My friend Aaron was in the UK for work the other weekend and was flying out of Manchester. Aaron and I went to university together, many many years ago. His mother was the lumpia provider to many a tailgate and college party. Me, I’ve been to Manchester a few times for work over the years, but I have really only ever seen two things: the Malmaison hotel and the conference center. So rather than having Aaron come down to London for the weekend, I told him I would come to him and we could spend a day exploring Manchester.
I booked my train ticket on Virgin Trains for bright and early Saturday morning. It was only £10 quid extra for an upgrade, so I did it and was rewarded with a perfectly empty train car and a little box of snacks for breakfast. Prior to boarding, I spent a few minutes in the first-class lounge at Euston, where I stole some sugar cookies for my ride.
In Manchester, I stayed at the DoubleTree Manchester Piccadilly, right across from the station. The DoubleTree is bright and modern AND they gave me a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie when I checked in. On the downside, they charged me £20 quid for checking in before 3 pm. Frankly, that’s bullshit. And I told them so. But the rooms did have iMacs and free wifi was in abundance so there’s that.
We were short on time during our visit so in between tours (more about that in a second), we had a quick lunch of burgers and Manchester beer in the hotel bar. I remember the two of us looking at each other after biting into our burgers and saying “Hey, this is really good.” I also enjoyed my Lagonda IPA, one of many Manchester beers on the hotel beer list. So the DoubleTree did fairly well on food and drink, in my opinion. On the Sunday morning before I checked out, there was even free coffee and croissants outside the breakfast room.
If I were to visit Manchester again, I would stay at the DoubleTree again. Great location, very good amenities, good food, nice staff. I used Hilton Hhonors points for my stay so I really cannot complain about the value I received. (Except for that £20 quid for early check-in.)
Because Aaron and I had never really visited Manchester before, I looked for some tours to show us around. I found a Smiths/Morrissey tour that sounded fun and booked that for the Saturday morning. I guess I thought I was a Smiths/Morrissey fan, but truly, I had no idea. This was a very niche tour. Very niche. One woman broke down in tears as we stood on top a bridge that was important in some way or another to the Smiths/Morrissey timeline. We spent ages wandering around the Salford Lads’ Club and I was really not quite sure why were there. Maybe our tour guide told us that the club featured on the INSIDE album cover of The Queen is Dead, but I think I must have missed that part. I just assumed that Morrissey played football here as a kid or something. There were also an awkward few minutes where we stood outside the house Morrissey once lived in. Let me emphasize…we were the Americans, and we felt awkward. (Standing outside a celebrity’s former home feels like a very American thing to do, doesn’t it?) The coolest part though?? Our tour guide was the drummer of the INSPIRAL CARPETS!! Now that was cool. Super cool.
After our lunch of burgers and beers back at the hotel, we met up with our afternoon tour guide, John from Manchester Taxi Tours. I asked John to show us a few pubs and tell us the history of Manchester. John has the gift of the gab and showed us all the key places in town, including Manchester United stadium. He also filled in some of the blanks from our Smiths/Morrissey tour, like telling us about The Hacienda and its importance to the Manchester music scene. One of the highlights from our tour was a visit to a pub filled with singing octogenarians, where my hand was kissed a few too many times. We had a fun time with John and I would recommend his tours if you find yourself in town. We did a 2.5 hour tour which probably ended up being closer to three hours. In hindsight, I would have asked for a stop for food and another pub stop because we were hungry and not very serious after all.
For dinner on Saturday night, I tried to get into all of Manchester’s posh places. No dice. So I fell back on my old trick…if you can’t get into the places with great food, go for the ones with atmosphere. We booked a table at Mr. Thomas’ Chop House and LOVED the old Victorian tile-work and design and could have sat there for ages, admiring it all. Our Temperanillo was an excellent value (£19?) and the food was generous, hearty and good. (But not great.) On a cold day, I appreciated these things. The service was a little missing but the tile-work made up for this. I am not kidding. I tried to take photos but there were too many people around so you’ll have to do with just the one above.
So we had fun in Manchester. It was hard work to research and organize and not cheap fun, by any means, but it was still fun. And a nice way to connect with an old friend. You should pay a visit to Manchester someday, if you haven’t already.