Travel Story Style by the mile as Manchester finds its vibe

Photo of Steve McKenna

Manchester is reconnecting with its industrial roots, with the chic Northern Quarter leading the way.

Over the past decade or so, Manchester's Northern Quarter has emerged as one of Britain’s most vibrant urban neighbourhoods, with its old Victorian mills, market buildings and warehouses converted into a raft of trendy places in which to eat, drink, shop and play. 

There hasn’t, however, been much in the way of boutique hotels that reflect the creative, quirky vibe of a district perched on the north-eastern edge of the city centre. But that’s all changed with the long-awaited unveiling of Cow Hollow Hotel. 

More than four years in the planning, this impressive — and highly Instagrammable — venture features a fetching mix of artisan furniture, restored period fittings, colourful contemporary art and antique materials plucked from reclamation suppliers and vintage shops. Owners Muj and Amelia Rana worked in banking and marketing in Hong Kong before returning to Manchester. And when you set foot into Cow Hollow’s cosy reception-cocktail bar (pictured above), there’s something of a tropical Asian aura with whirring wooden ceiling fans, flowery fabrics and potted vegetation that is artificial but looks lush and real enough. 

Muj tells me he took inspiration from some of his favourite Asian hotels, including Hanoi’s Metropole and Raffles in Singapore. 

Cow Hollow’s 16 rooms occupy three floors of this formerly dilapidated textile warehouse, with the hotel named after the district of San Francisco in which the couple first holidayed together. 

Spanning 14sqm-22sqm, all rooms come with Hypnos king-size beds, goose-down sheets, high ceilings and nice touches such as exposed brick walls, oak floorboards and HD TVs with Netflix. 

Room 11 is particularly appealing, with original iron fittings that helped haul textiles up and down the building, and if you fling open the old double lift doors, you’ll find the shower room and toilet, with bronze and porcelain flourishes, plus a high-tech light-up make-up mirror. 

This room is at the hotel’s quieter, shaded alley side but if you’d prefer to be at the front, with more light streaming through the handmade sash windows, try making a request for room 12, which overlooks Newton Street, one of the Northern Quarter’s bustling arteries. 

Guests get breakfast in bed, such as granola, yoghurts, pastries, juices and hot drinks, whether it be English breakfast tea or an espresso-style coffee. 

If you fancy something more, there are plenty of eateries nearby, including Mackie Mayor, a gloriously refurbished food hall in a one-time Victorian meat market. 

It buzzes all week, for breakfast/brunch, lunch and dinner, with vendors offering a variety of dishes packed with regionally sourced ingredients. I have the pork-belly filled bao (Asian-style steamed bun) from Baohouse. Although quite small, it’s absolutely delicious. 

In another of Manchester’s multi-choice dining hubs, I find an alternative new accommodation option: Roomzzz Manchester City Corn Exchange. Facing the huge Arndale mall and Selfridges, in the heart of the city-centre’s shopping core, this grandiose building dates back to 1837 and now bills itself as “a world of flavour under one roof”, with bars and restaurants serving everything from Indian and Mexican to Brazilian and British. 

Beside Salvi’s, a family-run Italian affair, I find the entrance for Roomzzz, which has 114 apartments and suites scattered throughout the Corn Exchange. Beautiful original architecture graces the public areas, such as glazed tiled walls, mosaic flooring and decorative metal stairs. 

My cosy studio apartment (room: 237) is kitted out with a designer kitchen, king-size bed and looks out on to the ski-slope shaped National Football Museum, one of the glossy 21st century additions to Manchester’s fast-changing skyline. 

Another is 20 Stories, Manchester’s highest restaurant, which recently opened at the top of No. 1 Spinningfields, the newest skyscraper to soar in the main financial district. As well as a covered rooftop bar and terrace, there’s a plush restaurant — and private dining room — with stunning panoramic views. 

Overseen by Aiden Byrne, who was the youngest British chef to attain a Michelin star, 20 Stories is, perhaps not surprisingly, one of Manchester’s pricier venues, though you don’t have to be a millionaire Manchester United or City footballer or TV soap star to afford it, especially on weekday lunchtimes, when a three-course menu, priced £27 ($49), is popular with local office workers, shoppers and tourists looking to treat themselves.

In between servings — a succulent pork starter with mussels and smoked apple puree; rump beef rib with truffle mash and wild garlic, then a fruity Manchester tart — I glance out at the construction cranes and shiny glass high-rises that loom over long-time Mancunian landmarks such as the neo-Gothic town hall and all those mighty mills and warehouses. 

At ground level, there’s a palpable sense that Manchester is booming once more — a bit like it was in the 18th and 19th centuries, when it was the world’s first industrial city. Surveying it from this lofty, swanky establishment only enhances the feeling that it’s very much on the up again

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Disclaimer

Steve McKenna was a guest of Visit Britain, Marketing Manchester and 20 Stories. They have not seen or approved this story.

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