Newest Review: ... fact that the interior has remained pretty much unchanged since Victorian times. The pub is part of the Tetley group and is one of their... more
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The Circus Tavern (Manchester)
Member Name: tange
The Circus Tavern (Manchester)
Advantages: Small, friendly and historically important.
Disadvantages: Only serves Tetley beer!
During January we had a trip to the CAMRA (CAMpaign for Real Ale) National Winter Ales Festival in Manchester. We decided that we would travel up by train on Saturday morning and have a couple of beers en-route from the train station to the Festival. Thus decided, we planned a little pub crawl using a current copy of the Good Beer Guide and a map of Manchester City centre ~ we had all chosen pubs we particularly wanted to visit, whether for beer range or because the pub sounded interesting.
One pub we all agreed on was The Circus Tavern. We found it on the map and found that it would only take us about ten minutes to get there ~ sorted!
~~~WHERE IS IT?
The Circus Tavern is about half a mile from Manchester Piccadilly Train Station and can be found at number 86 Portland Street. It is located in the city centre so is convenient for a stop off during a day out, whether to or from the Station. It is also quite close to Manchester’s China Town area if you fancy popping for a Chinese after your beer.
The pub opens Monday to Saturday from 12 til 11pm and Sundays from 12 til 10.30pm, so you can plan a trip.
~~~WHY DID WE WANT TO GO THERE?
The Circus Tavern is reputed to be the smallest pub in Manchester and also one of the smallest in the UK. Records also say that it is a very old pub ~ it was built around 1790 and was the place where circus performers and entertainers from the Chatham Street Circus (a street near to Portland Street) would meet for a few drinks. This history attracted us to the pub straight away, as did the fact that the interior has remained pretty much unchanged since Victorian times.
The pub is part of the Tetley group and is one of their Heritage Pubs ~ there is a plaque on the outside marking its historical importance. This also means that the only beer served is Tetley Bitter (more about that later!)! The Circus Tavern is also a Grade 2 Listed building.
~~~WHAT IS IT LIKE FROM THE OUTSIDE?
It is actually quite easy to walk past without going in, or even noticing it is there. The pub is very narrow, has three floors and really looks just like a small Victorian terraced house. The pub sign jutting out from just below the eaves is the only thing that shouts out that this is a business and not someone’s home! This sign has a circus theme and is pretty colourful ~ without this sign the pub would be dwarfed by the buildings around it. Once you have found it is there the next step is go inside….
~~~THE HISTORIC INTERIOR.
Once through the door you would expect to be in a hall or straight into a main bar area. What you do get is a rather unusual set up ~ the bar is directly ahead of you, nestling under the staircase, with two small rooms accessible by doors to the right of the bar. The bar is tiny, with just a couple of handpumps and only enough room for one person to serve. The décor is what you would expect of a Victorian boozer ~ tiles, dark colours and lots of pictures.
The front (slightly smaller) bar fits in four small tables and the walls are full of photographs that I presume are of previous customers and staff. The back bar shows strong support for Manchester United Football Club and gets very busy and pretty noisy when there is a match on. Both bars can really only comfortably fit about 12 people in and have wooden seats and benches ~ don’t expect comfy sofas or Wine Bar decorations! Mostly the drinkers spill out into the corridor and stand around by the bar.
~~~FOOD & DRINK.
As I mentioned previously, the only beer you are going to get is Tetley Bitter! We were, however, surprised by how good it tasted. In fact we said that if Tetley always tasted THIS good we would drink it more often! A pint cost Ł2.00 and we got a full measure and were served with a smile. Until recently this would be just about the only drink they served ~ now you can get a lager, a Guinness and either red or white wine if you want. Most people have the bitter, but the landlord said he had to keep up with times and bring in more variety!
This is a drinkers’ pub so they don’t do meals. They have a limited range of crisps and nuts and they often hand round free slices of pork pie.
~~~WHAT DID I THINK?
The Circus Tavern is a rare find these days. It is worth visiting not only to sample the beer, but to see an unspoilt pub too ~ most have been ripped apart by pub companies and turned into soulless bars, or rustic themed pubs. Even from the outside this pub has got to be visited! I was very pleased we had sought it out and made the effort to look for it.
I was glad we went in on a quieter day though, because I can imagine it being a little uncomfortable when busy. It is also a bit of a bloke’s pub ~ my friend and I (and the landlady) were the only women there and apparently this is not uncommon. The atmosphere though is very relaxed and friendly and, despite it being difficult to serve a group at the bar, the people serving were courteous and chatty. This is the sort of pub where you would soon become a regular. If you didn’t know anyone when you went it I’m sure you would by the time you left ~ we got chatting to the others in the front room and we were on first name terms by the time we had drunk up!
The Circus is a place for good drink, good company and good conversation. There is no music and the only background noise you will get is the steady hum of people talking. The loudest sounds you will find will be a current debate about the football scores! The style of the pub is comfortable and relaxed too ~ slightly rough and ready, but clean and well loved! Definitely a place full of character and I was wondering what the walls would be able to tell us if they could talk ~ how many stories and conversations have gone on over the years?
I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to The Circus Tavern and would recommend it wholeheartedly to others. It is a Victorian local that also attracts passers by ~ everyone acts and feels relaxed and everyone is made welcome. I would love to go back soon. We are already planning a weekend trip to Manchester and have all said that The Circus Tavern is top of the “must visit” list….
86 Portland Street
0161 236 5818
Summary: A small pub with a big history!