Manchester has no shortage of great pubs, and for someone travelling there from some distance away, stumbling around and discovering them is a great pastime. However, a couple of weeks ago I was down for the IndyManBeerCon and managed to combine the festival with a specific, targeted visit to one of the city’s institutions. I’d wanted to go to the Marble Arch for some time, having heard all kinds of good things about it – and with my Dad also in town for the day, it made perfect sense – particularly as he was willing to chance his arm on a pub other than his local, the City Arms.
The Marble Arch is found on Rochdale Road, a decent stroll from the city centre through the Northern Quarter – an interesting lattice of one-way streets and quirky shops. Not for everyone’s taste, though – I passed a couple of teenage girls in time to hear one say “I can’t stand places like this, it’s full of posers.” I guess you can’t please everybody. On that particular Saturday it was also full of rugby league fans – surely the least poserish group of people on the planet. The Challenge Cup Final was taking place at Old Trafford, so Manchester was teeming with Leeds and Warrington fans, in their vibrant polyester shirts.
Even from the outside, the Marble Arch looks the business. Back in the day, it must have been a real focal point for the passing trade on Rochdale Road – now it’s sadly overshadowed by steel and glass buildings, and blocks of flats. A large advertising board screens one entire side of the pub, hiding it from the road. Inside, the pub is astonishing – everything in the front room is tiled (except for the floor, which is mosaic’d). My pathetic cameraphone photos couldn’t do it justice – the green walls and vaulted ceiling are fabulous. The bar is at one end, with a separate dining canteen through the back (and beer garden – if only Edinburgh pubs of this calibre had beer gardens).
I found my Dad – or, rather, he found me – as he was sat with a bunch of Warrington Wolves fans on the long side tables that run up either wall. It’s always fun when you sit down with a group of people you’ve never met and the first thing they say is “So, this is him, eh?” – but the rugby fans were great. Their game kicked off in five hours, but there they were, already ‘warming up’. It’s often said how different league fans are to football fans, but it really is true – both Wolves and Rhinos fans were drinking away together, bantering about the game. The Warrington fans we sat with were doubtful of their chances though (and so it proved – one of their players even making a significant sacrifice during the eventual defeat).
The Marble Arch is home to the Marble brewery, of course, and as a brewery tap it’s one of the best I’ve been to. Plenty of their beers were on – there was a full beer menu on every table (along with a food and a cheese menu – the Wolves fans were joking about there being a crisps menu). The two we sat with – Paul and Richard – were going from left to right along the bar, a neat idea let down by the fact that they had to backtrack for new beers that appeared filling the gaps. Also, when they’d arrived, the first beer on the left was Marble’s collaboration IPA brewed with Quantum – Physics – which rolled in at 7%. A nifty loosener.
I was only going to have a couple before heading off for several hours at the IMBC festival, but in the end enjoyed several pints there – how could you not? The beer was fantastic, even my Dad found a beer he loved (Marble Best – fulfilling his bitter-centric criteria). The Northern Quarter Bitter was even better, in my opinion, alongside classics such as Dobber and Lagonda IPA. There was a great selection in ‘keg corner’, including the Earl Grey IPA, and a solitary guest beer – Raw Brewing’s Citra Black Ale, which I was intrigued by, but couldn’t move away from the beers made on site.
The Marble Arch is a fantastic pub – it pretty much ticks all of the boxes. It looks amazing, makes its own beer, serves (apparently) great food, has menus on the tables, friendly staff – what could be better? Richard was keen to try his favourite Marble Ginger, and the woman serving made a point of coming over to us when it had gone on. I’m not sure his mate Paul appreciated it, being a mild fan – but a pub like the Marble Arch encourages you to try new beers, and strike up conversations with the people nearby. And isn’t that the best thing about drinking in this country?