Wednesday 16 March 2011

Port Street Beer House and Cantona stare-alikes

Indie rock fans on the Veltins. Young guys with wispy beards, trying to stare like Eric Cantona, a look that says ‘I’ve got a glass of IPA is Dead and I’m going to drink it’. Student girl at the bar laughs when she says to no one in particular how good her glass of My Antonia is. At the back of the room, there’s a table with four blokes, after work beer men, dedication writ loud in their disdain for fashion, pint of whatever he’s having. Moravka for me mate. Look around: there are lads in here wearing the sort of blue, white-edged windcheaters that normally blend in with white pumps, flicking through the beer menu, oohing and aahing and ordering Infrareds all round. Meanwhile, in this space in which the architecture is of a hip and happening bar — smartly sanded floorboards, reclaimed perhaps, soft light on the cusp of going harsh, austere seats and tables, the very shock of the post-modernist new, two floors — I’ve joined the Eric Cantona stare-alikes with a glass of BrewDog’s IPA is Dead, Sorachi edition, which I don’t care for that much (and I’m probably alone): soft pungent hop, bitter shrieks of a banshee in an old Irish country house at the back of the throat, unbalanced, reminiscent of old footage I once saw of an experimental wartime tank with too large an engine that landed on its side. German I think it was. Still, you have to try this things and I guess I’m alone in my disinclination to order another glass. If I shut my eyes I think I’m in some new craft bar in the US or even Belgium (minus food of course), but I’m in Manchester, at the Port Street Beer House, which fortuitously was only a couple of doors away from where I was staying that night. 

Marble Arch, a wonderful place, was where I’d earlier dined on battered poached egg and Marble Chocolate (in a glass). I do love that place with its touches of Victorian/Edwardian high drama especially something that I never noticed before: a couple of old pics of a starchy middle aged couple, he perhaps a university big wig and she just happy to bask in his shadow; next door to her, a black and white etching from the 1950s of a flat capped bloke with pint in hand. Is this a deliberate placing? The democracy of the pub in action? Then there’s the joy of people watching with Pint in hand: a couple of students on a date, she almost embarrassed to be ordering beer; at the bar two sporty blokes, one a newcomer to the bar who asks have you got anything like Tetley, while a postman taking a break from the nearby exchange curses the moment he spilt beer on his trews. 

But back to Port Street, it’s new and smells new, is almost self-consciously new, and ironically enough — after Cask, the Rake, Euston Tap etc — it’s not the shock of the new, it’s just new. And I like this newness, and then I wonder maybe this is part of a new wave that won’t be permanent. Further furrowing of the brow: is this a problem? 

With our pubs we want a continuity, an ossification even, because the majority are linked to their communities and their communities have been there for centuries in one way or another — we want our local to have some link with those who have been before even if the place was a dive before it was jazzed up (it’s like a pub that spent 20 years on the scrap heap: you conveniently forget that and hark back to how it might have been on VE night or when Queen Victoria died, even though it was perhaps crap then as well). Something like Port Street BH works in a city, where there are fewer roots and links and life is fast flowing, especially places with plenty of students coming and going. Port Street BH has no sense of history; you do not walk into it and admire the friezes or imagine what happened here on Christmas Eve 1954. On the other hand, Port Street BH is like being handed a blank sheet of paper (or even empty shop) and told to come up with a concept; it’s like writing: before the word there’s an empty space, it’s one’s duty/job/inclination/urge/desire to conquer that space and fill it with words. In that sense, the creators of Port Street BH are just like writers.  

And so, what am I trying to say? I visited an ale pub with some time on its hands earlier on in the evening and found it dead boring (despite a goodly number of taps) and not the sort of place I wanted to linger, I am not going to go into the details, I am sure that there are plenty of people who like it, but it was wasted on me and reminiscent of why I avoided plenty of London pubs in the 1980s. For that reason I can only applaud Port Street BH to the hilt and urge you to live for the moment and grab a beer amid the aroma of newly sanded floorboard. 


