In between the prosaic crapness of Market Street – Five Guys wrappers bobbing in the breeze, Primark onesies sparking up in the sun – and the proper salubrious King Street, where Real Housewives of Cheshire pound the scrubbed cobbles in their Manolo Blahniks, is a wedge of forgotten, grand old Manchester.
There was a Pizza Express knocking about, when Pizza Express meant something – especially if you were too intimidated by The Restaurant Bar & Grill on John Dalton Street back when Posh & Becks went there so The Restaurant Bar & Grill actually meant something. But not much else worth bothering with. Dusty unloved offices, the odd underground gotta-be-in-the-know bar, crumbling Victoriana and Edwardiana and probably some other –ana. Silly, bearing in mind just how slap bang in the middle of everything it all is. Until, that is, Stock Exchange Hotel came along, pummelling this no-man’s land with so much glamour it’s gone and knocked Manchester’s socks right off.
Taking over the old Northern Stock Exchange (Grade II-listed so you know it’s got the looks and the clout) the namesake hotel has heralded a new level of luxury for this northern powerhouse of a city. For starters, it was the first hotel in the UK to be accepted into the Relais & Chateaux family before actually opening. Secondly, the level of razzle-dazzle is extraordinary. Thirdly and so on, the people behind it are Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs, football superstars and tireless champions of everything Manchester.
The buzz was kicking around for quite some time, in most part because of this stellar cast behind it; Gary and Ryan, Class of ’92, the band of Manchester United brothers that also included David Beckham. Best mates since their United days, they now own a whopper of a property business focussing on projects in their beloved hometown, and this is their most ambitious, show-stopping to date (until that controversial skyscraper of theirs breaks ground behind Manchester’s glorious Town Hall, that is).
‘We’re trying to reach a higher level,’ Gary tells me, giddier than your average kipper, during a hard-hat tour a few weeks before Stock Exchange opened in November. ‘And we absolutely adore our city so we want to create (a hotel) that moves things on a little bit.’
And, as fate and this review would have it, that’s just what they’ve done. I might’ve gasped when I eventually saw the finished thing, walking from a buggery cold day through Stock Exchange’s heaving doors into an early-20th century palace of shining marble, reclaimed woods, gleaming lacquers, touch-me wallpapers, fabrics in all the rich greens, and… what is that gorgeous scent everywhere? The lush attention to detail – Gary was faffing over a plug socket the last time I was here – is pretty remarkable.
As is the immediate pitch-perfect service; five star, but with a bit of cheek thrown in. This is Manchester after all. Check-in is done through there, inside an antechamber where you sip ginger tea and nibble daily-made pastries while they punch in a few things out of sight. Then it’s up to your room – take the insanely beautiful, twisting staircase if your bums and tums are up to it – of which there are 40, no two the same, and every single one just so damn classy, modern-classic classy.
And Gary also did a very clever thing and persuade Michelin-heavy Tom Kerridge to do the restaurant, The Bull & Bear, where it’s British classics and-then-some inside the former trading hall, with its imposing dome and there, in the middle, a headless sculpture called Superdude by Beth Cullen-Kerridge (Tom’s wife). There are even tellies on the walls – always playing sport – which is a tad incongruous. But it totally works. Takes the edge off all the fancy. There was even a famous footballer kicking back in one of the (huge!) booths while we were having dinner – Manchester City, no nonsense – because of course there was. The Corrie lot probably can’t get a look-in.
Stock Exchange is the sort of place you end up with when you’ve got a passion project on your hands. You can see the pride in every square inch. The staff are so lovely you wonder if they’re after something and, rumour has it, a famous northerner has forked out a ton of money to take over the superstar penthouse up top, he’s that smitten. I mean, we’re totally head over heels. And seriously, Gary loves it so much you’ll probably see him propping up the bar.