I have never really been one to go out on my own for a few drinks. Previously I thought it had somewhat of a stigma about it. Negative connotations. That was when I was younger though. When I was in my late teens, early twenties, drinking alone was for the desperate. It was for those who couldn’t help themselves. This was a completely inaccurate assumption but I was an even bigger idiot back then, and drinking was about either getting pissed before going to a club, or maintaining that drunkenness whilst in the club. The subtle nuances of boozing hadn’t occurred to me yet.
I grew up, got into beer, and started to enjoy the pub more than the club. There the old lad sat on his own, or the younger woman reading by themselves, was a welcoming sight. It nestled you into the place, gave it life. My stupid generalisation of solo drinkers being solely a negative was completely disproven, and I to be honest, kind of envied them. They had guts I didn’t possess. If I sat alone in a pub I’d feel on edge. Like I was being watched. Yet these people had decided ‘Nope, I fancy a drink, I’m going. Who cares.’
Present day I’m lucky to have a partner, and enough friends, who love beer that I can usually fill most weekends with boozing in a group. And it’s one of my favourite things. Though I’d often fantasise about solo drink adventures. I wouldn’t stray far from the known, just go and take myself out for a few pints. Why not.
I’d never actually done it though. Until recently when Kaleigh, my partner, was working. My mates were either working also or in other cities, and I found myself with a full Friday with no plans. So I hatched a plan.
I would take myself on a mini pub crawl around Manchester, where I do most of my drinking. It would be in the early afternoon, so to be a little quieter. I’d calculated six cask pints in six different pubs would be the perfect amount. That’d get me to a nice level of drunkenness but not a stupor, and I could sample an array of places.
This is my solo afternoon drinking in Manchester.
I started at the Track Brewing Taproom. ‘Pint of Sonoma on cask, please’ has widely been agreed to be the finest 6 words in the English language for a long time now, so a pint of Sonoma on cask is where it had to start.
‘Pint of Sonoma on cask, please’ I said, and I chatted with Katie, a friend, and the taproom manager, for a minute as she expertly poured the sparkled pint.
As I took my seat, feeling pretty smug about my entire plan, and how it was sure to go off without a hitch, I hit my first snag of the day.
If you haven’t been to be the Track Taproom; it’s a big space that sits right next to the brewery. From any seat you can see fermenters, brewing equipment, malt, etc etc. Most seating consists of big tables, but along the waist high wall that separates the tap from the brewery is some stool seating that faces toward the brewery. Not wanting to take up a full table as a solo drinker, I opted for one of these stool seats. As I sat down and got comfortable I realised I was pretty much sat directly in front of the Track canning machine currently in use. Members of the brewery staff were canning a new beer, and I’d just plonked myself down in clear view of them like I was ready for a show. I immediately felt awkward. Do they think I’ve done this on purpose so I can stare at them? Do I move? No, I can’t move now it’d be too obvious, they might think I was moving because of them. If I was with someone I could just chat to them, pretend I was oblivious to the canning machine, but I wasn’t, I’d gone on my solo drinker adventure. This is obviously all in my head, and it was obviously totally fine. I sat there and enjoyed my beautiful looking Sonoma, with the odd stare at the canning machine as I do kinda find them satisfying, and enjoyed myself. I gave the pint time, thought about it, tasted it subtlety change as I got further down the glass, and it got a little warmer.
It was nice.
My next stop would be very close by, so close actually that I don’t think I bothered to put my coat back on.
About 100ft across the Piccadilly Industrial Estate, about 100ft from the taproom of the world renown Track Brewing Co., is another taproom of a world renown brewery. In’t Manchester brilliant.
I walked up the steps to Cloudwater Brew Co.’s Unit 9 taproom in search of one of two pints I was actively seeking out today. For you see this solo cask odyssey had an ulterior motive. For the first time in a while I had the dreaded FOMO, a word best whispered whenever possible. I had seen online that day there would be two cask beers on that I may never get to try again. Two casks beers from breweries I admire, but who rarely do cask. Two casks beers that were mid-strength, dark and mysterious, and I had to have them.
The first was Cloudwater’s newest brown ale, ‘Al No Be Pit In A Boax’. A wonderfully named beer, of a style that you don’t see brewed much by the modern breweries, and that I suspecting CW would do well. I always prefer there more traditional offerings. Pale cask, Helles, DDDH Black TIPAs; you know all the traditional styles we know and love, so a brown ale was too much to miss.
Thankfully it was on, as I wasn’t entirely sure it would be, and I took it to my seat in the far corner of the tap. I wasn’t taking any chances on awkward seating this time.
The pint was great. Good body, roasty, nutty, slight creaminess to it, exactly what I wanted. I got to chat to a few mates who work in the tap and brewery, Connor, Dianne and Amir. They went back to work and I just sat and enjoyed my beer.
