In which we consider the increasing homogenisation of Manchester’s bar scene.
At the start of the year it was announced that Zecol, the company that operates the Trof chain, had taken over The Green Room and Albert Hall Brannigans, two sites that had fallen into disuse some months earlier. In an interview with Manchester Confidential, Zecol managing director Joel Wilkinson spoke of the company’s plans: “We need to decide on the look and feel we’re going to give the place, although it won’t be radically different to the rest of the Trof bars.”
Little over a month later, a similar story emerged. The success of Black Dog Ballroom has prompted the owners to take over the vacant Pure Space site on New Wakefield Street. Ross Mackenzie, one of the two men behind the Northern Quarter venue, has already suggested that the new venue will seek to replicate the original, with his long-term goal involving establishing the brand across North England.
These developments raise an interesting question: can this kind of homogeneity really be a good thing for the city?
The success of the likes of Trof and Black Dog strikes me as a double-edged sword. The fact that these businesses are expanding is good news for the city economically (and any development that helps create new jobs should be celebrated); however, as far as Manchester’s social scene is concerned it does nothing to improve choice: we simply get an almost identikit version of an established brand popping up in a new location. More of the same, in other words. The Northern Quarter Black Dog serves its purpose and its clientele just fine; is it really necessary to open another one just a 20 minute walk away?
Similarly, does the city centre really need FOUR Trof venues if each one is going to be utilising the same approach and aesthetic? Is it not in danger of becoming a Wetherspoon’s for the alternative set?
I’m aware than an argument could be made that these companies are taking over failed sites, revitalising venues that weren’t able to remain open in the current climate. Which is a perfectly fair point. However, Trof and Black Dog grew to thrive because they brought something new to the table, offering a different kind of night out and unique selling points that pack the punters in. The pair stand as proof that new ideas can succeed. If there’s room in the city’s social scene for popular outlets to expand, surely there’s room for original concepts to take off? In particular, the success of the likes of Black Dog and Port Street Beer House against a difficult economic backdrop suggests that there is.
The Green Room and Space are fantastic venues, and the news that both will soon be back in commission is most welcome indeed. Here’s hoping that Trof and Black Dog show a willingness to try something new and take a few risks, rather than simply resting on their laurels.