Fresh from spending a week in Cologne drinking pretty much nothing but Kolsch, we headed into town this weekend to visit the recently reopened Smithfield Tavern.
On the fringe of the Northern Quarter (across the street from Bar Fringe, incidentally), the Smithfield is now being operated by the team behind the nearby Blackjack Brewery. It’s had a lick of paint on the outside and a much-needed design revamp on the inside.
We’d first called in a few months back, before Blackjack were involved. At that time, the outside was surrounded by scaffolding and the decor was…unique to say the least. One of its most distinctive features was a pool table cut in half for use as an actual table. A bar takeover by Seven Bro7hers had alerted us to the pub and we were pretty chuffed by the sheer value for money it offered. But it was very quiet and didn’t look like this would change in the foreseeable future.
(Although I remember taking some pics of the pub in its former guise, this is the only one I could find).
Fast forward a few months, and we were sat in the same place but it was bustling. What a turnaround.
As we’d been away, we’d missed the opening night so our first visit was a Friday night just a week after its relaunch.
Inside, the brightly coloured tiles and the pool ‘table’ were gone and instead replaced with a simple rustic design filled with vintage furniture of varying periods – we were sat at what appeared to be a Victorian-style table with cast iron legs and I also spotted some 60s era tables, chairs and cabinets.
It fits with the Northern Quarter without being too over the top pretentious. A quick job or a simple design? Either way, it works. I also noted hooks by the most of the bar stools – head to Scandinavia and northern Europe and you’ll see hooks everywhere so there’s plenty of places for patrons to hang their coats without having to hog extra seating. Maybe it’s a bit nerdy of me, but it’s just so bloody useful to have them that I wish more UK bars did.
Some other bits to note – I liked the choice of activities throughout the pub including skittles (using what appeared to be the afore mentioned pool ‘table’, darts with a fully marked out oche mat and a piano.
The ladies’ toilets also had a snazzy little mirror which caught my eye, as well as some some ye olde tiles on the approach to the bathroom.
But now the important stuff – the beer. With six handpumps and ten keg taps (along with a fully stocked fridge and Blackjack Lager on a separate keg), there’s definitely a decent amount of choice.
Although Blackjack feature heavily, they don’t dominate so it’s nice to see plenty of options available. Prices are also fair – and they offer thirds, halves and pints.
We settled in and had a few and by the time we’d decided to move on to the Blackjack Brew Tap, it was busy.
We’d planned to go to the Brew Tap on Saturday instead, but found ourselves making a visit on the Friday too. The last few times we’ve been it’s usually been on a Sunday and fairly quiet, so it was great to finally to visit of an evening and experience more of the atmosphere.
I failed to take many pictures (with the exception of my Untappd check-ins) and I didn’t get one of the beer board so I can’t quite remember what was on at the time.
But there was a nice mix of beers from Blackjack and others so we happily whiled away a few hours sampling some of the options before heading for a night cap at The Marble Arch (my favourite pub, don’tcha know) and then home.
Come Saturday afternoon we were back in town. I was off for dinner for a friends’ birthday early evening, so we popped out slightly earlier to get chance to visit Runaway Brewery.
Located in the railway arches close to Blackjack and Marble Brewery, this was the first time Runaway had opened their doors and had been timed to coincide with Blackjack’s event.
Making good use of pallets and large wooden spools, they’ve created a small bar, fencing and tables inside and had brought along some additional seating outdoors. This minimalist design was clean and crisp, and the addition of a few drawings of the brewery’s bottles made you forget you were under a railway arch (until the trains/trams went overhead at least).
Four kegs were on hand so we decided to go for the Hopfenweisse first. I’d sampled it at Stockport Beer Fest and really enjoyed it, so it was good to try it again – even if it was a little lively to pour! While waiting for it to settle we were kindly offered samples of the Marzen Lager and American Brown to try, and Ross also went for the smoked porter.
It attracted a decent-sized crowd (again, fairly busy by the time we left) and was a genuinely good little brewtap, so I do hope they open their doors again soon.
Our second visit to Blackjack then beckoned, and this time I did remember to take a picture of the board (I think the line-up was pretty similar or maybe even identical to the previous evening, but I can’t be sure).
Being one of those rare warm and sunny days in Manchester, we plonked ourselves on one of the outdoor tables and made our way through a few of the options before one popping over to the Arch again for one last beer before my night out.
The area known as the Green Quarter is rapidly becoming a bit of a beery hotspot these days. Not something I thought I’d say about a section of the city which is dominated by overpriced flats and railway arches, but there you go. The efforts of the local breweries have really made a difference, and I’m sure we’ll see more great events and open days in the coming months.