You don’t need us to tell you that Manchester is booming. Rocking. Swinging off its own hinges. After decades of offering itchy, scratchy fun with one of the best gay scenes and rock scenes and general scenes anywhere in the world, it never had more than one decent hotel and plenty of indecent ones but now, as Martine McCutcheon once said, it’s having its moment, its perfect moment (OK, we’re paraphrasing, work with us).
Skyscrapers are going up all over town – however you feel about that – and restaurants are getting fancier and fancier and cooler and cooler and of course they’ve had all the right Selfridges and Harvey Nichols for donkey’s years now. But finally there is a choice of great hotels, from the very grand to the very edgy. Latest among them is the more edgy than grand but in a totally grand way The Alan.
Right there on Princess Street (which sounds like Princes Street when you say it), it’s exactly where you want it to be. The gay scene around Canal Street is two minutes walk in one direction, the Manchester Art Gallery is so across the road it’s all we can see from the window of our room and the whole shopping area and Northern Quarter, with its cool bars and restaurants – even Piccadilly Station! – are within easy walking distance. The Manchester Pride Parade goes right by the front door and there are trams and even a Greggs… for those hungover mornings before breakfast.
But for all the choice in Manchester when it comes to hotels, The Alan is a bit of a first with even super-critic Jay Rayner finding it ‘truly delightful’ when he stopped by for some scran (it means ‘food’ in Northern). The first thing that sets it apart is the design, which couldn’t be any hipper if it tried, even though the essence of being hip is not trying, but you know what we mean.
Walk into the huge bare-brick atrium of the massive 6-storey Victorian warehouse and you’re already in a wonderland of sustainability. The marble floors? Actually made out of the tons of Formica found in the building from when it was the sort of indecent hotel mentioned up there. Yes, that’s a full-size tree. The rope chandeliers are recovered. But you don’t feel like you’re in a junk yard, which can be the downside of doing the right thing, environment-wise.
The bar to your left is gorgeous and sparkling with semi-circular booths for either working or drinking martinis (or working while drinking martinis) while the restaurant – the one Jay Rayner loved – is to your right and has great lighting (surely the most important thing in a restaurant, ahead of the food even), beautiful furniture and a fun, buzzy buzz. But more of what goes on in there later.
And we should mention that as you walk in, there’s no stuffy old reception to go up to: you’ll be greeted by someone with an iPad who’ll sit you down and sort you out. You can even check yourself in and get your key on your phone if you’re not a people person.
The daring design continues into the rooms, where the walls have been left with bare plaster (well, the pink of plaster is so on-trend) while the ceilings, painted an eau-de-nil (light green to you) are deconstructed with metal beams and pipes and air conditioning ducts left exposed. The lighting again is gorgeous, the bathrooms deconstructed and often open-plan and the furniture squeezably funky: we have a huge sofa and a deco-looking chair on a swivel so you can look into the room or out of the little corner window at the art gallery.
Back downstairs and we reckon we’ll have a martini before dinner. The people employed in The Alan are not your regular hospitality crew but local people who are being trained up, which means all that famous Manchester cheekiness is on full display. ‘I don’t know how to make a martini,’ says the gorgeous barmaid. ‘But I’m going to find out.’ Minutes later a perfect (and quite large!) martini sits before us, so big we have to take it over to the restaurant.
We’ve already had a preview of what’s on offer in here as the menu is projected on the wall by the lifts and we’re not disappointed. The theme of sustainability is continued with local seasonal ingredients and a menu that takes you all over the world: baba ganoush, anchovies with Amalfi lemon, goosnargh chicken (we have no idea), salt-baked celeriac with the hotel’s northern heritage reflected in the free-range, grass-fed Barnsley chops and pork from Packlington. The lamb fat cabbage is a particular hit. All this prepared by chefs who, if you sit up at the kitchen-view bar, are quite happy to joke with you as they go.
Manchester has always been about its people, who are funny and cheeky and irreverent and, well, camp, and by finding the exact right people, this gorgeous modern masterpiece has put the ultimate finishing touch to what was already a sparkling success story.