From above, Manchester is a heartbreaker; King Street Townhouse hotel’s sixth-floor bar terrace, south-facing rooms and suites, and rooftop pool overlook the city’s ruggedly handsome skyline – a muddle of spires and glass monoliths dominated by the Town Hall and sci-fi-esque Beetham Tower. Below, the excitement of this music-obsessed, football-mad city is palpable – but within, the chandelier-lit tavern, tea lounge and refined mod-Brit rooms create a calm sanctum for grown-up Madchester kids to refuel in.
40, including three Luxe Junior Suites and two Suites.
11am, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm. Guests can stash their luggage in the room behind reception.
Double rooms from £148.50, including tax at 12.5 per cent.
The room rate doesn’t include breakfast (from £18 a person for a Continental buffet).
The hotel wears Manc pride on its crisply laundered sleeve: pieces by local artists (Adam Gilbertson, Michelle Topping) depict local legends (the Haçienda nightclub, Madchester album covers, dainty etchings of neighbouring buildings), and honeycomb floor tiles throughout nod to the city’s heraldic emblem, the worker bee. In rooms, we like the minibar’s flower-embossed champagne flutes and hangover kit (an energy shot, and Alka-Seltzer, Berocca and Drinkwel tablets).
At the hotel
Lounge, tea room, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen LCD TV with Sky channels, Roberts DAB radio, selection of vintage books, coffee machine and kettle with teas, minibar, fresh milk and Temple Spa toiletries. The two suites have a small chess set too.
Our favourite rooms
The Great Abel One-Bedroom Suite (named after the Town Hall’s bell) is trimmed in teal velvet, has full-wall views of the cityscape from the sitting room and bedroom, and there’s a freestanding bath tub by the window – don’t be shy, the night-time views are very soothing. There’s a secretive Snug hidden in between the two One-Bedroom Suites, which enjoys top-floor views at a more modest price. Wherever you lay your head, it’ll be in a super-soft bed.
The hotel’s infinity pool on the seventh floor has panoramic views of the city’s best side, including the clock tower and the spires of Manchester Town Hall. We dare you not to fall in love a little…
Load up your iPod with the Smiths, Joy Division, Happy Mondays and Oasis for retro in-room listening.
There’s a lift to all floors and most common areas are wheelchair accessible. Rooms are fairly sizeable, but guests with mobility problems will find that the Comfy rooms and up are best suited.
Children can stay, but this hotel’s better suited to grown-ups.
Want to be seen? Pick the waltzer close to the bar. If you’re feeling incognito ask to dine in the mezzanine lounge, where you can spy on the comings and goings below.
Pick a pretty pattern to match the hotel’s bold prints. Come evening, add some sparkle. Leave your maracas, parkas and bucket hats at home.
The Tavern brasserie – lined with cherry-red banquettes, with a flock of chandeliers –is a vivacious old-school eatery. There’s no nouveau frippery on the hearty Brit menu (with a dash of Gallic charm) offering a comfortingly creamy fish pie, bruiser steaks and cheeseburgers. There’s a lighter selection of tartines, and a daily special (lightly battered fish and chips or buttermilk macaroni cheese). Pair with the menu’s multitude of wines, including an on-request reserve list.
The bar – lined with Perrier-Jouët bottles and real-ale taps – is screened off from the restaurant by wooden panels. There are a few barstools to pull up, but the mezzanine lounge is a much cosier spot to sip and socialise in, with plump sofas and welcoming pairs of wingbacks.
Breakfast is served 7am–10.30am Monday to Friday, 8am–10.30am on weekends. Cake stands come out from noon–4pm for afternoon tea, and the Tavern serves hearty fare from noon till late.
A tray can be summoned to your door round the clock. The full brasserie menu runs till 10pm, after which tartines and drinks are available until the breakfast menu starts at 7am.
The hotel’s at the heart of the city, two streets from Albert Square and the Neo-Gothic Town Hall. Manchester’s liveliest districts, famed shopping zones and landmarks such as the John Rylands Library and Manchester Art Gallery are a 10-minute walk.
International hub Manchester Airport is the closest, a 25-minute drive away. Flights from the US connect via London Heathrow (British Airways run a frequent direct service); flights from Asia stopover in central Europe or the UAE. The hotel can organise transfers on request.
