The Performing Arts
The Lowry Theatre, Pier 8, Salford Quays (tel. 0870/787-5780), has become Manchester's premier center for the performing and visual arts, encompassing two main theaters, studio space, and exhibition galleries. To find out what's happening at the time of your visit, search www.thelowry.com. You can visit the Galleries of Lowry Monday to Friday and Sunday 11am to 5pm, Saturday 10am to 5pm; admission is free. Take Metrolink Harbour City or bus no. 69, 290, or 291.
For drama with an unobstructed view, go to the nation's largest theater-in-the-round. The Royal Exchange ★★, St. Ann's Square (tel. 01618/339833; www.royalexchange.co.uk), is housed in a futuristic glass-and-steel structure built within the Great Hall of Manchester's former Cotton Exchange and offers 48 weeks of in-house dramaturgy every year.
Home of the renowned Halle Orchestra, the Bridgewater Hall, Lower Mosley Street (tel. 0161/907-9000; www.bridgewater-hall.co.uk), is a state-of-the-art, 2,400-seat concert hall. In addition to the orchestra's season, it also presents other classical performances as well as some pop and comedy, too.
The University of Manchester's Department of Music, Coupland Street (tel. 01612/754987; www.arts.manchester.ac.uk), is home to one of the nation's most distinctive classical string quartets, the Lindsay String Quartet, which performs a series of eight evening concerts in the department's auditorium during the year. For a real bargain, check out its luncheon recital series, which is free.
The internationally acclaimed BBC Philharmonic performs concerts year-round at Bridgewater Hall (tel. 01619/079000). The calendar of performances is highly variable, so it's best to call for schedules.
The Club & Music Scene
Above all else, Manchester is known for its contributions to pop music. From the Smiths and New Order to Oasis and the Stone Roses, the "Manchester sound" has been known throughout the world for more than 2 decades. Yet, surprisingly enough, live music went by the wayside in the early 1990s, and clubs were in short supply until they started making a steady comeback in the last couple of years.
South, 4A King St. (tel. 01618/317756), is a small industrial-style club. A 10-minute walk north of Piccadilly Gardens, this club has a sophisticated young aura, with '60s and '70s music on Friday and a hot house DJ on Saturday.
For cutting-edge music, check the stage at Star & Garter, Farefield Street (tel. 01612/736726), on Wednesday through Friday, when harder rock and hard-core acts will get in your face.
Peveril of the Peak, Great Bridgewater Street (tel. 01612/366364), is easy enough to find -- just look for a 380-year-old triangular building covered from top to bottom in antique green-glazed tiles. No one seems to know why it was designed or built that way, but you can step inside its woodsy-looking paneled interior and enjoy a pint of Theakston's Best Bitter, Yorkshire Terrier, or Webster's Best Bitter while you puzzle over it.
Other hot clubs include Matt and Phred's, 85 Oldham St. (tel. 0161/8317002), which features some of the best jazz in town. It's open Monday to Saturday 5pm to 2am.
Bars & Lounges
One of Manchester's most intriguing bars lies one floor above lobby level within the city's best-recommended and most prestigious hotel. It's the River Bar, in the Lowry Hotel, 50 Dearmans Place, Chapel Wharf (tel. 0161/827-4000), a rambling, contemporary citadel of understated posh, whose clientele derives from the young, the beautiful, and the restless from the city that surrounds it. But at least part of the attraction derives from whatever media-hungry clients might be in residence at the time. In other words, don't assume that you'll be surrounded with dour business travelers here: You're more likely to meet troupes of actors, rock musicians, professional athletes (including professional wrestlers and kick boxers), and media folk than not, and as such, the place usually rocks and rolls. Cocktails cost from £7.50 to £12 each, and platters of food, including salads, sandwiches, tapas, and upscale versions of fish and chips, go for £10 to £18 each.
Other hot spots for a drink include Lammar's, Fourways House, 57 Hilton St. (tel. 0161/237-9058), in the Northern Quarter. With its kitschy decor and high camp, it was named after a fabled local drag queen, Foo Foo Lammar. To the sounds of recorded jazz, a young crowd drinks in the bar or retreats to a lounge. Out back, tapas are served. Dukes 92, Castle Street (tel. 0161/839-8656; www.dukes92.com), lies in Castlefield, opening onto Lock 92 of the Rochdale Canal. You can sit outside and take in the view, perhaps get inspected yourself. The lounge is installed in a former stable, and it's a huge place, almost like one of the old cotton warehouses of yore. The bar passes out some free snacks, and you can also order pizzas and the like.
Manchester Gay Life
Loud, proud, and straight-friendly, Manchester's so-called Gay Village spreads across Canal Street in a once-seedy factory district that's flanked on one side by a canal with locks. The scene begins northeast of Princess Street and is active day and night. On any given day, gays and lesbians hang out at one of the sidewalk tables that border the canal. The bars are frequented both by young gay men and lesbians. The neighborhood contains as many as 25 different GLBT watering holes, each with their regular clienteles and niche markets, but a trio of bars that's particularly popular includes Queer, 4 Canal St. (tel. 0161/228-1360; www.queer-manchester.com), a gay-lifestyle cafe/bar in the heart of the village. Entrance is free and food is served day and night. A cruisy crowd frequents the joint with its large booths. Queer is open Monday to Saturday 11am to 2am, Sunday 11am to 12:30am. On another front, Churchills, 37 Chorlton St. (tel. 0161/236-5529), arguably has the friendliest atmosphere. The surroundings are safe and comfortable at this pub club that features everything from drag disco to karaoke nights. Both full meals and bar snacks are offered, and there's no cover. It's open Monday to Saturday noon to 2am, Sunday noon to 12:30am. Finally, Cruz 101, 101 Princess St. (tel. 0161/950-0101), is perhaps the best-attended gay venue, with music ranging from disco to funky house. It's really two clubs in one, with a large main floor and a smaller lower level. It was created from an old abandoned textile mill. Cover ranges from £4 to £6, depending on the night and entertainment. It's open Monday, Thursday, and Sunday 11pm to 5am, Wednesday 11pm to 3:30am, Friday and Saturday 11pm to 6am.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.