The Briton’s Protection - Manchester

It was a dreary afternoon in Manchester when I arrived at the sign of the Briton’s Protection. Intermittent bouts of torrential rain had washed the streets of pedestrian traffic and I had walked a great many deserted pavements in search of this pub. It sits between some of the city’s most widely recognised features; in the shadow of Beetham tower it looks upon the GMEX whilst being flanked by the Bridgewater hall. Despite its crowning position I felt like I had left the familiar cobbles of Castlefields and entered an urban labyrinth of dim side streets and tunnels to reach it. Only when I realised that I was stood before it did I notice that I had emerged into the beating heart of Deansgate.

 The whitewashed exterior was adorned with fresh flowers yet the windows were dark and the door shut. I imagined that perhaps I had arrived too early as it was no later than three o’clock. Tentatively I gave the door a slight push and to my surprise it yielded. A perplexingly small and seemingly empty room was revealed as I eased the door wide and I allowed only my head to pass the threshold on a mission of reconnaissance. Before me was a bar no more than two meters from the front wall and through the gloom I could perceive no sound. I was about to allow the door to close and be on my way when a confident voice seemingly beside my left ear said “Don’t be nervous love, come in!” The suddenness and proximity of the imperative made me start and I immediately acquiesced. I found the source to be an older woman sat upon the bench seating next to the door. She reclined comfortably and was accompanied by a small dog who sat on the seat beside her. I explained that I was unsure whether they had opened but she waved off my reservations and pointed me in the direction of a young man behind the bar who I had completely failed to notice.

 I allowed my eyes to drift around the room and something simply didn’t add up. The room was long and narrow and completely out of proportion with how the pub appeared from the outside. I didn’t dwell on this inverse Tardis for too long as there was a matter of beer to be settled. I fine array of pumps sat along the bar and most sported cask (There were a couple of commercial beers but these were clearly not the pub’s focus). I ordered a pint of Jennings whilst admiring the whisky collection which was more extensive than the bar had room to accommodate. My pint was neither cheap nor expensive, falling slightly short of three pounds. It was perhaps slightly more than I would expect to pay for Jennings yet being in the centre of Manchester I would certainly not complain over a matter of pennies.

 I received my pint from the cheerful bar tender and began considering my next move. Only the three of us stood in the room and whereas the silence was not hostile or insular, I personally do not enjoy oppressively quiet pubs. My eyes glanced a door at the far end of the room wedged open and I considered that it may lead to a beer garden. Taking time to spill the head of my pint on the old tile floor (which makes a catastrophic noise by the way) I made for the passage. Subdued orange lights illuminated the space which snaked sharply. The narrow, wood panelled corridor was furnished at its corners with high tables and ornate, ancient wooden doors led off at intervals. A hatch opened in the panelling which connected the passage to the bar from which I had come and I chose a table placed besides this to gather my thoughts and enjoy my drink.

 As you might imagine, the layout of this pub is perhaps its most striking feature and I adored it. The place is mysterious and drips with character. Standing in its occupation for 200 years (just gone) the building feels like it has changed little during that time. The walls and floors are of period tile and the wooden fixtures are worn with age. I couldn’t help but notice that the ladies toilets still sport a suspended saloon style door. Vintage cigarette cards and posters hung in frames and the silence was occasionally broken by the cacophonic crash the front door makes whenever it swings closed. One doorway stood open and displayed the word ‘lounge’. The room was small with a central fireplace surrounded by old furniture. Old bell buttons are still fitted into the panelling which runs around the perimeter. Another door that I could see stood closed, signed only with a brass number three.

 Whilst I sat admiring the aesthetics I had been casually listening to the front room through the hatch beside me. I had deduced from conversation that the old woman with the dog was part of the staff and perhaps the manager. Other people had entered too and each had demonstrated great familiarity with those already there and those who arrived later. The conversation was bright and I was humoured when during a slight lull the old woman offered a chocolate biscuit to anyone listening to which the whole room erupted. Of course the dynamic was alien to me but I was imbued with the sense that if I were to make myself a regular, I would be absorbed immediately.

 I hold no great fondness for Manchester as a city but whilst I sat over my second pint (a zesty pale beer named ‘Voyager’, possibly from the Hornbeam brewery) I couldn’t help but reflect upon an identity that I regard with great admiration. Manchester is a very metropolitan, modern British city which has embraced progress in its bosom and this forms its identity. Manchester is also a city born from the industrial revolution, which embraces its heritage and holds on to both this idea and the architecture which grew it; this for Manchester is its identity. Aren’t these two ideas irreconcilable? Perhaps In almost every other city or town from the same era but Manchester has singularly achieved it in glorious fashion. Beetham tower is a glass monolith home to the Hilton hotel, luxury city apartments and prime office space. Its ultra-modern feet stand amidst great red-brick rail arches and cobbled streets. Vast iron work and sprawling Victorian warehouses stand beside glass and chrome. Red mill buildings with their smoke stacks still standing house modern apartments and finance offices. These two identities have not mixed but have infused. Sat within the tiled walls of the Briton’s Protection I looked through the front window to the GMEX and luxury car dealerships across the road and was reminded of what the city has achieved.

