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Sober Life
by Sinclair Newton



Sober Life

When it comes to drinking, the Mancunians who inundate Ibiza are no slouches when they are at home.

It is six years since the IRA did Manchester a monumental favour by blowing it up.

Two thousand tons of fertiliser was exploded on a truck outside where there used to be a pub called The Sefton, which Gary will remember, which had wooden, revolving doors and Wilson's bitter for two shillings a pint.

It cleared the way for a gigantic development of drinking in the city with the injection of millions and millions of good old UK pounds from Europe, from Government and from the local authority. There was the insurance money, too, which is always good for a bender.

Then the commercial speculators moved in. Apartments for a million pounds are becoming commonplace and there's talk of the first £2 million penthouse. All the major hotel groups are included, including Rocco Forte's new five-star Lowry Hotel on the seedy side of the Irwell.

The poor old Daily Mail building on Deansgate, looking like Superman's Daily Planet, is next to go to make way for a five-star conference and banqueting place.

And there's the renamed Manchester Evening News Arena, described by U2s Bono last week as the best indoor venue in the country.

But it is at the former home of the Daily Mirror, Thomson and then Maxwell House, that the most dramatic, drink-sodden alterations have been wreaked.

Here Hard Rock Café meets Wagamama, this latter by the way being a minimalist noodle bar where you can slurp your way through gargantuan bowls of miso ramen - spiced soup with thread noodles and stir-fried chicken, carrots, leek, garlic and beansprouts, garnished with wakame, menma and sesame seeds. It's delicious and entertaining and so are the side dishes of grilled dumplings (they looked fried to me) filled with cabbage, Chinese leaf, Chinese chives and water chestnut.

Ramen shops have been popular in Japan for two centuries, basically selling Chinese food as the Japanese would have it. There are three kinds of bottled Japanese beer to go with it all. It costs about 4,000 pesetas for lunch for two. Wagamama means wayward child.

Hard Rock, with giant, illuminated guitar all along the outside, is about beer and burgers. It is suitably adorned with Jimmi Hendrix's braces and Madonna's jacket amongst a plethora of rock memorabilia. There's a neat little exhibit by the door to the Gents: a postcard from John and Yoko in New York addressed to "Everyone at Apple" and with a doodle or two.

The new city centre apartment owners - there could be 100,000 inner-city residents in time - need watering holes like a camel needs an oasis and two bricks.

And so inside what is now called The Printworks, complete with the original road through to Withy Grove where they brought the rolls of newsprint in, there are at least half a dozen themed bars. Norwegian vodka, pints of lager, bottles of alcopops…It's all here to be drunk, usually standing up. They say they will be able to get 40,000 young people in here each night at weekends and there's no integrated transport to get them home.

A senior police officer recently told a big alcohol and crime conference in Manchester that it all added up to a lot of vomit, violence, broken glass and sex that would be regretted the next day.

I think I sound a bit like those people who protest that there is a quiet serenity about Ibiza if only you look for it. Manchester has museums and theatres and the world's finest collection of pre-Raphaelite paintings, which will be on show in the extended art gallery when it reopens in time for the Commonwealth Games in a year. And the city centre has new parks where you can take your ciabatta wraps at lunchtime.

But what the trainee designers of nancy-boy websites and the budding accountants and the preening footballers and the Armani-suited young lawyers want is somewhere for a drink and there's going to be plenty more of them as the year goes on.

Sinclair Newton