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Previous Pint Pleasures - November 22, 2004

guinness eileen

The Bridge, 58 Bridge Street, Deansgate, Greater Manchester

guinness eileen

The Brunswick, 97 Piccadilly, Manchester

When I lived in Seattle I was constantly refuting the average Non-Seattleite's assumption that it always rains in Seattle. Although there are many days of the year when a little precipitation does fall, there are also many sunny days as well, and the rainy days are often interspersed with "sun breaks". In weather records for 1867, the average annual rainfall for Seattle was 38.60 inches, as opposed to 39.00 for Washington DC, 42.82 for New York City, and 42.82 for New Orleans.

In Britain Manchester seems to have the same reputation. Having visited Manchester for the first time recently, I found myself arriving on a surprisingly sunny day. In similar weather records I wasn't too surprised to find that Manchester's average annual rainfall of 33.67 inches was not only less than New York's but paled by comparison with Swansea's 53.57 inches. Just goes to show you can't believe everything you hear.

Rain or shine, I was looking forward to seeing what 21st Century Manchester had to offer. Originating as a Roman fort, "Mancunium" was a centre of the textile industry as early as the 14th century. A few centuries later, after cotton was imported from America, Manchester became famous for its cotton mills. Today it's a major financial centre and transportation hub where 2,500,000 people live and work.

Which means we're talking about a lot of pubs, which is sad because on this first visit I would have time for only one or two.

I met my friends Eileen and Brian, who were visiting from America, just before noon at the Manchester Piccadilly Rail Station. From there we walked northwest through the city, past Albert Square and on to Deansgate in search of lunch. Brian, a non-drinker, kept trying to steer us into sandwich shops and cafes -- but Eileen and I forged on with our determination to find a pub. We ended up at the Bridge, a rather posh place swarming with suited men. Once again Brian, a native Mancunian, attempted to steer us into the separate and rather remote dining room; but as Eileen is American and was looking forward to a proper English pub experience, she and I convinced Brian there was plenty of room in the front bar to eat our sandwiches, and we descended upon a comfortable sofa under a large painting of a bull and some naked people.

As Brian sipped his soft drink Eileen and I had pints of Cragrat (4.3% ABV, Jennings Brothers, Cockermouth, Cumbria). At first sip this brew seemed smooth but fruity -- Eileen detected raspberries -- with very little bitterness. But this beer definitely grows on you; as we continued slowly through the layers in our glasses we discovered different textures and flavours, the simple raspberry gradually transmogrifying into an apple raspberry crumble with custard. In fact it nearly made me, a person of minimal sweet tooth, consider dessert! As it turned out my prawn sandwich was sufficient, made with good quality prawns and served with a decent salad and chips.

While we dined and sipped our pints Eileen and I caught up on the past year and a half of our lives and spoke of Budapest, paprika, and fields of sunflowers while Brian dozed off in his chair. Afterwards we walked over to the Urbis Centre, a new museum exploring urban culture and cities and featuring an interior funicular which transports visitors to the top floor. Being a fan of funiculars -- including Los Angeles' Angel's Flight, which transported downtown Los Angeles passengers from Hill Street to Bunker Hill until it was closed in 2001 due to a fatal accident, and Quebec City's unique funicular which makes a panoramic climb from the New Town to the Old Town -- I was a bit disappointed at the extremely slow rate of the Urbis example. Still, I suppose funiculars aren't really meant to be thrill rides.

As Brian was anxious to get himself and Eileen back to his family in beautiful downtown Altrincham, I ended up with an hour to kill near Picadilly Station before I could return to Sheffield on my cheap day return. Keeping to the main streets within a mile of the station I searched in vain for a cask ale pub, and when I thought all hope was lost I stumbled upon the Wetherspoons in Picadilly Road. In the queue I drooled over the 12 handpumps, finally deciding on a pint of Davies Gold. But when it was my turn I was told by the barmaid that there were no cask ales on -- only John Smith Smooth. With all those pub clips displayed, how could none of them be on? "Don't you have any cask ales?" I asked, pointing to the pumps. "Only the John Smith." But...that's not a cask ale! Good god, what sort of Dada world is this, anyway? At least in Sheffield there are plenty of city centre pubs, including a couple of Wetherspoons, which offer at least one cask ale (and actually have them available to serve) -- and in most pubs the staff, no matter how inexperienced, seem to know that a cask ale is a cask ale is a cask ale, whether they drink the stuff or not. So when is a cask ale not a cask ale? When both legs are the same?

No wonder Sheffielders make so much fun of the Mancs...

Anyway, I ended up in the Brunswick down the road where I slowly nursed a pint of Stella Artois while regulars watched the horse races on TV and students with fresh glows on their faces giggled in the corner. (Ah, yes, it was Freshers Week!) At least the Brunswick, which has no cask ales, has no pretensions of selling something it doesn't sell. And if you're waiting for a train out of Piccadilly and you're content with a pint of Stella or Guinness, this pub is reasonably close by and seems friendly enough.