 The Briton’s Protection is mysterious, it is original, it is enigmatic and it is fantastic. Its beer selection is ample and its prices are reasonable. Its staff and clientele are indistinguishable and for it the pub is all the more inviting. You will be made to feel welcome and for the more experimental drinkers there is plenty on offer besides the beer (especially if you fancy yourself as a whisky connoisseur). Perhaps best of all it is a microcosm of the city it’s stood in for centuries.

 

Contact Details:
50 Great Bridgewater Street,
M1 5LE
0871 230 2210

Opening Times:
Mon-Thurs 11am–11.00pm
Fri-Sat 11am- 12.00am
Sun 12pm-11.00pm

House of the Trembling Madness - York

Cross the threshold of an intriguing real ale shop and the more attentive among you will find yourselves presented with a staircase signed with only a chalkboard. Head upstairs for the House of the Trembling Madness. If I should return having recovered from Trembling Madness I would be overcome with trembling anticipation.

 Let me assure you that when you discover the staircase you will already be excited. You ascend from a mouth-watering, wallet-worrying Aladdin’s cave of ale into a cramped loft space intersected with beams and illuminated by windows so warped it seems their days of opening are long passed. This is no surprise the space it occupies is a medieval hall dating back as early as 1180. The small bar nestles in a corner and is overlooked by a menagerie of mounted animals (I appreciate that this may not be to the taste of many but I get the impression most of the hunting was done long before our modern conception of animal rights).

 The space the bar occupies is delightfully asymmetric and lined with pews and cut away barrels offering a wonderful array of seating. The youthful yet highly knowledgeable staff will talk you through the mysterious array of beers flowing through the pipes and filling the bottles. Prices are above your casual boozer but the fare on offer transcends your average pint by leagues and is thus worth the extra pound or two (though after a short time you won’t notice).

As with most bars offering assorted ales, the beer available ranges from local micro-breweries to those conceived amongst monks and continued through merry tradition. In keeping with custom, samples may be tried and you’re not rushed in your selection. I opted for a whopping 7.5% Trappist beer and its rich deliciousness and potency carried me to pleasant place far from here. My relaxed and delectable samplings were complemented by a phenomenal aroma permeating from the kitchen. I didn’t indulge in food during my visit but the smell fills the small room and is incredible; it couldn’t advertise its culinary element any more effectively.

The atmosphere of the pub is cheerful and inviting. I do not envy landlords and managers as there is only so much influence they can have over their atmosphere. They can refine the aesthetics, choose the beer and even try to appeal to certain demographics but ultimately atmosphere develops of its own accord. For example, when brewing you can be as meticulous as you like in selecting and measuring ingredients but ultimately the character and flavour of the beer will develop by itself as it matures. The Gods of ale were smiling upon the House of the Trembling Madness. The clientele were young and trendy, old and wise, thoroughbred Yorkshire-men and vibrant Americans; in short they covered a broad spectrum. The mood was profoundly chipper and this is what makes a pub for me personally. Of course it’s nice to be surrounded by many like yourself with whom you can form a common identity but pubs such as these tend to be (consciously or unconsciously) selective and inhospitable to others. Consider walking into a pub frequented by supporters of your rival football team. Consider walking into a pub frequented by a narrow band of social class. There may be camaraderie amongst the regulars but as a visitor it’s difficult not to feel out of place. It’s for this reason that I love pubs like the House of Trembling Madness. The great cross section of people make you feel immediately at ease. Young, old, rich, poor, English, American, Indian, Chinese; that everyone is different negates self-consciousness and allows all to share in common joviality.

 This bar offers very friendly and knowledgeable staff, its location oozes character and its atmosphere is fantastic. The range of beer is excellent and its food certainly smells good. The House of the Trembling Madness is an absolute must for anyone who has the chance to visit.

 

Contact Details:
48 Stonegate
York

YO1 8AS
01904 640 009

Bay Horse - York

 
  

Walking out of Museum Gardens on a balmy afternoon I caught sight of the sign at the Bay Horse. Initial impressions were positive as bright, dense floral arrangements adorn the vaguely rustic exterior and give the pub an attractive and assertive appearance.

