If you’re looking for gigs in Manchester, then you’re in luck, because there’s a tonne of them every night, everywhere you look. Even better than that, though, all of them are in more or less the same place; that’s not to say the same venue, quite the contrary. In fact, there’s probably about 50-70 gig venues in the same 3-mile radius. This “Gig District” is, of course, the Northern Quarter-Oxford Road area of Manchester. Contained inside of this small district in the centre of the large city, is pretty much every type of music under the sun, pretty much every night.
Manchester has a very rich musical history, and we’ll be delving into that here, taking a look at artists who have historically played there, and where they played, as well as looking at the history of the places they played. Don’t worry, though, as we won’t just be living in the past, we’ll be looking at modern artists who have played at these venues, many big names you’ve no doubt heard, and, of course, we’ll only be covering venues which are still open today (we’re looking at you, Roadhouse!). We’ll also be looking at why some of these venues are still relevant today, and why you should check them all out, old and new alike.
Then we’ll be looking at some places you can eat in the Gig District, so that no matter what venue you find yourself at, and no matter what food is picking your taste today, you’ll know exactly where to go. There’s also not 1, but 3 main Manchester train stations in the area, with Picadilly and Victoria bordering the Northern Quarter, and Oxford Road Station being the centre of Oxford Road.
The Oxford Road area
Oxford Road might just be the most populated road in all of Manchester, with shops, venues, restaurants/fast-food joints everywhere you look. The Oxford Road area has 6 different gig venues in it. Just to clear up, on just Oxford Road and the roads that lead off of it, there are 6 different venues that you can check out! That’s 6 more than the average road.
The O2 Ritz - Whitworth Street
Owned by the academy music group, this 1500 capacity club is the oldest night club in Manchester. Constructed in 1927, this venue has seen some of the most famous artists in history, including but not limited to The Beatles, The Smiths, Arctic Monkeys and REM. Nowadays the Ritz still sees a lot of action from the more modern artists, having hosted concerts for some of the most upcoming artists today, such as Machine Gun Kelly and Yungblud.
Gorilla - Whitworth Street
This one is a more recently opened venue, having been around since 2012. With a capacity of only 600, this is the perfect environment for hosting small artists who are looking to grow. Some of the artists hosted here have been Everything Everything, Delphie, James Blake, and Frank Turner. While not as historically relevant, the environment is of the new, clean sort of feel, and it works nicely to preserve the atmosphere when you’re inside. You’ll find a lot of indie-rock/pop here.
Sound Control - New Wakefield Street
f this one sounds familiar, that’s probably because it is. Sounds Control used to be a music shop, but was converted into a small venue just off of Oxford Road. Another more modern venue with a small capacity - this time of only 500 - you’ll find a lot of rock/metal bands here, such as The Skints, Scholars, and Wolf Down, all names that you probably haven’t heard, but no doubt the people who did hear them remembered them.
Deaf Institute - Oxford Road
The Deaf Institute might seem a counter-intuitive name for a gig venue, but this is one of the most lively joints to see some of Manchester Gigs. With a capacity of only 260, this one is on the smaller end of the venues on this list, and it’s also one of the oldest, having been established in 1878 as an institution to help deaf people lead normal lives, now it stands as a venue for rock and punk bands from all over. Artists such as Black Lips and Mø have played here before they became as popular as they are today. Nobody knows exactly when the Deaf Institute started playing music, but everyone who visits is glad it happened.
The Manchester Academies - Oxford Road
There are 4 Manchester Academies, 3 of which are in the same building and one of which is a standalone building.
Academy 1, more commonly known as simply ‘The Manchester Academy’, has been around since 1990, and is one of the most popular venues in Manchester. This is the only of the 4 academies that isn’t located in the main Student’s Union building. The largest of the 4 academies, academy 1 has a capacity of 2600.
The second academy, academy 2, was originally known as the Main Debating Hall before the academies were repurposed for student leisure. This is the second largest of the academies with a capacity of 950.
