England’s capital of the North (sorry Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle, everyone else), Manchester is almost a nation-state all of its own, imbued with a sense of civic pride you just don’t get with, for example, most grumpy, ground-down Londoners.
Ask any Mancunian what makes Manchester tick and they’ll point you towards the countless iconic bands from the city – Oasis, The Smiths, Joy Division – the list is endless. They might tip their head up to the oppressive, brutalist ’60s skyscrapers that sit alongside the grandiose red-brick townhouses, gothic town halls, and neo-baroque former warehouses.
Maybe you’ll get whisked off to a match at one of the two biggest football clubs on the planet, or taken to admire the Picassos, Van Goghs and Hockneys sitting pretty at the Whitworth Art Gallery alongside the work of the city’s favourite son, L.S. Lowry.
If you’re visiting for a few nights, away from the tourist trail, Manchester is also a city full of interesting places to stop, shop and refuel. For British menswear blogger Matthew Spade, better known by his Instagram handle, Mat Buckets, it’s one of the city’s aesthetically pleasing bakery-slash-cafes that he came to call home during his stay in the city working his way into the fashion industry.
We asked Spade to take us on a tour of them, and other tucked-away hotspots he has in the city.
Trove Bakery, located in the bustling Ancoats neighbourhood just a quick nip from the Northern Quarter, has quickly become a city centre stalwart for all things dough-based.
The soft pinks, beiges and earthy greys of the airy interior compliments the simple, yet refined all-day menu – all designed in collaboration with Leeds design outfit, Plaey Studio. I always struggle to decide what to order between the molasses toast with poached eggs and the baked pear pancakes. But then there’s the bacon sarnie with an Allpress coffee or tea for £5 too. You may just have to visit more than once.
Rivet & Hide
Denim aficionados Rivet & Hide recently brought their concept up from Fitzrovia in London to Thomas Street in Manchester, setting up a few doors down from menswear veterans Oi Polloi. It was a brave move opening up so close to the competition but while there is a crossover with styles, the menswear offering at both tends to be so nuanced, that they feel different enough to form a happy, symbiotic relationship.
Rivet & Hide set their stall out with seriously good raw denim, apparel, accessories and footwear, sourced from both reliable and niche brands, some with years of experience and others in their formative years. They do discovery well, and that’s the joy with shopping at independent stores; the shopkeepers have time to form relationships with customers and explain how the brands differ from others. And with brands such as 3Sixteen, Moonstar, Mister Freedom, Dawson Denim and Pure Blue Japan its one mighty fine roster they have to shout about.
Form Lifestyle Store
Form Lifestyle opened its doors in 2017, bringing a much-needed breath of fresh air towards Manchester’s homeware and home accessories category. It housed itself in a curious, fancy, old-brick building just next to a car park in the Northern Quarter which admittedly sounds weird but makes perfect sense when you see the space.
It’s a great place to find a mega-nice selection of things you never knew you needed from British-made ceramics, indoor plants and small handmade furnishings to prints, fragrances and a selection of men’s and women’s accessories.
The space also doubles up as an exhibition space downstairs, while if you head to the mezzanine level up its beautiful staircase you’ll sometimes find creative workshops going on. And to top things off, their sweet lil pooch can usually be seen knocking about too.
If you’re after a full-on speciality coffee experience then Atkinson’s should be on your list. The deep blue, white and wooden theme reminds me of something you’d find in New York or San Francisco, especially when it’s a delivery day. With all those hessian coffee sacks knocking around, it’s like a film set.
The impressive bar covers a whole host of bean-to-bar chocolates, a huge selection of loose left tea and shopable coffee equipment and accessories. Come 5pm you can grab one of their Mikkeller lagers or a collaboration with Lancaster’s Farm Yard Ales from their fridge and set up a stall outside.
‘Where to stay in Manchester?’ is something I get asked quite often. A couple of places spring to mind, but usually, the same choice comes out top – Whitworth Locke just off Oxford Road. I don’t think I’ve ever stayed in such a well-considered hotel for the affordable rates that these guys are offering, and all in a location right in the centre of town.
In the lobby, you’ll find a large open-plan bar with seating, decorated in earthy greens, punchy yellow and brass fixtures, all housed in a large conservatory-style extension from the original red brick building by the city’s canal.
At the back you’ll find more open-plan set-ups, with one side used as a shared workspace, featuring some low-lit corners which feel like something you’d stumble across in Bali. The other side of the ground floor is occupied by Foundation Coffee shop and a pop-up restaurant space. As we speak it’s running a full modern Mexican menu.
Part-hotel, part-apartment block, each room comes kitted out with a fully furnished kitchen, massive sofa, dining table, double bed, and a five-star bathroom. Designed in a modern colour palette of soft pinks and greens, with show-stealers like the narrow-reed glass open wardrobes, Art Deco light fixtures, heavy beige curtains, and locally reclaimed brass surfaces.
Over Under is one of Manchester’s shiniest and nicest gaffs, the concept having been brought up from London, expanding on the two existing locations they have down there. Located on the popular thoroughfare of Deansgate, surrounded by modern bars, swanky restaurants, and the impressive John Rylands Library, OU catches your attention instantly with its large open windows, black, white and dark green interior, and a serious waft of its chorizo hash dish billowing out of the door.
An ideal brunch spot in the day, once the evening kicks in the green counter spins around to reveal a grey mesh surface, and behind those white cupboards, you’ll find their secret booze stash. The espresso martini is a solid choice if you can hack the inevitable hangover that’ll come with it.
We’re back in the Ancoats area for my final choice with the mighty yeasty force of Pollen Bakery. The team behind Pollen have done one heck of a job with creating a destination cafe without a stank of pretentiousness with an open-plan layout that puts the customer in the centre of the bakery.
Seeing the daily workings coming off the production line tends to spark conversation between the staff and visitors, not to mention the talking point of them kitting out the cafe with handmade ceramic cups and serving plates by potter Jono Smart.
Their cookies, brownies, and muffins are some of the best I’ve ever experienced and if coffee isn’t your bag then they do some amazingly refreshing freshly made fizzy and still juices. Staying in an Airbnb? Zip in to grab one of their freshly baked loaves for breakfast, but make sure you come early because they sell out like hotcakes.