1. You normally got served so long as you didn’t look too young.
I started drinking when I was about fifteen or sixteen. The official drinking age was, I think, 18; nobody really paid very close attention to such matters back in the mid-1980s, and I really don’t remember how old I was when I started going down the pub with my mates.
We all knew that there was the odd pub or two, like the Bluebell in Monton, that would ask awkward questions, but back then there were no photos on driving licences, and nobody took their passport out with them on a Friday night. If you didn’t look obviously pre-pubescent, didn’t make too much of a fool of yourself, you’d get served.
2. You weren’t a fan of Joey Holt pubs.
Then, as now, most pubs in England are tied houses — they’re owned by a brewery and operated by a landlord who’s really a tenant. The Bridgewater was a Boddington’s pub; the Oddfellows served Tetley’s. But the Park Hotel, well, that was a Joseph Holt pub. And Joey Holt’s houses were known to be the least friendly pub in any town. They were always a bit basic, a bit rough — there’s no reason why you shouldn’t drink in the Park, but you just didn’t.
3. You remember when they served later in Manchester.
Until 2003 and the Licensing Act, pubs in England and Wales had closing times that were fixed by their local councils. In Salford, that meant last orders were called at 10:30 every night except Saturday. But in Manchester, just across the River Irwell, pubs served until 11. So the smart move, on a Friday night, was to drink in one of the pubs down the far end of Chapel St, past Salford Cathedral — the Black Lion, or the Salford Arms — until last orders, then, when the bell rang, bob over the river to Mulligans, or the Moon Under Water on Deansgate if you were willing, or able, to walk fast enough. But why not just start in Manchester? I hear you ask. We’re not all made of money, you know…
4. You know the best pubs were the best-hidden ones.
Deansgate has always been lined with big, loud pubs, from the Sawyer’s Arms on the corner of John Dalton St to the Deansgate Tavern down by Century St. But these were the obvious places to go — loud, crowded, and expensive. For a cheaper pint, the back-street boozers made much more sense. Sinclair’s, a fixture of Shambles Square until the IRA bombing of the city in 1996, was usually quiet enough that you could actually talk to your mates over a pint or two, while the Sir Ralph Abercrombie, my own favourite, on Bootle St, opposite the central police station, was great — if someone had installed a bar in my own living room I wouldn’t have been any more comfortable.
5. You knew The Bridgewater was great for celeb spotting.
Back in the 1990s and 2000s, when Manchester United couldn’t help but win every trophy and championship they competed in, the team’s players started moving to Worsley — Salford’s only posh suburb. And the Bridgewater, on Worsley Rd, was the pub that many of them drank in on a Friday night. We’d go there later in the evening, after having, usually, a couple in the White Horse in Swinton, or the Swan, first. Some poor bugger would be on driving duty — the phrase “designated driver” hadn’t been introduced, but we all respected the concept — and he’d have to find a parking space in their very crowded carpark between the VW Golf convertibles and the souped-up boy-racer Fords.
The Bridge would be packed with women with orange faces, hoping to meet a footballer, and lads with sweaters tucked into their stonewashed jeans — this was, let’s remember, a long time ago — hoping to pull the women who didn’t land themselves a United player, and we’d have to fight our way to the bar. The fruit machines were nearly as loud as the jukebox, and you’d struggle to figure out what music was playing. The bar was long, but there would still be punters four-deep; somehow, I developed enough bar presence to get served and enough dexterity to carry four pints and a coke for the driver back to the corner we were standing in — not sitting, of course; we were never there early enough to get a seat.
6. A snakebite would get you pissed really quickly.
A snakebite — half a pint of lager and half a pint of cider in a pint glass — was credited with legendary powers of intoxication. As a teenager, I, like my mates, genuinely believed that a pint of snakebite would get me, like, totally fuckin’ wasted — that’s why they’re illegal, right? This was, of course, utter bollocks, but we believed it. We’d even make a point of ordering halves of lager and cider so that the barmaid wouldn’t realise that we were trying to score a snakebite — they were illegal, remember?
7. You believed halves were for girls.
Real men, we knew — with utter conviction, and with the same authority that assured us that a snakebite would get you utterly shitfaced — drank pints. Setting aside the fact that we were children, still, we only drank pints, as a result. Girls were allowed to drink halves — well, they’re girls, aren’t they? — but lads had to drink pints. Unless you were driving, in which case you’d probably be better off with a soft drink, since they were oddly less compromising than an actual, alcoholic, half-pint of ale, you couldn’t drink your beer in halves unless you welcomed your mates questioning your sexuality.