The Pogues famously sang of a Dirty Old Town – a smoky industrial hellhole, bordered by gasworks and dirty canals, and Morrissey once crooned that Manchester had “so much to answer for”.
The image that still lingers in the mind for most in the UK is of a smoggy northern city, men with whippets and flat caps, factories, belching chimneys and Coronation Street-style terraces.
But Manchester is now the “new north”. It is a forward-looking, cosmopolitan city of soaring buildings, fancy gin bars and expensive restaurants.
One thing that grabs you about this exciting northern city is the number of towering buildings and the cranes in the skyline. It shows the shape of the city for decades to come appearing before your eyes.
Our home for the weekend was the Jurys Inn in the fashionable Deansgate area of the city.
My companion and I were greeted by friendly staff before making our way to our open and spacious double bedroom.
We enjoyed a cup of coffee in the room before heading down to the hotel’s in-house Oddsocks restaurant. My partner chose a vegetarian bean burger while I opted for a maple-glazed half chicken.
Both were cooked to a high standard and arrived promptly, with my companion especially savouring her burger.
For our weekend visit we inadvertently travelled during the “mini beast from the east”, so with blustering snow blowing off the streets and people wrapped up in Siberian-style jackets, the city had a more Russian than European feeling.
This was compounded by a visit to a little-known statue of Communist author Fredriech Engles, who collaborated with Marx on the likes of Das Kapital and the Communist manifesto.
The statue, with a Cyrillic caption, was brought from the Ukraine to Manchester last year.
He now stands looking moodily out at shopping centres and bars. One can only imagine what he would think of the situation.
We then fancied something to warm the cockles and the Atlas gin bar in Deangate proved the perfect local spot.
With an almost unending selection of gins, we sampled several including a double of Harris gin which went down all too easily.
From the swanky bar we then stopped off for a pint in Nicholson’s Free House, a solid community establishment to show that the city hasn’t entirely forgotten its humble roots.
Our Friday night pub crawl then took in the fashionable Bar 21 on Thomas Street in the Northern Quarter. Located centrally, the bar has a classic film theme, with my partner and I finding a booth that was filled with Rocky Horror Picture Show fan posters and art.
We ended our evening in the Matt and Phreds jazz club where we were thoroughly entertained for the rest of the evening by the ever-changing ensemble. With a modest £5 entry fee it was a fantastic venue to while away the hours in the city centre. It is certainly worth a visit if you find yourself in the area.
We went back to our clean and open room for a restful night’s sleep.
A slap-up breakfast at the hotel restaurant followed, with salty rashers and sausages with tangy orange juice served.
With the wind and snow still blowing and the wind-chill making the temperature feel like minus six, we ventured once more into the city centre – first with a visit to the beautiful Manchester Central Library.
As fans of the written word, we were entranced by the huge domed building and the ease of access once inside.
Modern electronic resources sit comfortably alongside wall to wall books and newspapers.
Hardening ourselves against the cold we took a short walk to the Manchester Art Gallery – with a specific artist’s work in mind.
Laurence Stephen Lowry was treated with disdain by the art establishment of the day for his stick-figure-like paintings of industrial scenes. But he is now a hero in the city, with his pictures of “matchstick men and matchstick cats and dogs” highly sought after.
The gallery also contained an unexpected taste of the north-east – with Aberdeen artist William Dyce’s stunning Good Shepherd prominently displayed.
Next up was the National Football Museum in Cathedral Gardens – a must-see for any fan of the beautiful game.
Admission is free but for £6 you can have you picture taken with both FA and Premiership trophies and take part in a penalty shoot-out against a computer generated goalie.
Other unusual exhibits include George Best’s Mini Cooper and the statue of prince of pop Michael Jackson that used to bizarrely stand outside Fulham’s stadium.
Our evening’s eating was at Croma pizza in the heart of the city centre. Starting with delicious rounds of garlic bread and a light, refreshing Manchester Skyline beer, I was expecting the best for the main course.
And we weren’t disappointed – a fantastic pair of pizzas arrived, light but still satisfying. Mine a spicy chicken and vegetable number, while my partner opted for Parma ham and salad.
Being St Patrick’s Day, we had a walk of around two minutes into the open square in front of the Manchester town house where a large, open party was taking place under a huge canopy.
Walking into the tent, every county flag of Ireland was proudly on display – which made my partner’s Fermangh heart proud.
After several hop house lagers, and dancing on the table to the likes of the Girl from Belfast City, we headed home through the snow.
We left the city the next day for the long drive to Scotland, but I think a part of my heart will remain in Lancashire.