One of the most exciting things about living in Manchester is seeing previously unloved locations transformed into shimmering, tempting oases where one may eat nice things, and drink pretty things from a fancy glass, and talk with lovely, like-minded Mancunians who are all equally pleased to have another section of their fair city made enticingly inviting. I think it's fair to say that when the Great Northern Railway goods warehouse was first converted to a leisure complex a few years back, it was at best ignored and at worst deliberately avoided - a slightly soulless space reserved purely for those wishing to park their cars or run on a treadmill in the gym (and it will surprise you little to know that I am not one of these people), with the rest of us merely scurrying past on our way elsewhere.
Now though, I find myself spending an increasing amount of time in this part of town; indeed, deliberately seeking it out. Here's why:
1. When it's sunny, the Summer Cider Garden sets up outside, and sells you passionfruit Rekorderlig that tastes like pop. They have now been joined by Almost Famous and Penelope's Icecream for the summer Beach Club - and as the Famous building burnt down yesterday, it is actually our moral duty to support them by eating burgers with them as often as possible in their new pop-up.
2. When my friend and I recently went to see The Great Gatsby at the AMC, it cost us £4.50. True, it was a Sunday morning, but still - this exciting saving was later redeployed in the purchasing of celebratory Prosecco at the nearby Mark Addy.
3. A new bowling alley, All Star Lanes, has opened to pretty rave reviews. I have never bowled - and quite frankly don't fancy putting my feet in those funny shoes - but those in the know like it, and say the cocktails are good, and the chef there is a mate of Simon Stanley's and therefore must know what he's doing. Rihanna went there recently, but don't let that put you off.
4. And finally, Manchester235 is much, much more than just a casino. We've been impressed with the food and the service on the couple of occasions we've eaten at Linen, which is a pretty classy restaurant and worthy as a desination in its own right - it can be accessed separately from the casino and you don't have to be a member. Now the bar at Manchester235 has been given a sexy overhaul and is most desirable as well, as myself and Liquor Chick discovered when we went to the launch night last Thursday (along with most of Manchester, it seems). Formerly known as Fusion Bar, the new Vega Lounge promises to be "a new Northern Star" and looks at first glance to be more than capable of fulfilling this bold claim - the bar itself is sleeker, and larger, and sexier in a space-age sort of way, and the new leather-seated booths are worrying comfortable (I made Liquor Chick sit on the outside of the booth, all the better for claiming it was easier for her to go to the bar than me). Even better, one of the main advantages of a casino bar is the opening hours - you could, in theory, remain in one of these booths from 12 noon until 6am, should you have the stamina of an ox (a THIRSTY ox).
Still, opening hours don't matter if the cocktails aren't tempting, and luckily they are. They've gone for a casino theme with some of their signature drinks which - to be honest - I thought looked a little contrived when I read the initial press brief; however, you'd have to be a stronger person than I not to fall for the £15 Poker Face: a sharing drink which offers two fruity, foamy martinis along with two shots of champagne and two exuberant feathers which I wished to wear in my hair but was not allowed.
We also tried The Vault, a show-stopping, giant contraption that arrived at table carried by two gorgeous girls with deceptively strong upper arms and with two bottles of champagne poking seductively out the top. The fuse was lit; the smoke (well, dry ice) rolled; and pretty much the whole bar gathered round to look. What was the point of all of this? No idea, but I liked it - and it normally comes with your choice of sharer cocktail rather than champagne, so will presumably look a little different and may make perfect sense.
Finally, we tried the Shot Roulette - the world's cutest mini roulette wheel with artfully arranged shot glasses round the edge. The premise is simple - you spin the wheel and drink whatever shot corresponds with the number that comes up; however, one of them is a bogus shot, a hidden evil presence lurking amongst the good stuff. I won't spoil the surprise, but suffice to say that Liquor Chick "won" it, and drank it, and has been regarded with a mixture of new respect and bewilderment ever since.
If this all sounds a bit gimmicky, then that's because it is - but it doesn't make it any the less fun. If you're not tempted by such gambling-based giddiness then a full menu of reasonably-priced drinks and cocktails is available, several of which I have already got my eye on - you can see the full list here via the link at the bottom of the page.
Apparently the party went on into the small hours - I left Liquor Chick making faces with the City Life girls and made my way home doing my best Poker Face on the bus and thinking sadly of all the glamour I'd left behind. Still, it's not as if I won't be back to this really very nice part of town to see what else The Great Northern has to offer...
- The Great Northern Complex can be found at 235 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 4EN.