Standing firm against the cultural mouth-washing of Manchester’s pubs The Unicorn is an oft over-looked gem of proper pub-ness in a sea of diminishing returns. A traditional boozer in the truest sense of the word, it offers a beacon of continuity amongst the fluctuating fortunes of the city’s hostelries. A local boozer in the centre of town, The Unicorn ticks all the boxes; Comforting, cosy, good ale, easy access to the bar and old blokes called Tommy, Billy and Mick (The all-way round brass foot rail, not-really-oak panelled walls and velvet curtains are a given in a proper pub).
I don’t know how long a Unicorn has stood on the same site. A bit of research could have told me but I’m happy to believe it’s been there since at least the Jacobite invasion and I don’t want Google ruining that belief. It might have been there since ancient times and been one of Manchester’s earliest Unicorn stables from before they went extinct or it might’ve been knocked-up in 1970. It’s certainly been there for as long as I can remember and remains an unchanging, iconic idyll amidst the blight Northernquaterization of its surroundings.
The Unicorn, a simple, sturdy, honest building has the benefits and pleasures of being a corner-pub situated on the corner of Church St. and Joiner St. Corner pubs obviously have many advantages over non-corner pubs because they’re on corners. It occupies a prime location. A short stretch to the West lie the culinary boho-vibes of the Koffee Pot, long a favourite breakfast-provider to this man(c), whilst to the East lies Rowntree’s. Food-wise it’s just about level-pegging with the Koffee Pot but it’s even closer to The Unicorn and has the obviously winning formula of serving muffins and not barms. (The Gabbotts farm shop is also close enough to be firmly on the snack radar but their fayre provokes mixed reactions amongst my usual Unicorn companions).
Whichever way you go, the first pint in The Unicorn always works best when poured into a stomach well-stocked with provisions from either. It’s Church St / High St. location is also handy for the tram to Old Trafford, the bus to Gigg Lane, the Affleck’s Ladbroke’s. It is also only round the corner from Oi Polloi and just a short walk through the beard-blocked pavements of faux-boho café society to the back-door of The Hare and Hounds.
One of its pleasures is that it’s a time-warp pub, one where you can pop-in for a pint and still be there 3 hours later – to be fair I know that goes for many pubs but the Unicorn is in the top 4 of that league. It’s the kind of pub where you can go in on your own and disappear into it for a while, supping a quiet pint with the communities within the community. There are regular groups in attendance: The stand by the back door gang; the reading the M.E.N aloud gang; the liberal crossword club; the blokes who swap videos; the ex-boot boys and the large group of Nazi-memorabilia (there table consists of 5 cardies from Littlewoods, 3 pints of mild, 2 bitters, 22 iron crosses and 9 swastikas).
It has its share of individual characters as well. There’s the chatty barman who can’t pull a pint but entertains like Brendan Rodgers doing his best David Brent; The bloke who looks like a UVF foot-soldier who always sits on a stool near the front door (he could be a bouncer but I don’t know because it’s not a pub where people need bouncing) and there’s the fella who is always washing his white rabbit in the sink of the gents. It’s people that make a great pub a great pub.
I was in recently when two of the regulars took a table near mine. Tom joined Joe who’d been sat there for a while and let-on with a cheery “Hello”. Joe responded with a hello of his own then they sat there in silence for a good 10 minutes before Tom moved to get up, causing Joe to break the silence.
“Where you going Tom?”
“Nipping for a piss Joe”.
“Great stuff…I’ll see you when you get back”.
“Aye you will pal”.
Interest, compassion, empathy, longing and certainty…all in the one brief conversation. It’s the essence of the Unicorn.