The legacy of Manchester’s industrial past is excellent rail links. The hotel is a 10-minute walk (or five-minute taxi ride) from the city’s four main stations: Manchester Piccadilly, Manchester Oxford Road, Manchester Victoria and Deansgate. Trains from London Euston arrive at Manchester Piccadilly in around two hours and Northern Rail runs frequent services from regional destinations such as Liverpool, Leeds and York.
Locals take great pride in the fact that most destinations are usually a 10-minute walk away from wherever you are, and pavement pounding is the best way to come across the city’s lesser-known treasures. There’s an Avis booth at Manchester Piccadilly, if you want to explore the Peak District’s greener pastures, and a Q-Park on St James Street, a five-minute walk away.
Worth getting out of bed for
Manchester’s electric atmosphere is most charged around King Street Townhouse’s just-by-Albert-Square location. The glossy Spinningfields development is 10 minutes away; stock up on labels in Mulberry, Armani and Flannels boutique, before dining in a crop of global eateries (Comptoir Libonais, Ibèrica, Thaikhun, Fazenda…). The Alchemist’s ‘lab’ invents molecular libations, while pints of craft ale are pulled in The Oast House. Bibliophiles should visit grand, Neo-Gothic John Rylands Library on Deansgate, and magical mediaeval library Chetham’s on Long Millgate. Manchester Art Gallery is hung with 19th-century pomp and splendour, with galleries devoted to modern art and design on the third floor. Iconic football stadium Old Trafford is in the Stretford area of Greater Manchester (a 15-minute drive away or 20-minute ride on the tram’s A line), and worshippers can pay homage at the National Football Museum on Todd Street; Harvey Nichols is a free kick away from there if shopping’s more your bag. Cultured types can watch off-kilter shows at the Royal Exchange Theatre or musicals at the Opera House. The O2 Apollo, stomping ground of musical giants and superstar comedians, is further south on Stockport Road. The Northern Quarter’s jumble of vintage shops, indie record stores, cafés and bars is 10 minutes north of the hotel. Rummage for newbie labels at Horsebird and Dead Legacy, or old-school wares at Pop Boutique and Retro Rehab, and join the cool kids in Piccadilly Records and Eastern Bloc. Round off your day dancing till the small hours in Canal Street’s Gay Village. When you’re partied out, do as the locals do and seek out the Town Hall clock tower – the hotel’s just next door.
Tattu on Gartfield Street has an impressive mod-Chinese menu (beef and foie gras pot stickers, lobster prawn toasts and soy-glazed wagyu) and a magnificent cherry-blossom tree growing through the first floor. Alongside black-lacquer panels and huge anchor and rope installations, it’s a dreamy spot for a romantic meal. Close by, on the Avenue, a triangular prism rises from the ground; this isn’t the tip of an illuminati pyramid, but the entrance to Australasia, a subterranean eatery with a menu that starts in Australia then travels round the Pacific Rim. Choose from sushi, steaks or the sizzling fish and crustacea on the Robata grill. Another hot tip: Adam Reid at the French at the Midland Hotel. Its tasting menus show Reid’s true creative mettle. Restaurant MCR – chef Aiden Byrne's pride and joy – shows similar innovation in its dishes.
Licensed till 4am with excellent live acts, the North Quarter's Night & Day Café is best known as a bar; but its stacked breakfast sandwich (served from 11am), brie-and-parmesan cheese toasties and mains such as honey-glazed pork belly, make it an excellent lunch spot too. Artisanal single-origin coffee, a Nordic-themed hangout inspired by the owners’ travels, exposed-brick walls and so on: Takk MCR café on Tariff Street may have heavy hipster leanings, but its strong cups of joe and simple Scandi food (we like the Icelandic-style hotdog) keep its barn-wood pews packed.
Manchester’s live-music venues are legion, and each offers something special. Albert Hall on Peter Street stands out for its varied programme and colonnaded grade-II-listed concert hall. The venue’s played host to big-hitters (Goldfrapp, Suede) but more experimental acts (the Cinematic Orchestra, Explosions in the Sky) and noted dance outfits (Chvrches) are slotted into their impressive roster. Housed under a railway arch on Whitworth Street, in what was once beloved avant-garde performance space the Green Room, Gorilla strives to stay Manchester’s wild card. Experimental music outfits, book readings, art installations, club nights: anything goes; and the upstairs Gin Parlour adds a (generous) measure of sophistication. The martinis are the bar’s pride and joy. A pint in The Marble Arch on Rochdale Road is a must; the 19th-century bar has the original wall and floor tiles, and a slightly sloping floor that might befuddle those who’ve sampled several of the 11 craft beers on tap (and a few guest beers).
