By Neil Sowerby
'AROUND The Northern Quarter In 20 Identikit Bars' – a tragic tale but true. Every week a new shipwreck – or at least a floundering concept. Packing in the punters, yes, but wall to wall albatrosses around the neck of what’s supposed to be our Manchester’s indie promised land. It could have been written by Jules Verne.
Instead, the Frenchman's tall tales are apparently the inspiration for the latest landfall – the nautical and very nice Hold Fast Bar underneath Hatters Hostel in Newton Street. Think little natural light, white tiles, basement and it recalls Gaslamp, the NQ bar, that got away. Hold Fast (ship’s hold, geddit?) is very much moored to the area and gets away with its themed quirkiness much better than, say, Allotment around the corner.
The building, now hosting backpackers, was a former bowler hat factory and I take my hat (or pirate’s bandana) off to Hatters for developing this substantial space below decks that unleashes your inner Pugwash the moment you descend.
It describes itself on the stairs as Bar/Kino. Down below there's a small cinema screen devoted to cult classics plus a vintage game room featuring old Sega video games. Ship lanterns and flickering candles enhance the cosiness, subverted somewhat by flotsam and jetsam oddities, including a fossilised crab.
Beers include, naturally Anchor steam and a hop-driven import from Portland. Cocktails include Deep and Stormy and Captain Cook Bramble Ramble; Slippery Squid is created from Absolute Vodka, Triple Sec, Crème De Peche and lemon juice.
Food doesn’t include maggoty ship’s biscuits, you’ll be relieved to hear, relying instead on some imaginative toasties at £3/95 (£5.50 when combined with a coffee or mineral). Try the Parma ham, chargrilled peaches, buffalo mozzarella on toasted ciabatta with beetroot 'slaw – or the sliced pastrami, smoked cheese sauerkraut, gherkin and American mustard on sourdough.
A rum place indeed and one that rescues one corner of the Northern Quarter for this old seadog.
Hold Fast, Hatters Hostel, 50 Newton Street, Northern Quarter M1 2EA. @HoldFastBar