Pub/Bar of the Month May 2010: The Marble Arch Inn
The Marble Arch Inn, Manchester
The city of Manchester is spoilt for choice when it comes to great pubs and beer. Some of the UK’s finest architectural gems have survived largely intact here – The Britons’ Protection and The Crown & Kettle, for instance – and beer still flows from three family breweries – Lees, Hydes and Holt’s – with a combined age of nearly 500 years.
There are new bars, too, such as Sand Bar, where the beer range is extensive and eclectic, and smaller breweries, such as Bazens, that have freshened up the local brewing scene.
This image of a complex beer nirvana is nicely distilled at The Marble Arch – one of the city’s oldest pubs, serving a wide range of international beers and housing its own microbrewery.
The Marble Arch can be found just to the north of the city centre, on the road out to Rochdale. The impressive premises began life in 1888, as part of the warehousing complex of the long-defunct McKenna’s brewery.
Here they used to age porter. Heavy girders built into the pub’s high ceiling hint at this industrious past.
Drinking in The Marble Arch is a strange sensation. The interior is tiled throughout, giving it an almost inside-out character, and the floor slopes steeply down from the front door, falling possibly a foot or more by the time it reaches the bar.
Tall etched-glass windows filter weak Manchester daylight onto the mosaics on the floor while drinkers sit in line along the edges of the narrow room, occasionally lifting their eyes to the impressive tiled frieze that lists the cornucopia of drinks the pub once dispensed, and still mostly does to this day – Gin, Rum, Ale, Porter, Brandies, Whiskies and Cordials.
Beer is the lifeblood, however. Around the back of the bar, just through a small, separate, café-style dining area, is tucked the Marble Brewery, producing since 1997 house ales that have also been appreciated much further afield. Fermentation takes place down in the pub’s extensive cellars.
The quaffing ale is called simply Pint, pale and hoppy, while Manchester Bitter, is a straw-coloured echo, perhaps, of what Boddingtons used to be 30 years ago.
Lagonda is the piney, grapefruit-juicy IPA, while Chocolate Marble is a stout loaded with chocolate malt character. There’s also a ginger beer with a kick, and many of the beers are certified organic.
There are usually eight Marble beers on sale through handpumps, augmented by two or three well-chosen guest ales, from the likes of Thornbridge, Little Valley or Dark Star.
Draught continental imports Erdinger and Budvar are sometimes joined by a beer from Belgium, but if you want something even more exotic then you can find it on the extensive bottled beer list, which offers names such as Saison Dupont, Schlenkerla Rauchbier, Rodenbach Grand Cru and Schneider Aventinus.
There are also bottles from the Marble Brewery itself, which – to keep up with demand – has now expanded into a second brewhouse in old railway arches a few hundred yards around the corner.
An all-day food service (until 9pm, or 8 on Sunday) means you can nearly always grab something to line the stomach while you’re working your way through the impressive beer range – or indeed take it the other way around: the cooking has as good a reputation as the beer.
It rains a lot in Manchester, but that doesn’t bother you when you’re ensconced in a place like this. If the weather does turn out to be unusually kind, then the small beer garden behind offers yet another dimension to what is quite a remarkable pub.
The Marble Arch, 73 Rochdale Road, Manchester M4 4HY.
Tel. (0161) 832 5914
Opening Hours: 12–11; 12–12 Friday & Saturday; 12–10.30 Sunday