I return to the Northern Quarter to drink a beer at the Dry Bar, which was opened in 1989 by Tony Wilson, co-owner of the Hacienda nightclub and the Factory Records label, who, until his death in 2007, was known as Mr. Manchester for his ceaseless promotion of the city. Wilson intended to give bands a quiet place to relax before performing. But the Dry Bar wasn’t always quiet. Shaun Ryder of Happy Mondays and Liam Gallagher of Oasis have on occasion been banned from the premises. And behind the bar is a mirror, shattered when Ryder allegedly took a shot at Wilson. Though the incident is largely the stuff of legend, the broken mirror remains a tourist attraction for those in search of Manchester’s musical heritage.
Much like the indulgences of the Madchester era, “everything about the bar was over the top,” says manager Ciárin Dwyer. “South African slate floors, Japanese oak doors, blue galvanized brick.” The venture was financed by the success of New Order, he says, which is how the Hacienda was funded as well. But the Hacienda never made any money, undone by drugs, gangs, guns and bad management. It was, however, iconic in its influence, serving as a launching pad for Manchester bands and putting the city on the map as a pop-culture capital.
“So is it the music that makes Mancs so crazy-proud for their city?” I ask.
That’s part of it, Dwyer says, but for him it’s more about competition. “With London being so dominant in the U.K.,” he says, “Manchester has to play off its strengths [like the music scene] and shout loud about them to overcome everyone’s idea that there’s nothing more to England than London.”
Two pints later, I settle up with the barmaid and leave money for a tip. Only she refuses it, says it’s not necessary — a first in all my years as an avid consumer of food and beverage. The next night, I mention this incident at a pub and am told that Mancs have an awkward relationship with tipping. “It’s not a given like it is in the States,” one woman says. “A tip’s got to be earned.” I think of the worker bee, the symbol of an innovative, ambitious people. I get it.
I’m running late to a meeting with Craig Gill, the former drummer of Inspiral Carpets, an influential band that played the Hacienda during the Madchester period. We sit down at Trof, a popular pub in the Northern Quarter, chatting about his current gig as host of Manchester Music Tours. He presents guided tours of landmarks synonymous with the Manchester music scene, from the Hacienda, torn down and replaced with an apartment complex, to the Factory Records offices, which former New Order bassist Peter Hook has transformed into FAC251: The Factory, one of the hottest nightclubs in Manchester.
Despite being a peddler of Madchester nostalgia, Gill insists that Mancs are still radicals who “look forward” rather than back. He then ticks off the names of several bands who are currently reinventing the music scene in Manchester — Delphic, Egyptian Hip Hop, the Courteneers, Everything Everything — bands who are breaking out of their regional moorings and jockeying to become the next big thing.
“Do you have to be part of the music scene to take pride in it?” I ask. “Or do all Mancs feel this way?”
“No, it’s actually ingrained in you,” Gill says. “There’s an old saying in Manchester: ‘Don’t trust anyone who doesn’t like music or football.’ ”