• Image about Manchester
Dry Bar, which is over 20 years old and is located in the Northern Quarter, the local color of which is evident in this wall mural
Howard Barlow/Alamy

I finally land at the Hare & Hounds, a traditional pub, blue-tiled entrance, dark woods, barmaids drawing draft beer in a two-story building that dates back to 1743.

If You Go...
Manchester United FC
Old Trafford (the home stadium for Manchester United)Sir Matt Busby Way, Old Trafford, Manchester
Tickets: Visit Website
Tours: Visit Website

Manchester City FC
Etihad Stadium
Sportcity, Manchester
Tickets: Visit Website
Tours: Visit Website

The Bishop Blaize
708 Chester Road
Stretford, Manchester
Visit Website

Mother Mac’s
33 Back Piccadilly
Visit Website

The Hare & Hounds
46 ShudehillGreater Manchester

8 Thomas St.
Visit Website

The Dry Bar
28-30 Oldham St.City Centre, Manchester

Manchester Visitor Information Centre
Piccadilly Plaza
Portland St.
Visit Website

Piccadilly Gardens
Visit Website

Manchester Town HallAlbert Square
Visit Website

Chetham’s Library
Long Millgate, M3 1SB
Visit Website

Midland Hotel
16 Peter St.
Visit Website

Manchester Music Tours
Visit Website

FAC251: The Factory
112-118 Princess St.
Visit Website

The crowd is much quieter than the one at Bishop Blaize, also much older. I strike up a conversation with Joseph, a short, balding gent who repeatedly tells me how much he loves America and candidly admits he’s been drinking most of the day. But I put the question to him anyway: “Why do you think Mancunians have such pride in their city?”

“We are who we are,” he advises.

“You mean unpretentious, proud of your working-class roots.”
He polishes off the rest of his pint and then slowly repeats, “We are who we are.”

The next day, intrigued by Joseph’s existentialism and no longer wanting to walk in circles, I ground myself in a walking tour offered at the Manchester Visitor Information Centre near Piccadilly Gardens, one of the few green spaces in the city center. The gardens aren’t much, really, though Mancs are quick to point out their city is the gateway to the rolling English countryside of the Peak District (think Wuthering Heights) and the unsurpassed natural beauty of the Lake District.

Briefly, I wander around the visitor center, noticing that the souvenirs for sale — ­T-shirts, tote bags, coffee mugs — are inscribed with quotes from notable Mancunians: “We do things differently here.” … “And on the Sixth Day God Created ­MANchester” … “A City That Thinks a Table Is for Dancing.” I realize that cities, like corporations, need to brand themselves — I (Heart) NY, the Second City — but Manchester markets itself based on how different it is, going out of its way to flaunt its originality. Manchester doesn’t just host an arts festival; it’s got to be a festival that commissions all original, new work — as does the critically acclaimed Manchester International Festival.

“We have always been a radical city,” says one tour guide working inside the visitor center. “We don’t care what you are doing. We tend to lead.” In Manchester, Karl Marx met Friedrich Engels at Chetham’s Library, which led to their writing the Communist Manifesto; Charles Rolls met Henry Royce at the stately Midland Hotel, which led to their motorcar partnership, and indie music met house music at the Hacienda, which led to the ecstasy-induced dance-till-you-drop rave scene known as Madchester.

“There is a tenacity to the people,” a second guide tells me. “We just get on with things.”
This becomes evident after Suzanne Hindle, a “professional qualified tour guide” who is board certified in pub crawling, begins our walking tour. We move quickly — in the rain, of course — to the Northern Quarter, the creative pulse of the city. Fifteen years ago, it might be uninspiring to walk certain streets here, since buildings had fallen into disrepair.­ The Northern ­Quarter’s gentrification­ into upscale flats and hip, independent shops followed Manchester’s overall renaissance as the city struggled to renew itself after the postwar decline of its manufacturing base.

Before leaving the Northern Quarter, Hindle points out the sculpted impression of a bee on a city marker. The bee is the city symbol, adopted because of its industrious nature, she says. Mancunians share that same nature.

We end our tour in Chinatown, which gives Hindle the opportunity to speak about the ethnic diversity found in Manchester, its historic openness to immigration and its acceptance of sexual diversity, which is celebrated in the section of the city known as Gay Village, with its trendy bars, restaurants and clubs. Each August, the LGBT community stages a 10-day Manchester Pride festival, which in 2011 was attended by an estimated 40,000 revelers from around the globe.
This Mancunian tenacity toward tolerance reminds me of the simple wisdom proclaimed the night before by Joseph: “We are who we are.”