It was during this pint that I noticed the lack of a timeline to my session. When drinking with others I’m always judging how much I’ve drank to how much they have. Am I drinking too fast? Am I drinking too slow? Should I get another one? Do they want another one? On ma todd that just wasn’t a factor. I could come and go as I pleased. It was pretty freeing.
With that two pint warming feeling in my belly I finished my pint and decided to head into Manchester city centre for my third pint of the day.
Pint three was the second FOMO pint I had left the house in search of. Runaway Brewery had done a big tap takeover at Cafe Beermoth the night before, and had done some special cask beers especially for it. Runaway don’t often do cask (see ‘Stone’s Throw’ a beer made for Cafe Beermoth as the exception) so when I saw they had done a ‘Dry Irish Stout’ for the takeover I knew I needed a pint of it.
Sitting down, the pint looked a fucking treat. Dark body, creamy white head. It was a picture. And thus we reach another thing I encountered whilst drinking alone; photo shame. I love taking pictures of beer. At first it seems easy, you just take a picture of the beer, simple. But then you realise most beers look the same. Trying to make the pictures interesting is somewhat of a challenge, and its a fun challenge. When I’m with others I may rudely stop the conversation entirely while I seemingly do a full photoshoot with my DSLR until I feel I have correctly captioned the pints soul. Doing this alone I felt a little exposed. With others you can hide, you can mask the photos with idle chit-chat or psychically use them as a shield from the sight of others. On ya bill you look like somewhat of a crazed fan desperate to get the right picture for your scrapbook.
I was two pints deep at this point though, and Cafe Beermoth is big enough that I felt fairly OK to quickly snap off some pics before I felt too self-conscious.
The beer was delightful. So, so dry, bags of roast. Thick and creamy. Yes, please.
I was halfway through my adventure, and things were about to take a slightly melancholy turn.
A short walk over to The City Arms had me with a pint of Manchester Brewing Co. ‘Swift’ in my hands. I took he closest available seat and sat at the table next to the main door. As I sat down the group at the table next to me left (Was it something I said?) and were replaced by another group from across who were in search of back support.
At first I thought this would lead to awkward questions of why I was taking numerous pictures of my pint, but thankfully they either didn’t notice or didn’t care.
In this close proximity, it is eavesdropping if you just can’t help but hear someones conversation? Usually as you chat you kind of drown out those around you, on my own I couldn’t help but overhear…and listen.
As I sipped my pint one of the group was talking about his friend who was going through a rough time. He detailed mental health issues, ruined relationships, and more serious things I won’t go into here. I didn’t feel great about listening in on this, but besides putting my fingers in my ears and singing to myself I couldn’t do anything about it.
The gentlemen telling his friend’s sad tale was not unkind, he expressed regret and exasperation, sadness and guilt. Yet in that British way, he would pepper it all with some humour. A small anecdote or a quick, friendly dig at the person in question. They would chuckle a little, those chuckles that end with your head down and a sigh. It felt like a very pub conversation. A few drinks in. Walls down a little. Somethings needed to just be said to release the tension in your shoulders.
With the sombre conversation in one ear, and the three pints in my belly, my mood turned a little south. Not blue, just maybe retrospective. I watched the old lads sat in the opposite room chatting and sipping. Making those pints last. I wondered if I’d be one of them someday. Wondered if I’d have a local I’d sit in most days, talking and sipping. I’d have my friends who would do the same. Maybe I’d even have my own dimple mug behind the bar. That’d be nice. Then one day when I had my last sip, only to never return, I might even get a little plaque on the bar or above my seat with my name on it. That’d be nice too.
I don’t often get misty eyed in the pub when I’m with mates, but I did on my own that day.
Not the most grandiose spectacle, sat on your own staring of into the middle distance in the pub looking a little forlorn. Either way hope those lads had a good night, and I hope they have many more to come.
Stepping out of The City Arms I officially felt myself approaching drunk. My plans had now changed too. I had planned to go somewhere else, but a chance comment from Manchester Brewing Co. on my tweet of their beer sent me another way. They had mentioned The Circus Tavern. I hadn’t been in years and decided today was the do to change that.
As I walked over I thought of an old friend I’d gone into The Circus Tavern with probably a decade ago. He was a shorter lad, and a tall guy had made fun of him while he was at the bar. We sat down with our beers and he kind of poured his heart out about his insecurities about his height, and the bullying he’d suffered because of it. I had no idea how troubled he was by it. His height had never come up, though we did prefix his name with ‘Little’ which may not have helped. (In our defence it’s because we worked with someone with the same name who was bigger.) It was a tender moment from someone who was mostly giggles and charm, and I thought of it often.
As I got to The Circus Tavern I realised that tender moment with a friend had actually happened in The Grey Horse a few doors down, but thats far from the point.
‘Europe’s Smallest Bar’ is The Circus Tavern’s claim to fame. A claim I’m sure hundreds of bars and pubs across the continent make, but I have to give it to the Circus, the bar is pretty damn small.
