Manchester city centre has any number of fine, historic and much-loved pubs which readers may have visited. Many pubs have disappeared but it remains a good city to have a booze in. My most regular drinking colleague and I once bought a map of Manchester’s pubs and spent the year attempting to drink in all of them. I don’t remember if we completed our mission, I think we lost the map but we were definitely, fatally distracted from it by the wealth of quality drinking opportunities to be found away from the city centre in more local, traditional boozers.
Many of the city’s finest and most vibrant hostelries are to be found away from the centre of the metropolis in some of the outlying districts where Farrow & Ball colour-schemes, chrome taps and Belgian lager are not seen as pub-essentials. These are the pubs that unite communities, that stimulate local economies and that have a bouncer on the door when there’s a meat raffle.
One of more vibrant of these requires an excursion to Cheetham Hill a mile-or-so North West of the city centre to reach The Robin Hood, which is on Cheetham Hill rd (From town take the 153 and when it stops looking like Legoland and starts looking like 1982 you want the next stop). My first visit there happened by chance a few years back because it was the only Cheetham pub I could find open. I had intended to go in the Halfway House but it was boarded-up or the Crumpsall which is now future-archaeology, ground into history under Tesco’s jackboots.
Despite having drank in Cheetham for many years, up to this point I’d never visited the Robin Hood and on approaching was curious as to why this was the case. I must’ve walked past it hundreds of times and it has to be said I like a pint so the reasons for never having been in were a mystery (I’ve vague memories of being told it was a shithole but that’s never stopped me before).
Impressions of the building from the outside are quite favourable. It has a traditional wooden hanging pub sign and the façade of the building is painted mucky-white in the old Wilsons style. Trying to have a look through the windows was hampered by both of them being boarded-up but they gave the impression it would be cosy inside. On our way in we stopped to hold the door for a fella riding in on a motobility scooter. Once inside, I was just about to order at the bar when the same fella nipped in front, having parked his scooter in the middle of the room and got up to stride over to the bar. He parked his foot on the brass foot-rail (BFR) and said “I can’t walk me lads”. It was either cheeky Mancunian wit or a genuine miracle but either way it gets the place a tick in the good book (Having a BFR gets a tick as well. A pub is not a proper pub without a BFR.
I like a Guinness as my first pint of a session so duly ordered. The Guinness was ‘off’ but the barman said I could have a can. Having a can of draught Guinness in a pub is like having a Hamlet in Havana so I was gonna decline but by the time I did he’d opened it. When I said I’d have something else he said “But I’ve opened it now”. When faced with logic like that it’s easier to sup-up and try again than argue about it. The interior layout was both relatively spacious and relatively compact and all on one level, apart from the ‘stage’ area which is indicated by metallic green tape on the floor. It had a warm cosy glow with most of the light coming from the 92” flat-screen on the ‘stage’ and the un-boarded-up window on the back wall (though the toilets were much brighter due to half the exterior wall being missing).
We took at seat at the back near the pool table that afforded us the best light and a clear view of the room, yet still only a short swagger from the bar. A glance around the other customers revealed a small but sturdy crew. They were all clearly in there far more regularly than a cleaner but the welcome was polite, quiet and unobtrusive.
Eddies-who’s-80 was the most vocal, talking to his audience with sentences that mostly ended with him saying he was 80, which they all clearly knew as he’s probably been sat there since he was Eddie-who’s-40. Apart from Eddie-who’s-80 and a bloke who looked like Frank Worthington who kept shouting 2in a minute2 towards the door for about an hour it was a quiet, relaxed one might say ‘bohemian’ atmosphere.
The shameful Guinness downed, I opted for a pint of bitter and, wonderfully, a packet of Canadian Ham flavour Seabrook crisps (That’s two ticks in the good book. Any pub gets a tick if its crisps are Seabrook, two if they have Canadian Ham flavour). It was a decent pint, as many in Cheetham Hill are. There’s something in the air and the tarmac of Cheetham Hill that puts it on ley-lines with hops and barley or something. It is (was?) a good place to have a booze.
Me and my colleague were about to have a game of pool when a woman who was probably 15 years younger than she looked and dressed 10 years too young for that said 2I’m using that lads” and emptied 4 carrier-bags full of meat onto the table whilst most of the pub came over to have a look. Even him who can’t walk was up checking the merchandise. The meat woman was obviously a regular as was her little son, little Cory, who just sat playing on his DS whilst his mam did the dead-animal deals. He must’ve been about 8 but gave the impression that he was as familiar with the boozer as most 8-year-olds are with a Wacky Warehouse, which I doubt little Cory was familiar with at all.
Little Cory had to guard the meat while his mam worked the pub. She told him to mind the meat when she left the pool table and every so often her cry would go up “Eyes on the fuckin meat Cory”. “Yes mam” little Cory would reply without lifting his eyes from the DS’s screen.
“I’m not paying three-fifty for it. It’s only worth three. You don’t even know what part of the cow it’s from”. Eric-who’s-80 wasn’t happy with the meat woman’s prices. This one packet looked like a smokers lung wrapped in cling-film but Eddie-who’s-80 would scran it if he could get ten bob off the price and made his case to her. The whole pub got involved in the debate, passing round the air-tight packet of offal, having a squeeze and a guess: “It’s from its shoulder”; “Nah its belly”; “Is it fuck, it’s from its arse, get it bought Eddie”. Eddie-who’s-80 was happy with that and after paying-up his three quid, spent another couple buying her a vodka, the daft old get. He probably thought she was 15 years older than she was and that he had half-a-chance.
I got the impression that if I had gone in the Robin Hood in 1989, 1999 or 2009 it would have been exactly the same. Like an old master it merely needs restoring every so often but never changing. So for anyone finding themselves on Cheetham Hill rd, between Crescent rd and Woodlands rd with every other pub shut and in need of a pint, the Robin Hood is undoubtedly the best example of an option in a field of its own.
(Originally published in Belle Vue magazine)