Manchester as a destination for a cheeky weekend away isn’t the obvious choice. Arriving in the lobby of Velvet hotel, and suddenly it feels it should be. Or else we’ve taken a wrong turn and ended up in an upmarket bordello. Purple padded check-in desk, velvet-covered walls either side, crimson-striped carpet, low purpley ceiling – it all whispers seductively ‘Shall we go upstairs?’
I’d called ahead for clarification on its location on ‘buzzing Canal Street’. I was told it gets hectic at weekends and unless we’re going to party until the bitter end, we’d be better with a room at the top or at the back. Perhaps because I hesitated he wasted no time in offering a special ‘clubbing’ package: discounted room above the bar, a bottle of bubbly to get us in the mood and a late check-out. Not sure we could handle that pace, I opted for one of three suites out of the way on the fifth floor. Had it been summer, a balcony that opens onto Canal Street might have been tempting. Take some beads, pop Mrs Smith out there and pretend it was Mardi Gras. (Funnily enough, Canal Street isn’t just a hub for August's Manchester Pride – a road of the same name in New Orleans hosts their carnival. So feel festive you must.)
‘Shall we go upstairs,’ asks the chap behind the desk. If I’m taken aback, I hide it well, realising a moment later he means showing us to our room. He steers us into the ground floor of our split-level suite, then demonstrates how to work the enormous retro light that arcs across it. Next he shows how to juice my iPhone through the stereo. Loving that – I always forget my charger. Explaining we can have breakfast in our room, he gestures towards a table big enough for four. (When we do eat in, we discover it’s a breakfast that just keeps on giving: full English coronary, selection of pastries, coffee, orange juice, fruit salad, toast. It only just fits.) After declining a cup of tea, he vanishes for a couple of minutes, re-emerging with a clinking ice bucket and some fresh lime wedges. ‘Just in case...’ It’s a nice touch, so I don’t mention that I only drink gin during the day when I’m working.
Mrs Smith is something of a bathroom fetishist. The walk-in shower must have an adjustable head (so you don’t get hair wet unless you want to). The roll-top bath must be big enough for two (and come with a cute rubber duck). A basket of REN goodies is mandatory (and include glycolactic skin renewal peel mask). This is an ensuite that presses all of her buttons – in a good way.
Automatic ceiling blinds inspire a puerile moment – I'm soon re-enacting a scene from ‘Les Visiteurs’. Cue a 16th-century knight propelled into the future finds a light switch for the first time: ‘nuit – jour – nuit – jour’. I work up an appetite for a bag of lobster flavour crisps (random) and a beer (cold) from the well-stocked bar, flop onto the enormous corner sofa and flick on the plasma on the exposed brick wall. It feels just like home. Home, that is, in a parallel universe where I have a cool pad in every major metropolis.
My reverie is interrupted by Mrs Smith who has by now made her way up the curving staircase to the galleried bedroom. (This is essentially all bed with a bit of open hanging space and shelving tucked underneath the original iron roof supports.) ‘We’re not here to watch TV,’ she shouts down. Clearly Velvet is already working its magic. ‘We could go to the Lowry exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery,’ she continues. ‘Or hit Selfridges…’ Hmmm.
And so a short walk to the centre of town precedes a spot of culture, then some serious credit card spanking. I’m left feeling short of breath; Mrs Smith is positively beaming. I have another surprise in store. A friend’s tipped me off about Cloud 23. It turns out to hit the 23rd floor of the city’s tallest building in time for a sundowner, we needed to book this bar a month in advance. Rather than join a long line of people trying their luck with the clipboarder at the bottom, we settle into chairs next to the floor-to-ceiling windows and, over an excellent martini, we watch Manchester’s nightscape develop.
Supper at Velvet’s restaurant is next, and by 8.30pm it’s packed with people dressed to party. I once delivered furniture to Elton John’s house in Nice; I wouldn’t be surprised to discover his interior designer had dropped by here to give a few tips. Fabulously camp and fantastically over the top, a fishtank is built into the stairs, gilded mirrors hang everywhere, and chairs and booths are padded in jewel-coloured velvets. And a life-size wooden African tribesman, despite having a terrible scowl on his face, is clearly very pleased to see everyone too. Service is attentive and the food – Mediterranean small plates, brasserie snacks and pizzas – is good. It seems more about having a great time and fuelling up for the evening ahead though.
After a couple more drinks in the fabric-clad bar and it’s past our bedtime. I pop the key-card into the lift and we head upstairs. Crashing out this early isn’t that lame – there’s always another night. As I lie in bed drifting off to the just-audible music sufficient to tempt me back down but not enough to disturb, I can’t help but think that sleeping in a hotel so geared towards hedonism is somehow missing the point. But if this is missing the point, it still feels very, very pleasurable.
Anonymously reviewed by Fairfax Hall (Gin Smith)
Whenever you book a stay at a Mr & Mrs Smith, we'll invite you to review it when you get back. Read what real-life guests had to say in Velvet's guestbook below.
The suite was very large with a living and dining area, separate bathroom, mezzanine bedroom with an additional en suite toilet. The selection of excellent Ren products included eye cream and moisturiser. The top of the range Hypnos mattress ensured a good night's sleep. Fresh milk, biscuits and fruit was replenished on a daily basis. In the bar there were great cocktails, and the restaurant served top quality British food at pub prices. Staff are attentive and helpful.
The location of the hotel remains a mystery to some taxi drivers, so rather than using the Canal Street entrance (which is on a pedestrianised street) we would suggest directing people to the Richmond Street entrance.
Sarah, SilverSmith stayed on 8 Oct 2012
Felt like a treat the whole time, but without being pretentious. Very friendly and helpful staff. Lovely bar and restaurant attached. Creative attention to detail in both decor and little finishing touches. Minibar and tuck box – you never know when the midnight urge for Haribo is going to strike. It is on Canal Street, which could potentially be noisy at night, so ear plugs are available from reception. To be honest, if you pick a hotel on Canal Street, you know it isn't going to be like a Carthusian monastery, but it was actually just a gentle re-assuring city hum, helped by there being no traffic on the actual street. Maybe people who go out in the Village are more civilised and up for more fun than the usual town centre brawling? The hotel is minutes away from Piccadilly station, strolling distance from Oxford Road and Deansgate stations, and just a few tram stops from Victoria. Great to have a radio, iPod dock and not just pre-selected radio channels on a tv. I can't believe we were sitting outside by the canal close to midnight without a coat on. Take mozzie cream if the weather forecast is good. It was wonderful to have fresh milk topped up every day in the minibar. Most hotels show contempt for tea by giving you rubbish teabags and UHT, but there was a selection of good 'honest' teas with real milk - someone here is a real 'chaiophile' (I made that word up).
In an ideal world, in the future – if money were no object – how about building a rooftop heated swimming pool?! Seriously, we had a great stay and are looking for excuses to come back.
Carol, BlackSmith stayed on 28 Aug 2012 Not really the kind of place you'd go with children!
Loved everything about this hotel: friendly and helpful staff, gorgeous rooms, comfy bed, lots of luxuries, well-stocked minibar and really cute tuck box in the room! We had the rose petal turndown on arrival, which was a nice touch! Slippers, dressing gown and a rubber duck for the bath – couldn’t fault it and can’t wait to stay again. Room charge to have breakfast delivered but worth it: it arrived on time and had a wide selection – hmmm, fantastic!!
The only thing that could have made our stay better is if it had lasted longer. We did not want to go home!
Olivia, BlackSmith stayed on 16 Aug 2012