Monday, 20 April 2009

Night half-life


There has been a lot of discussion in the local CAMRA branch recently about how moribund Stockport’s “night-time economy” is. It seems as though, if people want a good night out, they head off to Manchester rather than remaining in the town. There is the tacky nightclub near the station, but even there in the “Grand Central” complex we have seen Fatty Arbuckle’s and Burger King close in recent years. The once-vibrant Market Place scene seems to have died on its feet, and Sam’s Bar is closed and boarded. There is a remarkable dearth of restaurants of any kind beyond McDonald’s in central Stockport – how come it can’t support a Pizza Express when much smaller Cheadle manages to?

The rest of the town centre away from Grand Central is usually very quiet, even on weekend nights. Some pubs such as the Crown, Arden and Railway do well, but in general it is a deadhole. This was a point reinforced by a recent crawl of pubs on the fringe of the town centre, where we came across two (perfectly decent) pubs that were largely empty between 9 and 10 on a Friday night. The smoking ban doesn’t help, of course, but that isn’t a good sign. Little Underbank, right at the heart of the town, was eeriely deserted at 10 pm.

One major reason for this must be the effective banning of traffic in the town centre streets. Pedestrianised streets may work during normal shopping hours, but in the evening they turn an area into a dead zone. If the dreaded rising bollards on Underbank were permanently retracted after 4 pm, and traffic was allowed along Princes Street after 6 pm, I’m sure it would make a big difference. However, you have to be careful what you wish for, as inevitably a revitalisation of night-time Stockport would lead to the spread of chain bars and takeaways.

Rather than this, maybe what Stockport needs to do is to promote its unparalleled collection of high-quality traditional pubs rather than just trying to ape every other town centre. “Stockport – the civilised night out” might not be too bad a slogan.

7 comments:

  1. I think you're right. Stockport is a great drinking spot and needs to promote itself more. When I take people there, they're amazed at the number of decent pubs in the centre.

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  2. I don't know Stockport, but having visited Stevenage, I think I can understand your thinking.

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  3. Stockport couldn't be any more different from Stevenage, really – it's an old-established industrial town built on either side of the steeply-sloping valley of the Mersey, which retains a historic core around the market place and the narrow streets known as the Underbanks. I've added a picture of Little Underbank showing the bridge that carries St Petersgate over it.

    The "problem", if it is a problem, is that most of Manchester's other major satellite towns have a lively, even rowdy, "night-time economy" and Stockport quite conspicuously doesn't. Probably it's sufficiently close to Manchester that people wanting a night out head there rather than staying in the town. As a middle-aged pubgoing bloke I'm not really too worried about this, and, as I said in the post, I'd prefer the council to capitalise on Stockport's strengths rather than aping its neighbours and heading downmarket.

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  4. I worked in London when grand central was open and popular in the 90’s. When the train home on a Friday was late the cab rank turned from commuters to drunks. I saw a fight there every time I was unfortunate to arrive back in Stocky late. When the grand central bar and the heaven and hell night club closed, Branigans remained open. I left Stockport cinema at around 11:30 with a girl I was dating and she suggested a late drink before heading home. Branigans was open, was near and I was uncertain how late better places were open. We discovered 2 fat ladies fighting outside with the bouncers looking on. Lots of hair pulling. We turned around and scooted. Took her to the Didsbury flicks next time, and steered clear of Grand Central until a mate told me it had improved. The Grand Central complex, when the bars were open, was a dump. It started off rough and got rougher as more gentle folk steered clear. Now with only a cinema, bowling area, swimming baths and pizza hut at least its something for the kids, and the kids don’t have to step over blood and vomit on a Sunday morning. The sad fact is that the night time economy in the many satellite towns of the North is rough. Shaven headed, tattooed hooligans looking for a fight and drunken lairy women screaming and pulling each others hair. The effect of revitalizing the night time economy in Stockport will be to scare off all the good decent folks that frequent the good decent traditional pubs. Be careful what you wish for.

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  5. Martin, Cambridge22 April 2009 at 23:36

    Excellent points.

    I used to live near Stevenage, which may explain why I need to make regular trips to Stockport and surrounds to get my good pub fix.

    I've been struck by how quiet the town centre is in the evening, and this must affect beer quality outide the higher volume weekend period.

    My wife was impressed by Stockport too when the family visited over Easter, but we really struggled to get something to eat on the Sunday. The very good cafe next to the Tourist centre was all we found open. The tourist information is comprehensive but seems to assume you'd go to a pub near Marple.

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  6. The Arden Arms serves food on Sunday lunchtime, as does the Wetherspoon's (The Calvert's Court). Plus there's always the likes of McDonald's and Pizza Hut.

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  7. Thanks Curmudgeon - I should have tried the Arden. Incidentally, I spectacularly failed to find the Nursery in Heaton Norris which would have been first choice and is a great advert for traditional Stockport pubs.

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