In November we went up to Manchester for a long weekend for our friends' wedding. As a Smiths obsessive and live music lover, I've been to dozens of gigs there - including a weekend in 2006 doing the Smiths tour during the day (visiting Salford Lads Club, the cemetery gates, the old house etc) and seeing Morrissey play for three nights on the trot in three different venues - but I hadn't been for years. It was great to go back and spend a couple of days wandering around the hipster Northern Quarter and checking out cool indies, vintage stores and new bars. We stayed at The Principal, a fantastic five star hotel in a massive Grade II listed red brick building on Oxford Street.
Built in the 1890s by Alfred Waterhouse as a vast office for the old insurance company Refuge Assurance, the landmark building recently underwent a £25m renovation and reopened a few weeks before we stayed. It's so huge it takes up a whole block, with a dramatic 66m tall clock tower, smart glazed brick and terracotta facade and antique ceramic tiles, grand high ceilings, classical stone columns and stained glass windows inside: this is old school grandeur reimagined in the most stylish, modern way. The 271 rooms feature fuss-free, gender-neutral interiors with chic leather furniture, wood panelling, grey upholstery and slick, minimal bathrooms. Created by award-winning restaurateurs Luke Cowdrey and Justin Crawford, the Refuge by Volta bar and restaurant has a cool, relaxed vibe with an all-day crowd, pretty winter garden, pool table and some mean cocktails. It's the place to stay.
Over the weekend, we went vintage shopping, browsed the hipster wares at menswear indie Oi Polloi, drank flat whites at cool Scandi café Takk, walked around Canal Street, warmed up over mulled wine at the Christmas market, ate sushi at the glossy underground restaurant Australasia, had a nightcap at The Temple, a chilled bar hidden in an old Victorian public toilet (love quirky little places like this), dinner at modern British restaurant Rosylee and German food for lunch at the cosy chalet-style Albert's Schloss. We mustn't leave it so long next time, Manchester!
The Principal, Oxford St, Manchester M60 7HA
wearing all black and my shiny red Michael Kors handbag