I can tell that Mr Smith and I are thinking the same thing. We’re smiling at the bath tub at the foot of our bed. A shapely, come-hither number fronted by a elegant smattering of Islamic-inspired tiles, it’s clearly designed for one thing: long, romantic soaks à deux. ‘Do we want bubbles?,’ Mr Smith asks, before pouring in some Temple Spa oil; yes, indeed.
Rain is tumbling down, the bath tap is giving out the odd friendly gurgle, and as I slide into the deliciously warm water, I decide that evenings are rarely much more romantic. Mr Smith eagerly clambers in. Then, sheepishly, he leans over the side of the bath to where he’s strategically positioned a TV remote and giggles as Robert Downey Jr, in full Iron Man kit, springs into view. ‘OMG, we can watch TV from the bath!’, he cries out, totally thrilled. My pretend dismay doesn’t last long: it’s a brilliant touch.
King Street Townhouse in Manchester is one of those hotels that specialises in the unexpected and thoughtful. Set bang in the middle of the most salubrious part of Manchester, King Street Townhouse is the kind of grand, distinguished Victorian building that makes the most discerning stop and think, ‘wowsers’. Even Mr Smith, a picky architect, is impressed.
I push open the sturdy wooden doors of the entrance. I have stepped into an old bank, the impressive dark-wood panelling and high ceilings transporting me to my favourite scene in Mary Poppins. ‘If you invest your tuppence / Wisely in the bank…’ I hum.
We’re taken to a room on the third floor. If Mr Smith is the arbiter of buildings, I like to think I’m the expert on interiors. It’s a smart, tasteful, refined room: painted duck-egg blue, there’s an oatmeal carpet, built-in shelves, directional lighting, a dinky antique table and a wonderfully large wooden bed with subtle Aztec-print cushions. On the wall is a pretty framed drawing of a bee, to remind us we’re in Manchester. And then I spot that there’s a whole second room, with a high-backed beige sofa and sturdy desk, that leads onto a massive bathroom with two basins and an oversize walk-in shower.
The room is definitely to my liking. ‘But are you sure it’s the one we booked?’ I ask the receptionist. ‘It’s a free upgrade.’ he tells us. That’s the first nice touch. The second is the plate of buttery shortbread biscuits Mr Smith is now gobbling. The third is the late check-out on Sundays – everyone likes a weekend lie-in.
The following morning, it’s still drizzling. Manchester’s cotton industry apparently thrived on this damp climate that kept the threads moist, so you have to embrace it. However, I’ve failed to bring a waterproof. A young receptionist comes to my aid, handing me the biggest umbrella I’ve ever held. ‘Just bring it back.’ he says, holding out his hand for a fist-pump. That’s the fourth unexpected touch: we may be in formal surroundings, but the staff are personable and unstuffy.
Dry, and pleased with my loan, we spend the morning walking the narrow lanes of the hip Northern Quarter. Playing at being locals, we jump on a bus headed for the freshly face-lifted Whitworth Art Gallery on the other side of town. ‘This bus will cost you £5, that one £1.’ says the driver, pointing to another bus ahead. Good service.
For much of the time, as we pass by impressive red-stone buildings, popping into boutiques, I feel as if I’m in New York. The King Street Townhouse restaurant-come-diner has the same effect with its red-leather banquettes and booths, long wooden bar and lighting. It’s quietly buzzing, as we sit down for an excellent three-course dinner, and slightly raucous – in a good way – by the time we leave. Padding our way upstairs, we spot a mezzanine lounge with plush sofas and a decorous air. Perfect for a nightcap.
The best feature of the hotel is the spa, set high on the 7th floor of the house. Dressing gowns removed, Mr Smith and I plunge into a rooftop infinity pool. The view is superlative: gables and chimneys break up the skyline and Manchester’s iconic bell tower feels close enough to flick water on. Not that we try. I find the button to switch on the bubbles and we bob around happily for a good half hour. Next we visit the steam room before having a lie-down in the chalet-style relaxation room with another floor-to-ceiling vista and jugs of mint and cucumber water. I realise I’ve napped off when I’m woken up by another guest crying out, ‘It’s aaamaazing.’ I couldn’t agree more: Mr Banks would proclaim this tuppence well invested.
Thoroughly refreshed, we return to our room and I run a second bath, but this time, I hide the TV remote before Mr Smith can find it.