Manchester is coming on strong as the next big thing in the British meetings and convention market because it has a strong local vibe and creative edge spawned from its working-class roots. The city is striving to create a highly walkable series of tight-knit downtown communities while assisting local small businesses with favorable regulatory laws.
Adjacent to downtown, the Northern Quarter is an ex-industrial neighborhood with some of Manchester’s most edgy shops and restaurants like SoLita Bar & Grill. It opened in July 2012 with 32 seats, bare brick walls, wood floors and a red tufted-leather crescent bar. You’ll especially love the reproduction of the British cartoon “Modesty Blaise” on the wall depicting a female assassin who isn’t all that modest.
The crowd is young and professional but not too hipster-y with both couples and groups of friends sharing small plates and craft beer.
Owner Dominic “Dom” Sotgiu showed me around the kitchen. He’s especially proud of the “Inka” charcoal oven invented by his brother, which he explains is basically a high-temperature BBQ using coconut husks as charcoal to cook meats at 900 degrees for “unequaled tenderness.”
The menu is upscale comfort food with a heavy emphasis on burgers, steaks and chicken. Anyone on a diet should stay away because everyone orders the deep-fried mac and cheese with red onion marmalade. The classic burger with bone marrow in the beef, and an 18-oz, bone-in Texas steak trimmed “cowboy style” are also very popular.
Upstairs, there are two small private dining rooms with full A/V, seating 12 and 20 pax. Downstairs, Sotgiu built a nightclub in the basement available for private rental, using the same red tufted leather as upstairs around the banquettes.
“That is the finest English leather you can find,” he remarks, shaking his head. “It cost me a fortune.”
Sotgiu praises the city who helped him considerably with zoning and fees, because there’s such a positive attitude throughout Manchester toward indie small business owners.
“The city council has also kept taxes low so a guy can come in and take over a crappy old building, fix it up, sell good food and good beer, and make a go of it,” he explains. “They want to keep everything independent. No chains or corporate brands, because there’s a lot of really creative people like artists, designers, cooks and shirtmakers moving into the neighborhood.”
The building that SoLita occupies was originally built in 1712 as a cotton mill. Manchester is considered the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, based on the invention of the “spinning jenny” cotton loom here by Dutch weavers.
“That was the birth of commercialization, the birth of civilization as we know it,” asserts Sotgiu. “Jews, Syrians, Italians, Germans and a bunch of others came here and created what they called a ‘Cottonopolis.’ Everyone today wants to protect that, you know, we think it’s important. You and me, my friend, right now are sitting in a profoundly important piece of European mercantile history.”
Definitely check out SoLita when you’re in town, and make sure you save room for the deep fried Coke vanilla cheesecake.
For destination meetings info, visit Manchester Conferences.