Matthew Casey, Creative Director, gyro

"The Whitworth art gallery was named Museum of the Year a couple of years ago after a massive refurb and beautiful award-winning extension out into Whitworth Park. Its director Maria Balshaw was recently poached to head Tate galleries but has left a distinctive and adventurous stamp on this perfectly sized gallery. They tend to have smaller exhibitions in one or two rooms rather than huge blockbusters but they are always really interesting and often focus on textile and video artists. It has a phenomenal archive of fabrics and wallpapers dating back 100s of years, parts of which are frequently on show." Rachel Wood, Founder / Owner, Woodwork Music

"Home may be an obvious choice but it's a great one nonetheless. Featuring five cinema screens showing the best indie and world cinema releases, two theatres, gallery spaces and two bars and a restaurant this is the perfect place to experience the best in visual arts.

"Islington Mill is a creative space, arts hub and community. Home to the Woodwork Music office as well as a selection of artists, designers, musicians, record labels, printers and photographers, this converted Victorian Mill in Salford is a key creative hub in the North West. The building also features a performance & club space that has seen the likes of Bjork, Grimes, Peaches, Haxan Cloak, Jlin, Lydia Lunch and countless others perform over the years. It's also the central venue for Salford's brilliant annual music festival, Sounds From The Other City. The Mill has recently secured £2 million in funding from the Arts Council England for refurbishment and looks set to continue to innovate for many years to come. 

"Arcade Club in Bury is a video games paradise. It's Europe's largest free play video arcade and features over 250 classic machines, current generation and retro consoles, a pinball machine room and all of the latest VR devices. From Joust, Asteroids and Pac-Man to Street Fighter, Sega Rally and Time Crisis - 30 years of video games are comprehensively covered here. Ace!" Andy Oskwarek, Senior Producer, Woodwork Music


“The newly extended Whitworth is an amazing building. The newly refurbished Manchester Library is a good place for some quiet in the city, the architecture is beautiful there, and around it.” Adam Rix, Creative Director at Music

‘The Spirit of Manchester’

“Manchester’s industrious past is everywhere, the symbol of the worker bee is on everything from bins to throughout the amazing Victorian Manchester Town Hall. The spirit of Manchester’s community shone through last year when the creative industry worked together to create a book ‘This is the Place’, with the poet Tony Walsh to raise money for the victims and the families of the Manchester bombing. The sense of community and support is very powerful here and the title of the book is perfect. Last year we created a film with the poet Argh Kid for our client U+i that reflects on the authenticity and spirit of Manchester and the stubborn determination of the city to keep on evolving. The space that U+I are developing is Mayfield – an old railway station, that’s been intermittently been used for one off events – but now the stunning heritage will form the basis of a new quarter of the city – as Argh Kid so eloquently put it, ‘an illustrious future, built on an industrious past.’” Adam Rix, Creative Director at Music

"As the world’s first industrial city Manchester was primarily designed to be worked in rather than lived in and when Victorian mill owners and merchants were building those warehouses and showrooms they were showing off their wealth and taste.  This is reflected in the glorious industrial architecture of the city centre especially around the Northern Quarter and Ancoats with many of the old mills, warehouses and industrial buildings now converted into some of the city's most prominent cultural spaces as well as accommodation. These old factories and warehouses - as well as the gothic masterpiece that is the Town Hall - have been used as locations for films like The Darkest Hour, Captain America and Sherlock Holmes. 

"The attitude generally up here is don't talk about it, do it and we are quick to criticise - if you are not up to scratch you will know about it. No ”blowing smoke up your ass” in this town! I think that comes generally when places are that bit more difficult to become a success in, where most people’s lives are still pretty ordinary and pretty hard. We are friendly but we like to take the piss. The crime writer Val McDermid says that Manchester is the perfect place to write fiction about because it is big enough to have loads of different groups and subcultures but not big enough for any of these groups to exist without bumping into each other - which is why we love it." Rachel Wood, Founder / Owner, Woodwork Music
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