So, here we are at bar number 75. I don’t mind telling you, these things are getting harder and harder to write. Back when we started in 2013, and made our way around the dozen or so BrewDog bars in existence during our first year, there were interesting little quirks to every one we visited. But as the chain’s got bigger and bigger, individuality has predictably been sidelined in favour of a standardised corporate image. The regular sized bars (like, say, Chancery Lane) have become much of a muchness: you’re left hoping for the occasional deviation from the norm.
Well, we should be getting one of those in London next year, thanks to the recent announcement of the new megabar set to open in the former Eurostar terminal at Waterloo station. From the initial press release, it seems like every idea BrewDog has ever had – both good and not-so-good – is going to be mashed up into a single location, topped off with the health and safety nightmare of a slide connecting its two stories.
Maybe this is the future for BrewDog (and, perhaps, BrewDogging): small bars opening without much fanfare, interspersed with high-profile showstoppers. And if DogHouse Manchester isn’t a showstopper, then I don’t know what is.
We need to start off by defining some terms. This isn’t the first time BrewDog have called something a DogHouse – it used to be the name of the Glasgow Merchant City bar, indicating that its on-site barbecue was something special and possibly the first of many such venues. It turned out to be one of those BrewDog concepts that didn't quite take off, and these days the barbie is presumably sitting neglected in the garden shed. The name was quietly dropped, and is now being used as the branding for a small collection of custom-built hotels: the first one was in Columbus, Ohio, and DogHouse Manchester is the second. (Not to be confused with Aberdeen Castlegate, which is also a hotel but branded as Kennels, because it's a series of rooms added on top of a pre-existing bar.)
You know my connections to Manchester, so it won't surprise you to learn that we headed up there in November for a research trip, as well as to see Jarvis Cocker playing at the Albert Hall. We arrive a little before check-in time, which gives us the opportunity to check out the ground floor bar – quite a sizable affair, with lots of booths and comfy seats scattered around – and get to claim one of our perks as residents, a free beer. Once it hits 3pm – by which time the actual bar area is as quiet as you’d expect a city centre bar to be on a weekday afternoon, but showing signs of getting busier – we head up to the room itself to find out what it’s like to live inside a BrewDog bar for a night.
And yes, the décor is completely out of the BrewDog bar playbook, all the way up to a neon sign (not actual neon, that’d probably be dangerous) over the bed with a terrible pun – BEER DREAM BELIEVER in our case. Look up from the bed and it’s all exposed concrete and brickwork: but look around instead and it’s actually quite a tastefully laid out room, as you can see from the photo. There's a mixture of solid traditional features (big bed, smallish kettle, decent sized shower) and quirky ones (free Curly Wurly, yoga mat). If you were wondering if being located on top of a bar is a problem, it turns out that the soundproofing is pretty impressive – when we head down to the bar again around 5.30pm, it comes as a genuine surprise that it's filled up in the meantime.
But of course, you’re not interested in the usual room specs: you want to know what kind of larks BrewDog have got up to to make the room appeal to their usual customers. It has to be said, in a number of areas they appear to have set themselves up for disappointment. Yes, there’s a beer tap in your room, but you have to commit to either buying a full five litre keg for it, or not using it at all - you can't just grab a cheeky half from it on demand. Yes, there’s a cupboard labelled Shower Beer inside the actual shower, but again you have to buy a full multi-beer package rather than using it like a traditional mini-bar. Yes, there’s a guitar supplied with the room – but was it wrong of me to assume it would be electric, rather than acoustic?
Still, these are all petty niggles, though it probably helps to be aware of them before you book. And the staff are all massively eager to help with anything that may get in the way of your enjoyment. Case in point – one of the other features in the room is a record deck, set up to play through the sound bar that comes with the telly, and a stash of vinyl from local legends like Johnny Marr, Doves and GoGo Penguin. Problem is, when we try playing a record it sounds like crackly garbage. Within a couple of minutes of phoning reception, someone is in our room rewiring the sound bar, and we're soon able to dance around like good'uns to There Goes The Fear. (Video of this exists. No, you're not going to see it.)
