The recession has happened, and none of us can quite crawl out of it, it seems. The City Centre was once a bustling, thriving medley of bars, clubs and people getting pissed in them from Thursday through to Sunday. Now, you're lucky if you find a busy place between 12 midnight and 3am on a Sunday morning. We're all saving what little we have for the big (cough) Saturday night.
Saturdays start steadily, filling slowly on Deansgate Locks, Deansgate, The Northern Quarter, Spinningfields and Shambles Square. These areas still include the odd bar and club that reaches capacity- normally the smarter places like Oast House and Alchemist.
Over the last few Fridays, I've tried a few venues in the city: Sakana, LIV, Dukes 92, Botanist, Suburbia, The Old Grapes, The Milton Club: every one of them has been dead. The streets are empty. The taxis are queuing up but there's no-one to ride in them. These are places that should be busy, should be bustling both nights of the weekend.
Where is busy on a Friday? The only populated hotspots I've found in recent months are already on the Blacklist, places like Revolucion de Cuba and Liars. There are a handful of clubs that seem popular- Panacea hosts Playhouse on a Friday, which- from the pictures- looks well-attended (and totally mental.) Keep your eye on Manchester Social Group, as there could be a trip there soon. Milton Club's monthly Soul Purpose nights are excellent and well attended. (Manchester Social Group has already held an event at one of these nights, and may do again.) But on the whole, Manchester's Friday Night cuts a ghostly figure.
Demographics don't seem to come into it- the smarter, dearer bars are quiet Fridays, just like the less-expensive, more-relaxed-door-policy bars are too. The few places that appear busy might be “casual” venues (dumps, if you're a self-confessed snob like me) or they might be upmarket.
As I'm free to go out Friday and Saturday, why do I try so hard to find a good Friday hotspot? Simple really- not many people are free to go out Friday OR Saturday on most weekends, so I'm using the Meetup website to stay social. If people say they can do Fridays, that's an opportunity to get out. But it needs to be worth it, to be a nice place and to be busy, most importantly. The atmosphere should be right.
As customers we can go out and look for good places on a Friday, but we're only half the equation. The bars and the clubs need to swallow their pride and realise it's money, and lack of it, that is keeping people at home. Charging £12 for a single shot of whiskey that no-one has heard of (cough cough, Sakana) when there's virtually no-one in your bar to buy it should tell you what you're doing wrong. It's alright trying to be expensively elite, but if nobody goes to your establishment as a result, what alternative do you have? There are already more than enough celebrity hangouts. It might be time to stop pretending that's what you are, and drop your prices on Fridays.
Some might say that the dearer places keep the riff-raff out. Au contraire- the people kicking off are normally drinking Stella, wherever you go out, whether it's a smart bar or a regular one. Stella is advertised as being “reassuringly expensive”, so the “cheap drink fuelling violence” theory is out the window. And in some of the places mentioned I've seen it kick off. Prices don't come into it.
So will we see Fridays come back with drinks deals and offers? Or with one-off events like singers and DJs, or celebrity appearances? Or will Saturday continue to reign as the only night worth going out on?