on March 28, 2009
Ireland - 17/03/09I read once that one third of the population of Manchester was of Irish descent. As someone called Liam whose Grandad Paddy hailed from Templeogue I can believe it. And they were all out for the craic on St Patrick's Night. Leaving work at 5pm I only had a small slot within which to bag an Irish meal as I had to be elsewhere for a play rehearsal by 7.30. Thankfully there is an Irish pub a few doors down from the office in the Printworks entertainment complex, so I headed to Waxy O'Connor's. It was heaving. Partularly for a Tuesday. I've only ever seen pubs this busy at 5 on weekdays on Fridays in Summer, or when there's a world cup on. But it was already three deep at both bars in this cavernous pub. I've commented before on my dislike of fake Irish pubs. I feel that pubs should evolve their own character naturally and be a reflection of the regular customers, rather than get a pre-packed identity in a box sent from St James's Gate. The actual pubs you find in Ireland are wonderful and quirky - they don't feel the need to stress their 'Irishness'. It is the same with pubs patronised by Irish expats in the UK. A good example would be The Albert in Withington. It's a microscopic place with gaelic football showing on the TV. On Friday night a tiny man sits in the corner in a bootlace tie and accompanies himself on tin whistle and Bon Tempi keyboard to The Fields Of Athenrae. It's just an old 19th century pub that has evolved naturally over time into an Irish bar. Having said that, I don't really mind Waxy's. For starters, its decor is so over-the-top there is no way it could have come from a kit. Taking up a vast space in a former newspaper printworks it rambles over at least three floors, connected by winding wooden staircases that never end up where you expect them to. Two helix around themselves (and a tree!) to connect the main levels. Entering from within the Printworks Courtyard you are on the middle floor. There is a bar right in front of you (before it to your right is a door and another staircase; this leads up to a gallery with sofas and a pulpit looking over the rest of the pub. No one ever seems to know about it and so it is the quietest and comfiest location in the place). Down the main stairs is the main bar. The place has a definite 'ecclesiastical' theme, with rich wooden beams and bars, and narrow seats like choir stalls. On St Patrick's Day both bars were heaving with people. So was a smaller auxiliary bar they had set up in the Printworks courtyard to sell Guinness. They generally have a range of Irish beers on, from Guinness to Harp to Caffreys. I got a Guinness (served for today in a plastic glass) and the menu. This revealed that today was actually a bad time to visit Waxy's. The menu at Waxy's is usually wonderful - a lot of choice, and quite palpably Irish. You can have Irish Stew, Rossmore Oysters by the half-dozen (£7.80), a crock of Irish mussels (£8.20), Donegal salmon, onion rings in a Caffrey's batter, steak with a Jameson's whisky glaze, or the all-day Irish breakfast (sausage, black pudding, white pudding, bacon, mushroom, potato cake, tomato, poached egg and soda bread - £7.00). Generally I just go for the 4-oz steak sandwich for £7.00. However on this night the menu had been stripped back to just six options, obviously just to deal with the number of customers they were expecting, most of which were actually just generic pub fayre.I ordered a bowl of Irish Stew for £4.50 and sat out in the Printworks’ covered courtyard. A stage was being set up for a band to play later on that evening. The stew was not long in coming – clearly they had big pots ready to dole out. It was lean lumps of ham, alongside cubes of carrot and swede. Obviously it contained potato, but whole new potatoes rather than the cubes I would have expected. The broth was flavoured with thyme. It came with two slices of soda bread and a pot of butter. To be honest I would have preferred just normal bread. Also, the butter was straight out of the fridge, and trying to spread it caused the soda bread to shred and disintegrate.To be fair, for £4.50 the stew wasn’t bad. I was just a bit upset that the usual menu was not on offer tonight – I was looking forward to finally trying the mussels. So this was not really a typical night to rate Waxy’s. Also, because I was there early, before the entertainment had set up I shouldn’t really compare it to the fabulously rocking St Patrick’s Night I had enjoyed the previous year in Siena of all places. Particularly not as Siena has only the one Irish pub, whereas Manchester has several – others I could mention are O’Sheas on Whitworth Street, Mulligans just off Deansgate, O’Neills on Wilmslow Road in East Didsbury, or Celtic Tiger on Mauldeth Road. And there are plenty of Irish social clubs around.
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