So far we've seen the bar on the ground floor, and the hotel rooms above it. But we can also get back into the lift and go up to the top of the building, to investigate BrewDog’s first rooftop bar. Admittedly, a chilly Tuesday in November may not be the best way to experience this for the first time: but it’ll probably be a lovely place to hang out in the summer. And BrewDog do what they can to make it hospitable in the circumstances: a smaller capacity bar with table service, blankets, heaters and – the main reason we’re here in freezing cold weather – a small but perfectly formed taco menu, with a cheap deal because it’s Taco Tuesday. The view might not be all that stunning – you’re basically eating your tacos while looking at the back of Primark – but I’d imagine people won’t care about that too much once the weather picks up a bit.
Filled with tacos and beer, we go down to the Albert Hall to see Jarv doing his thing, as briefly reviewed here. We decide to pop into the other Manchester BrewDog bar after the gig to see how that’s getting on, seeing as it's just down the road. Back when DogHouse was originally being planned, it was assumed it would be a replacement for the Peter Street bar, which had just been threatened with closure. But it got a reprieve, which means that the question is now whether central Manchester can sustain two bars at the same time (plus a third one out in the university district). The answer, on this evidence, appears to be yes. There aren't as many post-gig drinkers in Peter Street as I would have expected, but it's buzzy, though not much more than you’d usually expect for a city centre Tuesday night. It’s a similar story as we head back to the DogHouse for the midnight to 1am shift and a cheeky nightcap of an Off-Duty King: again, there’s a respectable crowd in there, although we’re in the privileged position of watching as it gradually dwindles to just the residents.
And as residents, we have one more thing to look forward to in the bar the following morning (making this, I believe, the only BrewDog bar we’ve visited four times in a single 24 hour period). Weekend brunch is now a regular feature in many of the bars, but weekdays are another kettle of kippers altogether: they’ve tried offering breakfast in a few locations close to offices (notably in the early days of Canary Wharf), but never seemed to be able to sustain it as a business. Now that they have a hotel, breakfast is something they’re obliged to provide, and the menu has some interesting options – from multiple variations on Eggs Benedict, to a glorious thing that calls itself a Korean bacon sandwich (bacon fried with gochujang and served in a bao bun).
Thanks to a raft of little details like this, DogHouse Manchester is a properly impressive addition to the BrewDog estate. As long as they keep their nerve and manage to keep all these features going, then this could all work out very nicely indeed. We'll also have to see if they can sustain the concept into other locations, such as the just-opened second UK DogHouse in Edinburgh. I can see another overnight stay in our future...
[Previously: Bristol, Camden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Shoreditch, Aberdeen, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kungsholmen, Leeds†, Shepherd's Bush, Nottingham, Sheffield, Dog Tap, Tate Modern†, Clapham Junction, Roppongi, Liverpool, Dundee, Bologna, Florence, Brighton, Dog Eat Dog/Angel†, Brussels, Soho, Cardiff, Barcelona, Clerkenwell, DogHouse Glasgow, Rome†, Castlegate, Leicester, Oslo, Gothenburg, Södermalm, Turku†, Helsinki†, Gray's Inn Road†, Stirling, Norwich, Southampton, Homerton†, Berlin, Warsaw†, Leeds North Street, York, Hong Kong†, Oxford, Seven Dials, Reading, Malmo, Tallinn, Overworks, Tower Hill, Edinburgh Lothian Road, Milton Keynes, Canary Wharf, Brixton, Paddington, Dalston, Aberdeen Union Square, Peterhead, Itaewon, Le Marais, Outpost Manchester, Perth, Edinburgh Airport, Carlisle, St Pauli, Old Street, Cambridge, Ealing, St Andrews, Chancery Lane]