80 Oxford Rd, Manchester M1 5NH
Just on the tip of where Oxford Road leads into the city of Manchester, there lies Grand Central. It’s one of the city’s few and far between rock bars and somehow it suits, both in terms of its location and its unpretentious exclusivity. On first impressions, you might not be too excited by Grand Central, but spend awhile and you uncover some of its finer qualities, many of which you’d struggle to find in a city that continues to climb up its own anus with seemingly every passing day.
In its current form, Grand Central has been in Manchester for 17 years. When Gilly’s bar was the go-to place in Manchester, there was an understood term amongst Manchester’s mods and rockers; ‘GC before Gilly’s’.
Grand Central is without pretence a no frills place when it comes to drinks. You’ll find your standards including Fosters, Kronenburg, Jim Beam White Label, Bushmills, Jameson and Jack along with some Trooper and Hobgoblin for good measure. If there’s one area that Grand Central could vastly improve, it’s by featuring guest beers, particularly local grown. There is a current desire for local beers in Manchester and its one that is sadly missed here and would be most welcome.
Grand Central is a proud, unassuming place that is untouched by both the hipster swarms from just up the road and the modern, super clean student halls in the other direction. The chairs and tables are seemingly unchanged from the day it opened, worn and worn into the surface, speckle-stained tables as reliable as they were on day one with the strong whiff of chips and spilt beer. Blue and off-white floors merge into carpet and linoleum giving it a feel of being unfinished more in a ‘this shit’s going to get fucked up anyway’ sense than one for a lack of care. Finally, 50p pool. According to management, you’ll find no cheaper in the whole of Manchester.
I’m told getting established live acts is never an issue for Grand Central due to their notoriety as one of Manchester’s more famed rock venues. Live bands have played at Grand Central for over 10+ years until recently. In fact, it is an almost the perfect middle ground between Manchester’s Ritz, Academy and Gorilla venues. Plus, it’s directly below the train station which brings many a rocker from the countryside. For these reasons, Grand Central became somewhat legendary as a pre-gig gig venue. Now management are looking at bringing back live acts and will host a new night called ‘Thursday Nights Alive’.
Some of the booked bands include reputable local acts like Cryptic Shift, Sinnergod, Rammage Inc, Bloodyard and deVience, whose lead singer starred in the recently finished Bat Out of Hell musical, so you can expect some serious quality and some serious vocal workouts.
It surprised this long-time casual patron to find out that Grand Central has quite the history too. It has a disused subway tunnel as well as a disused bar below. Sadly, it has gone to wrack and ruin since its heady days but the remnants remain- dusty but still full of character which will hopefully be one day resurrected.
For now, the space is being rented out for an upcoming feature from Shane Meadows and I can see why. The old tunnel is dark and filled with bar stools and nigh-on-impossible to see down. But you can imagine the people streaming down there from the train station above for a sneaky drink underground. On the walls, you can still read old cocktail recipes as well as the very last lineup for band practice in the corner. The rest of the area I have been sworn to secrecy by the manager about but when we say this is a bar for rock and metal people, we mean it.
Clientèle has varied over the years; rockers visiting the city, those who reside here and including everyone from Sabaton, Maiden, Accept and Municipal Waste. Blaze Bailey holds all his launch parties at GC and Shaun Ryder of Happy Monday’s fame has been something of a regular.
Rumours of Grand Central being a brothel and being haunted never seem to go away. Interestingly, they’ve never tried to stave off these rumours and, if anything, have encouraged them. Danny Daemon, the manager, has never reportedly seen anything himself while living upstairs but has seen many a pint randomly fall off the bar without a happy drunk in sight. As for the brothel, he doubts his girlfriend would be very happy if that were found to be true.
The photo wall of regulars from times gone by gives weight to the feel you’ve received from Grand Central a few moments after you’ve walked through the door; this is a place where the rock and metal world resides as a community. The people talk freely to each other without pretence, gathering around the bar to do so; some with long biker beards and indecipherable band logos rippling across their huge chests, others looking more skinny and awkward. They all add to that ambience.
This is further exemplified by the jukebox that is not only churning out the classics (Motörhead, Maiden, Sabbath and even some classic Funkadelic for equal measure) but it is also filled with local acts who have performed and have been added over time. If you can play, have songs and give it your all, they’ll have a stage and a home for the night for you.
The manager Danny is a member of prog metal band Prognosis along with his fellow bartender for the evening. He told me that while playing Bloodstock this year, during the interviews, it was mentioned time-and-time again how Manchester is the current epi-centre of rock and metal in the UK. If this is the case, Grand Central would be the Inn in which you raise your glasses and rest your weary head at the end of the night. Having poured us a needed drink after we’d sunk into Grand Central’s inevitable, simple charm, Danny’s told us, under no uncertain terms: “Rock and metal ain’t going nowhere. Not under my watch.”
Apparently Manchester is the current epi-center of rock and metal in the UK. If this is the case, Grand Central would be the Inn in which you raise your glasses and rest your weary head at the end of the night only let down by a lack of variety in drinks.