Manchester’s hipster Northern Quarter: Afflecks & Cyberdog! Goth punk shopping, modern British restaurants.
When I announced I was traveling to Manchester, I received a lot of messages that said, “You must visit Afflecks!” To my surprise, there’s an alternative fashion palace in the city’s Northern Quarter, with several floors dedicated to Goth, retro, pin-up, rave, you name it.
I say we take a tour of this hip district, followed by a round-up of Manchester restaurants that shattered my expectations of “bland British cuisine.”
That day, I went for a “cat in the hat” look. My sweater is Sex Pot Revenge, and my striped hat is Super Lovers (both are Japanese punk labels). My spooky patterened pants are by Killstar (they make a mean studded rocker jacket too).
“Guilt and Punishment” — gotta love Tokyo clothing that gets a bit lost in translation! (Photography by Joey Wong, at The Light Aparthotel.)
I buy a lot of my clothes in Japan, since it can be hard to find creative Goth/alt/punk clothes in local stores. Manchester residents are lucky: they have an entire building dedicated to edgy street style!
Afflecks Palace has everything a spooky kid needs to survive. I passed by tattoo parlors, experimental hair salons, a poetry slam theater, candy store, and dozens of edgy clothing boutiques.
Address: 52 Church Street, Manchester, England
Outside, there are mosaics that represent notable Manchester musicians, artists, comedians and other luminaries. On the right: a tiled tribute to Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album.
(More details on my Joy Division music tour, which included a trip to Ian Curtis’ graveyard.)
I recommend going through each floor of the building (there are 5 or 6), and browsing the independent shops inside. If you’re into fringe fashion, there will undoubtedly be something that catches your eye.
This neighborhood is wonderful for street style snaps. On the steps of Afflecks, I saw two emo teenagers. Inside, Joey took this photo of Lazuli, a local “singer, seamonster, sequin wearer.” Isn’t her unicorn purse adorable?
Affleck’s Palace opened in 1981, offering low-rent short-term spaces that allowed alternative retailers to flourish. During the 1990s “Madchester” era, this was the place to buy tie-dyed outfits for the weekend rave.
Afflecks continues to thrive with over 70 shops inside, none of which are mainstream brands. The space retains a gritty, slightly chaotic feeling — keeping it true to its subculture roots.
If you aren’t anywhere close to Manchester, you can shop for disco fashion and more on Afflecks‘ website.
Look who’s on the ground floor of the building… Cyberdog! Since the 1990s, they’ve been the leading label for futuristic club fashion. Years ago, I went to the original Cyberdog store in Camden Market London, and was amazed by these designs.
Neon Clubwear, Cybertronic, Urban Rave… whatever you want to call it, Cyberdog’s clothing seems to come from another galaxy. Many items use florescent fabrics, UV gear and other unique details.
Joey took these photos of the storekeepers, who rock rainbow hair, harnesses, tattoos and piercings.
The Cybergoth and rave scene was a colorful time… I wonder what the future holds, in terms of new subcultures.
The entire Northern Quarter district is full of adorable vintage / retro / edgy shops. I couldn’t resist the cute store at Thunder Egg, on Oldham Street.
How sweet are their owl purses and homewares?
There’s so much creativity in the Northern Quarter. I had fun browsing the Manchester Craft and Design Centre. Dozens of local artists sell handmade crafts here, ranging from sculptures to textiles. At the entrance, there was beehive-like installation designed for taking the perfect selfie.
Outfit details: My striped punk sweater is by Sex Pot Revenge, and my leggings are Killstar – a dark brand I love.
(Below are my favorites from their latest collection. Click the thumbnails to see more.)
What a treat, to wander into different galleries and meet young artisans. We saw cute character illustrations at Ink Inc, like these singing cats.
Although this is a Victorian-era building, all of the studios here have a modern feeling. This isn’t your grandmother’s idea of crafting.
Manchester’s Craft & Design center also holds workshops, exhibitions and other free events.
Photographer Joey Wong took a closeup of my Super Lovers hat from Japan, which bears the Union Jack flag on the back!
I recommend spending at least half a day walking around the Northern Quarter.
Go down a random street, and you’ll come across spontaneous expressions of creativity. My friends and I caught the tail end of this English rock band’s performance.
The Northern Quarter has developed enormously in the past decades, with much thanks to this fellow: Tony Wilson. You may recall my stories about him from my Manchester Music Tour: he’s the charismatic owner of Factory Records who signed Joy Division and New Order. Tony opened The Dry Bar (FAC 201) in the Northern Quarter back when this area was an industrial wasteland. His club invigorated the Quarter, and led to the explosion of restaurants, shops, and hipster hangouts that exist here today.
(Above is a stencil of “Mr Manchester,” which is his nickname, by British street artist Stewy.)