I got a pint of Tetley’s and was told there was a seat available in the small room down the hall a little. When you’re in a pub and you’re told where to sit you know it’s going to be a tight fit. And it was.
I entered a room with a fire, four tables, four men and eight pints. I’d seen TVs bigger than this room. I sat in the corner next to the fire and sweated a little about taking a picture of the Tetley’s in front of me. Thankfully the men, who didn’t know each other, were talking about why one of them had 5 pints. This distraction was my window for a quick picture, and my camera was away again.
Turns out the one guy had five pints because he was going the United game tonight and his friends were booking into the hotel. He had just gone the pub and decided they wouldn’t be long and had ordered their beers. That was about 20 minutes ago. He told this story a couple of times as more people squeezed into the room. So much so I found myself knee to knee with the gentlemen besides me. My covid senses tingling I felt a little uncomfortable, but I’d made my bed now. Time to lie in it, knee to knee with the guy in the bed next to me.
It was no problem though, we exchanged a few words about the game happening later on. Everyone in there seemed to be having a few before heading over to Old Trafford. I sipped my pretty crap Tetley’s (not the pubs fault, I just didn’t like it), and eyed up my second seating dilemma of the day.
By now the room was rammed. Numerous pints on all tables, people crammed round each one. Two of these tables were directly in front of me. They were so directly in front of me that they would have to be moved for me to get my fat arse out of there. Meaning numerous pints would have to be picked up as well. Everyone was nice and talking, but I wasn’t exactly looking forward to the prospect of knocking all there pints over. And now I needed a piss. I knew I was not mentally strong enough to go to the toilet, return, then leave after I’d finished my pint. There was too much faff and risk involved. So I took my half finished pint and announced that I was leaving. Probably happy for the extra space, the tables and pints in front parted like the red sea, and after all that I made a pretty easy escape. No pints were spilled in the making of this exit.
Triumphant and relieved I made my way outside and wandered over to the next pub for my sixth and final pint of the day.
Always knew The Peveril Of The Peak would be my last port of call. I walked in and it was busy. Some non-league football team, well thats what I think they were, were in the pool room so they seemed to displace everyone and fill the pub up.
As I shuffled round looking for a spot I noticed a space I never had before. At the end of the bar, on the stairs side, there was a single stool. Placed right next to the spot where empties are put, ready to be cleaned. ‘Surely this is a taboo place to sit’, I thought. Yet a seat there sat. I asked the guy behind the bar if I could sit there, he said yeah in a non-plussed way and so I did.
It felt like I was in the heart of the pub. Noise from all directions. Bartenders to my right going back and forth pouring pints, crowded room to my left cracking pool balls and laughing. In the middle of all that I sat and enjoyed my Millstone Brewery ‘Tiger Rut’. Aye, a few times I had to grab my pint, lest it be mistaken for a empty and cleaned with the rest, but it was a great spot to watch the pub go by.
With others this seat never would of worked. We would of been in the way, constantly being shifted past, people shuffling round us. It would of been annoying. Alone though it was perfect, and I sat smugly sipping my pint knowing this solo trip had come up trumps.
Five and a bit pints deep my photography fears were put aside and I took a few pictures from my vantage point. Though by now everyone was was either too busy or too tipsy to care, and I took the below picture that I quite like.
Pint finished, I left the golden seat for someone else on a solo journey. I had a crappy Spar pizza calling me my name from home, and it was time to go.
In summary I had a great afternoon of drinking alone. Got to do and drink what I wanted. Visited some new and old places, and drank some delicious cask beer.
I did run in to a few problems, but they were mostly of my own doing, or my head playing tricks on me, but such is life. Though to be honest, I was alone, but I wasn’t lonely. I saw a few friendly faces throughout the day. Its 2022 so I was on my phone the entire time tweeting or messaging people. With that though I also put the phone down and just sat in my own company for a bit and had a beer. It was fun. I highly recommend it if you haven’t already, and I’ll definitely be doing it again. Unfortunately though you won’t be invited.
Words and pictures by Ross
2 thoughts on “Lonelier Than The Last One Standing”
Lovely piece and brought to mind a story about four blokes in Hebden Bridge who came up with the idea of dressing up as a vicar and one Sunday night each drinking alone in a pub until they were so roaring drunk they had to be thrown out, knowing that the next day people would go into work and say “Weirdest thing happened, I was in the White Swan last night and there was this vicar….” “Hold on, I was in the Kings Arms and….”
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Used to love a good day out in Wigan/Manchester/Liverpool on my own on a day off. One of the joys, and downfalls, of working in retail is having different days off to your mates most of the time. Have even done a couple Festivals alone.
Now I have a 16 month old. She has been out with me a couple times when she was younger in the pram, only a couple, maybe 3 pints. Nothing too silly, but that was the first time I ever felt awkward going to the pub on a day off “alone”. But as with you, it all seemed in my head, she was well behaved, but there are some pubs I feel I will miss for a while..
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