 A vague suspicion was quickly kindled however as I passed rows of modern furniture to reach the front door. These suspicions were not unfounded as something becomes quickly apparent once inside. The pub, you see, is actually an inn in so far as it offers accommodation and food and I was immediately aware that the pub element was not the priority of the management. The bar area was dark and its furnishings have a profoundly modern feel. Modern isn’t necessarily inferior yet I feel that landlords ought to commit to an aesthetic. It’s hard to exude character when the pub doesn’t seem to have an identity.

 This is a key criticism of the Bay Horse and I wish to give it weight so early because it’s one of the first things that will strike you. In its overt attempt to appear rustic and modern simultaneously, it fails to achieve either. Instead you get a small space which is over crowded with bulky chic dining sets to accommodate for the hotel clientele. These leave no more than two raised tables for those wanting to enjoy a simple pint and these are of the variety willing to dump your precious beverage all over you if you so much as look at one side too hard.

 This carelessness afforded to a pub’s identity is endemic throughout the country so I was willing to turn a blind eye in exchange for other redeeming qualities. The Bay Horse appears on most guides to York and everywhere you encounter it you will be bombarded with proud claims of serving real cask ales. What they actually mean by this is that they have four non-commercial pumps on the bar and two of these permanently serve Abbot and Old Speckled Hen. During my voluntarily brief time there, only one other pump was working and offered another widely available brew. I thought I would play it safe and ask for a pint of Hen. The curious brown fluid offered to me in exchange for the bargain price of nearly three pounds was nothing short of bitter dishwater. It took me no more than five minutes of tentatively staring at the beer through a dirty glass before offering the dreadful product back to the staff.

 I say ‘staff’ rather liberally as there was one young barmaid working the afternoon I visited. The girl epitomised everything I dislike about average British pubs. She was blonde, young, fairly pretty and possessed the pint pulling expertise of a chimpanzee. Many landlords seem to employ staff not on the strength of their ability or character but on how effectively they excite imaginations. If a pretty young woman should apply for a job behind the bar and demonstrate a bright, engaging demeanour and a passion for the place of work then I’m sure everyone’s happy. There’s something about the current state of affairs that underhandedly sets feminism back to a time when all men had moustaches and young lads went down the pits.

 My conclusion on the Bay Horse is fairly straightforward. If it is a pub you’re looking for, this isn’t the place for you. The beer selection is poor, expensive and its quality is dreadful. The seating is almost non-existent and the staff could be replaced by automatons. There are many places to drink in York and if you find yourself with a thirst to quench, make sure you avoid the Bay Horse.

 

Contact Details:
68 Marygate,

York

YO30 7BH
01904 541 926

 

Opening Times:
Mon-Thurs: 12pm–11.00pm
Fri, Sat, Sun: 12pm- 12.00am

Pivní - York

Pivní is nothing short of a gem and is among the increasing number of world beer pubs appearing around Britain. It nestles amid the bowed and charming Georgian buildings near the Shambles and occupies a building dating back to the 16th century. Subsequently one is drawn to its inviting signboard on the strength of its aesthetic character alone; much to my delight this theme continues beyond the threshold. I have to admit that within a profitable tourist district I can’t say I wasn’t expecting to get beyond the alluring façade only to be greeted by the usual mass produced, contemporary interior. Despite my fears however much of the original brickwork is visible and the bar and furniture subtly nestle within the antique atmosphere. By the time you have reached the bar you will feel that you have made a wise choice and that you are standing in a proper pub.

 The bar greets you with a fair array of taps ranging from regular Bernard draughts to rotated ales. This selection is amply reinforced with a very comprehensive selection of bottled brews from around the world. ‘Comprehensive’ is certainly a fair description as the more experimental beer lovers are able to peruse leather bound beer menus which ornament each table.


The staff on duty during my visit enthusiastically engaged in detailed discussion of what was on offer. They will take as much time as is necessary to introduce a newbie or indulge the seasoned veteran in the world of beer.

The pub occupies the full three floors of the building and seating is comfortable. Each floor is long yet narrow which offers a very cosy feeling. Despite the warm and enveloping atmosphere generated by the close nature of the interior, I did get the impression that space could be an issue considering the pub’s location. Having said this however, if there is space available the interior is excellent. The bowed walls, ancient beams, rough brickwork and leather seating combine to prioritise character over contemporary chic which earns the establishment a good number of brownie points.

Ultimately Pivní is worthy of strong recommendation. Excellent beers, reasonable prices, cosy atmosphere and knowledgeable staff offer nothing short of what a real pub experience ought to deliver. It’s a cracking pub in a lovely city.


Contact Details:
6, Patrick Pool, York,
Y01 8BB
01904 635464

Opening Times:
Mon-Thurs 11am–11.30pm
Fri-Sat 11am- 11.45pm
Sun 12pm-11.30pm