Today, the Northern Quarter has a eclectic, bohemian vibe. When the stores close, their roller shutters (which secure the windows) become canvases for street art.
The Northern Quarter is lined with record shops, and indie / vintage boutiques. Many of them are on Oldham Street. (Again, I’ll take you inside in an upcoming article.)
Pay attention to the crevices, and you’ll encounter street art gems — like this Stewy stencil of Frank Sidebottom. This is a children’s singer/comedian who wore a giant, creepy paper mache head!
Manchester has been a center of music and fashion subcultures in the past decades: mod, psychedelic, punk, Goth, rave to name a few. Small clubs and bars have nights dedicated to music from these eras.
It was St George’s Day, so a few pubs were decorated with the flag of England. Notice the teal 8-bit Space Invader in the bottom right? That’s an early work by Invader, the legendary French street artist who made these characters out of tile!
We saw another Invader space-creature in an alleyway. (If you’re intrigued by the development of street art, I recommend watching Exit Through the Gift Shop, a documentary by Banksy.)
“It’s the small things”, like this evocative painting on a surprising surface, that give the Northern Quarter so much character.
Retro-inspired coffee shops and tea houses are a-plenty here. Are you surprised to see a youth district like this, in Manchester?
If so, then you’ll be amazed at the food we ate all over the city. Photographer Joey writes, “The UK often gets a bad rap for terrible food, but we were able to try all kinds of cuisines in all different environs. You can be having sushi one night, Chateaubriand another, “sticks and stones” the next, and zebra the following afternoon … all within walking distance from our penthouse in the Northern Quarter.”
Above, we had unique twists on traditional pub fare at Beef and Pudding. They serve staples like pies and mash, but the food is elevated with locally sourced ingredients. Plus, there is an immense selection of English beers and ciders to choose from. Ask nicely, and they’ll let you sample a few!
Another evening was full of twists and turns. We entered what looked like a regular office building. However, hidden on the 12th floor is Manchester House, a fine dining experience from Aiden Byrne, the youngest chef ever to receive a Michelin star.
His modern British dishes will stay in your memory, in terms of both taste and presentation. Take, for example, this decadent mousse with peas and mushroom, served in a real egg shell laid on a nest. I couldn’t believe how much flavor was packed into this tiny serving.
Our main was as Paleo Caveman as you can get. We shared the tender and beautifully seasoned Belted Galloway beef, which arrived on a plank of wood and with a horn filled with “jus” (gravy). At first, we though those were decorative stones – but they turned out to be potatoes, turned grey through some secret preparation!
Finally, the chef gave pannecotta a molecular touch. We also received a chest of macaroons, which I don’t usually like (finding them too sweet) — but Manchester House made me change my mind by infusing the flavors with blackcurrant, lemon and other fine flavors.
If you’re looking for a more straightforward but equally stunning experience, we’re huge fans of Hawksmoor. This steakhouse, located in a large historic courthouse, served some of the highest quality beef I’ve ever had. All of the day’s available cuts are marked on a board for you to choose from. Above, you’re looking at 600 grams of Chateaubriand (the thickest beef tenderloin part).
We lapped up every bit of their macaroni side dish and impeccable cocktails (their Shaky Pete’s Ginger Brew was my favorite, and comes with a fun story). Special shout out to their friendly service — I’d go back to Hawksmoor in a heartbeat.
One of my favorite meals in Manchester was at the Whitworth Gallery’s new restaurant, nicknamed Cafe in the Trees. It reopened in February 2015 following a major redevelopment, which seamlessly integrates the art gallery with the beautiful surrounding park.
We were greeted by the friendly Peter Booth, who runs the cafe with his award-winning company The Modern Caterer. The glass structure extends into the landscape, making you feel as if you’re lunching while sitting high up in a tree.
Everything in London is notoriously expensive – but fortunately, this isn’t the case in Manchester. A meal at the Whitworth’s Cafe is remarkable value, considering all the love that goes into the preparation. The photo says it all: Fresh home-baked bread with red pepper soup, salmon sandwiches, bruschetta, market salads, Earl Gray tea.
Leave room for Peter’s much-loved desserts, which are baked fresh every day. The selection is always changing, but his acclaimed brownies are a must. (After, we had a lovely time browsing The Whitworth gallery, near the University of Manchester.)
Manchester has an international population, and you can find any type of cuisine here. There’s even a long stretch called “Curry Mile,” jammed with South Asian, Indian and Middle Eastern restaurants and hangouts.
We even had Japanese food at Umezushi, located in an unusual nook under the bridge. There’s a wide selection of traditional and fusion dishes, from sushi to spider crab tempura. I couldn’t get enough of the juicy grilled hamachi (yellow tail) above!
I leave you with a close-up of my grunge-punk look of the day, which fit right in with the feeling of Manchester’s Northern Quarter.
PS: I’m currently eating my way around Singapore and Bali… let me know if you have tips!