A tale of two Alberts in Manchester

On a recent trip to Manchester we didn’t plan our drinking beforehand and encountered two contrasting Alberts.

First, we were in the city centre visiting a recommended ramen restaurant, and then Googled to see what else was nearby. Albert’s Schloss came up and we recalled that we’d read about it as an outlet for unfiltered Pilsner Urquell.

We’d also heard that it was a bit of a party pub – the kind of place where people go out-out. The website for the chain (Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham) bears this out: “Welcome to the weird, the wild and the wunderment of live performance, musik and kabaret…”

As it was a damp weekday afternoon, however, we figured we’d probably be fairly safe from that crowd, and this was indeed the case.

We entered a huge beer hall that was perhaps around 10% occupied when we arrived and perhaps 60% full when we left a couple of hours later.

It’s a really interesting space. We would say it was pretty convincing as a Bavarian-style beer hall. Which is to say, it doesn’t feel as if you’re actually in Bavaria, but does resemble those Bavarian outposts you get in German cities up north.

There’s been no expense spared in decking the place out with wooden panelling, hefty benches, and fancy light fittings. Though that is all slightly undercut by the (deliberately humorous?) cod-German signs everywhere. “Das Toilets” made us wince.

It’s table service, which you attract by pressing a button marked “Ring for Prosecco”. Being excessively literal, and not in the mood for sparkling wine, we didn’t touch it. Instead, we just waved at a passing waiter.

There’s a choice of mostly German and Austrian beers on tap, such as Paulaner, Hofbräu and Stiegl. And of course, the unfiltered Pilsner Urquell from Czechia, which we drank and drank until we felt distinctly silly.

It’s so strange to think of this extremely characterful, sulphurous beer as the flagship drink for this particular venue, but there you go. We’re not complaining.

We were told by our friends (who had never been in) that it mostly had a reputation for stag and hen dos, but on a Thursday afternoon, the venue really did feel like somewhere in Germany: calm, family-friendly, rustic.

Towards the end, it began to warm up for the evening with a keyboard and vocal due appearing on stage, and a serious-looking sound mixer emerging from a hidden cupboard. As the vibe began to shift, we drifted out into the drizzle.

A pint of cask ale on a wooden table with a bowling green visible through the window behind. The surrounding decor is tasteful with grey walls and pot plants.

Not a million miles away

The friends we were visiting have lived in various locations between Manchester and Stockport and have been keen to take us to the Albert Club in Didsbury for a while. They discovered it because a relative worked behind the bar there.

It’s a combined tennis, bowling and social club founded in 1874 “for the wealthy merchants, industrialists, and professionals of late-Victorian Manchester, especially those based in West Didsbury, Didsbury and Withington”.

Based on the dates we assume that, like Albert’s Schloss, it is named after Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, who died in 1861.

Set back from a suburban side street, The Albert Club has a large clubhouse with tennis courts on one side and a bowling green on the other.

Non-members are welcome, or at least not discouraged, though only members get discounted drinks. The door to the pool room does say “Members only”, though – perhaps to prevent rowdy strangers tearing up the precious baize.

The atmosphere was quite different to other social clubs we’ve visited. There were lots of cushions, acres of tasteful grey paint, and plenty of tanned, well-to-do customers with designer labels on their smart casual clothes.

On the bar were standard lagers, several keg craft beers, and four cask ale hand-pumps. We tried something from a local brewery and it was acceptable, mostly because the condition was so good. But the better options were bigger-brewery beers. We stuck on St Austell Proper Job for the rest of the session.

The beer garden was peaceful and leafy – a summer place. The only incident that disturbed the air of comfortable complacency was when a child hoofed a football onto a table covered with empty glasses. Nobody blinked at the sound of breaking glass.

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