This time last year VICE photographer Yushy Pachnanda and I stayed up way past our bedtimes on a mission to answer one of the burning questions of our time: “Is London still a 24-hour city?”What followed was an epic all-night adventure through West End pubs, East End clubs, and – uh – on a 6AM side quest to buy a really big fish. It was a gruelling experience – the likes of which we vowed never to try again.
Until some clever dick in the comments section dared us to try it in Manchester. And that’s how we ended up here: standing on the platform at Manchester Piccadilly train station with just the clothes on our backs and a to-do list the length of Liam Gallagher’s sideburns. So is Manchester a 24-hour city? We stayed up all night to find out. Like all good stories, this one begins with a cold pint of lager in a warm Victorian pub. My first impressions of Manchester? Everyone here is "dead sound" (really nice) and the beer tastes "mint" (good). We down our drinks and follow the weekend crowds onto a tram.
Our next stop is a sacred place of worship. Lonely Planet might send you to Manchester Cathedral (yawn) but we’re heading to the Etihad Stadium for the Manchester City vs. Wolves match instead. We get to our seats just as the Erland Haaland show begins. Water is wet and the big Viking bastard scores a 15 minute hattrick. Only 21 hours until bed? Bring it on! To celebrate, we head to the Northern Quarter in search of some "top scran" (yummy food). Our destination? This n’ That, a ramshackle Indian canteen at the end of a cobbled alley. Three curries for six quid? Mad for it. I’d eat here every day of my life if I could. This turns out to be a big mistake. The combination of curry and lager is one of the strongest anaesthetics known to man. It’s not even 7PM and I feel like I’ve been smacked in the head by Tyson Fury. Like a moth to a flame, I make for the blinking neon lights of Sammy’s Cocktail Bar, recommended to us by four different Mancs.
Fuck me: The inside of Sammy’s is like Binley Mega Chippy as reimagined by Wes Anderson. In a nutshell: If this bar was in Hackney or Bushwick I wouldn’t be able to get in the door. I order their strongest espresso martini and strike up a conversation with the man himself.
“I’ve got a 2AM licence but could easily stay open until five,” Sammy Shonn, the bar owner, tells me. “If you want to go out later than that, try Behind Closed Doors or Sherlock’s, or there’s always someone having an afters." Thanks for the tip, our kid. Fired up on espresso and vodka, we head into Chinatown. The streets are alive with the sound of stag dos. It’s as if we’ve spawned inside that viral photograph of Manchester on New Year's Eve. I can only imagine what happens once the pubs shut. We finally reach our next destination: K2 Karaoke, the best rated microphone house in town, or so says Google.
It’s a little known fact that Manchester is the karaoke capital of the UK. According to the latest census, more renditions of “Wonderwall” are butchered here than anywhere else in Britain. And with venues like this one open until 4AM, it isn’t hard to understand why. I step into our private booth: humbled in the knowledge that legendary Mancunian crooners like Mark E. Smith and Morrissey cut their teeth on microphones just like this one (probably). One hour of earsplitting Oasis covers later, we step out onto the streets. I keep my eyes peeled for Shaun Ryder or the ghost of George Best.
It’s creeping towards midnight and a side quest is calling me. Well, not a side quest exactly. The lad on the other end of the line is actually called Luca – he’s a second year student at the University of Manchester – and tonight his mates are throwing a “banger of a house party”; Luca reckons he can get us in. Gatecrashing a student house party is exactly the brand of investigative journalism that I’ve always aspired towards. And besides, students have some of the latest bedtimes in the UK. If anyone knows whether or not Manchester is a 24-hour city, it’s these lot. Yushy and I catch a night bus to the Fallowfield suburbs, a leafy enclave that doubles up as the student capitol of Manchester. We make a quick pit stop at Atlantic Fish Bar to fuel up on chips and curry sauce and drop into an off-licence to pick up a six pack of cheap lager (the only thing worse than a ligger is a ligger who turns up empty-handed).
Like all house parties you’re not really invited to – the address is harder to find than you imagined, leaving you plenty of time to weigh up the possibility of a 19-year-old throwing you down the stairs or simply slamming the door in your face. It’s 1AM. It’s cold. I want to go to bed. At last: We arrive at a semi-detached student gaff that’s pumping out UKG. As we step inside, Luca and his pals seem genuinely pleased to see us. So what do they reckon? Is Manchester a 24-hour city?
"The clubs might not be 24 hours," Isaac Spavin, 19, tells me, "but down in Fallowfield we never go to bed. London? Bristol? No chance. Fallowfield is the place to be." From the sounds of it, Manchester’s students will be awake until the middle of next week – so we call an Uber an hour or so later and pick up where we left off.
It’s nearly 3AM as our car pulls up to a swanky building near the city centre. The neon letters above the door spell out: Manchester235. So what do the online reviews say about this casino? "Pleasant and clean!" says JenQatar. "Full of knobs!” says SteveJames. We take our chances inside. As I walk the casino’s purple carpets, I can’t help wondering if visiting a place like this is cheating. Even Milton Keynes has a mega casino – does that make it a 24-hour city too? We chuck a fiver on red 7: Winner, winner! £40 up, we decide to cash out and spend our winnings on a late night kebab.
By now it’s 5AM and Yushy and I feel like dirt. But there’s one last stop we want to make. Manchester is to English clubbers what Rome is to Catholics. These days, you hear a lot of talk about Warehouse Project, the 10,000 capacity super club in Depot Mayfield. But that shut an hour ago. So instead, we’re heading to The White Hotel, the car garage-slash-nightclub on the outskirts of Salford (it’s even rumoured to have a 24-hour licence).
By the time we arrive, the sky is a pale blue. No one in the line seems to notice or care. We make it inside. The dance floor is dark and smoky and still packed a few hours later as the sun rises over the derelict warehouses. Even when the lights come on at 8AM, the place is half full. So is Manchester a 24-hour city? Hmm… Tough one. We checked out techno clubs and Victorian pubs. All of them are now shut but half the punters still haven’t gone to bed. Whatever this city’s licensing laws say, Mancunians are a 24-hour people, and that counts for something. Afters, anyone?