  1. Adrian. God I love your prose. And then you mention Cantona. Not once, but twice. Thrice if you count the title. *shudder*

    And on #donrevieday as well. My heart sinks. *Sinks*

  2. Nice. Very nice. Lots of great brain-pictures.


  3. This is one of the best blog posts I've read in a long, long time. I've read it twice, hanging off every word (and in a world with hundreds of beer blogs it's rare to find one that does that!).

    And you aren't alone on Sorachi Ace - strange hop. Fascinating to try it in IPA is Dead but not something I want a few glasses of.

  4. Mar, RAR — sorry mate, I’m a Gooner don’t forget, supposed to be above all that tribalism (though it would be nice to win some matches)…
    Kelly — good to hear from you, hope all’s well down under.
    Mark — thanks for kind comments, talking of SA used it with the Otley Dark Saison. Intriguing hop and I’m all for intrigue.

  5. I tend to refer to anywhere I can get a beer as a pub, but PSBH defeated me - it's emphatically a beer bar rather than a pub. Actually what it reminded me of was Manto* when it first opened - lots of clean lines and hard surfaces, achingly cool, and you could get beer. What more, when you're in a cafe-bar kind of mood, could you ask?

    Silly prices, though. (For the keg beers, that is - the cask was no more than steepish.)

    I appreciate that you don't want to run anywhere down, but I'd be interested to know a bit more about what turned you off in the 'dead boring' pub. Personally I can't think of anywhere better to drink than an old-style pub with misshapen soft furnishings, a fire in the grate, a cat wandering around and a good range of beer. Except when the cafe-bar mood hits - but I don't find it does very often.

    *For non-Mancs, Manto was the bar that spearheaded the regeneration of Canal St, now the heart of the Gay Village. When it first opened, and for a few years afterwards, they went for a 'mixed' clientele - i.e. you didn't have to be gay to drink there.

  6. I've drunk in Port St quite a bit since it opened and I love it. Don't get me wrong, I love a lot of other pubs in Manchester too, but there's something about Port St that allows for a bit of "ownership". I used to run pubs up and down the country, and drink in a lot more. I love the older pubs, and I love the good newer bars, but I've never really felt with any of them that there was any real ownership there. But at Port St the staff don't just like the beers, they *really* like them. But unlike a lot of other pubs/bars specialising in beer, they staff here don't gush about them. At the end of the day, it's just a beer. Albeit some very good ones. And they seem to know this. They know their clientle want to come in, try something new, be impressed or be disgusted. But to try. The staff know this, and they make sure there's something new there that people will like. The pub's only been open about six weeks and already one wall behind the bar is full of pump clips from beers that have been and gone. Yes, they're mostly from the same few breweries at the moment, but there's not been a bad one yet (I know, I've tried them). Add to that the range of american bottles, and you'll find something good.
    People say they're pricey. Yes, for the area they couldn't be considered cheap. But I've drunk in more expensive places as well as much cheaper ones. I'm happy to spend what works out to about an extra fiver a night to ensure that the beer is good, unusual and tastey. And the pub isn't full of prats.

  7. Phil — on the old style pub, when you feel that a bit of carpet plus chairs and tables add a sense of gentility and the range of taps is the only thing going for it then I just went cold, I want lots of beer but I also want an atmosphere, but I’m not naming names as I don’t think it would be fair.
    Anon — I’m happy to spend if it’s worth it and this was…

  8. You are certainly not alone with Sorachi. I've tried it twice on cask and once in the bottle and it's definitely the weak link in the "Punk is dead" range.

    Glad you enjoyed Port St Beer House-I think me and Tandleman just missed you, but you really should be referring to it as PSBH, or simply the Port, as we locals do.

  9. Tyson — it’s funny isn’t it I’ve always loved hops but I’m staring to wonder if more and more hops is beer’s version of heavy metal cranking up the volume and losing the balance (German tank with Porsche engine toppling over as it tries to demolish a building); the odd casual conversation with maltsters and hop merchants in the last few months suggests that malt might make a tentative comeback, though not in ways one would think — rye crystal and aromatic malt for a start, adding body and heft to some of these slinky hops.

  10. This is one of the best beer blog posts I've ever read. Even more so as I'm hoping to head over to Manchester tomorrow and pop in to Port Street.



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