Academy 3, also commonly known as “Hop and Grape”, is the least popular of the 4 academies, and resides on the top floor of the Student’s Union. Of the 4 academies, this one is the smallest, with a capacity of only 470.
The fourth academy is not known as Academy 4, but “The Academy Cellar”, or more often, just “The Cellar”, and is located in the basement of the Student’s Union building. It has a capacity of 650.
The academies have hosted a great plethora of artists over the years, some of whom went on to become, to say the least, a little bit famous. Some of these artists include AC/DC, The Cure, Kylie Minogue, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Pink Floyd, and Queen, but there’s many many more who haven’t been listed here. Academy 1 was also voted the UK’s Greenest Venue having contributed over £3.5 million to reduce its carbon footprint. There was, however, some controversy surrounding the refurbishment of the academy in 2007, after it opened before renovations were fully complete, and customers were having to use the portable toilets outside.
Albert Hall - Peter Street
The Royal Albert Hall is a haven for small, upcoming bands, having hosted emo, rock, and indie artists alike, with the likes of Creeper, The Front Bottoms, Sundara Karma, and Blossoms, having played there, need I say more? If you haven’t heard of any of these bands, that’s probably because they’re still pretty small, but no list of upcoming bands is complete without them. There was also a few left-field artists earlier in the venue’s life span, such as Snoop Dogg, and Boyz II Men, and bands who would go on to grow huge such as Cage the Elephant, CHVRCHES and Goo Goo Dolls. This is one of the nicest venues on this list, also, having a very victorian gothic style of architecture, and a layout which is…. Unique, to say the least. The Albert Hall is on the larger side, with a capacity of 2600. The building was constructed as a methodist church in 1908, which is probably the reason for the interesting layout and architecture of the building. The top floor was renovated for live music 2012-2014, having been used as a nightclub for the 12 years before that.
Places to stay in the Gig District
The Northern Quarter
The Northern Quarter is an area of Manchester’s City Centre where the majority of the gigs, restaurants, and leisure activities are based. However, the Northern Quarter may be the centre for gigs, but it is not the centre for historical venues, so if you’re looking for a venue with a bit more history, you should check out some of the ones on Oxford Road, which lies just outside of the Northern Quarter area.
Band on the Wall - Swan Street
Band on the wall is one of the nicest venues to see some Manchester gigs. It’s usually a jazz club but can host other music too. Originally, Band on the wall was a pub, which opened in 1862. It became a lot more popular in WW2 and is well known for selling a record 24,000 bottles of beer in one day, on a bank holiday weekend. Band on the wall with its modest 320 capacity has hosted a bunch of artists over the years who you’ve probably heard of, such as Joy Division and The Buzzcocks.
The Ruby Lounge - High Street
This rough and ready pub and small music venue has reasonably priced drinks and a capacity of 375. Bands such as Mumford and Sons have played here, as well as The Bronx, and Pinkish Black. It opened as a venue in 2009 and has been popular ever since. Though there’s not much more to say about this one, almost everyone who goes here has nothing but positive things to say about it.
Soup Kitchen - Spear Street
Another of the more recent venues, Soup Kitchen opened in 2014 and has hosted a lot of small rock bands since such as worriedaboutsatan, The Ex, and Charlie Barnes. If you’re interested in rock music and want to hear something new, this might be the place for you.
The Fitzgerald - Heaton Moor
The Fitzgerald holds a capacity of only 120 people, you’re sure to get an intimate experience, whoever you’re seeing. It’s also probably the most atmospheric venue on this list, having a very moody, speakeasy vibe, with its back alley entrance and darkish aesthetic, you feel like you’re keeping a secret when you’re here.
The Whiskey Jar - Tarriff Street
With regular open mic nights, as well as live music, this bar has a much more personal feel to it than perhaps some of the other venues we’ve looked at so far. The Whiskey Jar for sure has a classic feel to it, much like the song it is named after, and you can tell the people who run and work here love music and have a passion for helping others to love it too. Unsurprisingly, considering the name of the joint, the drinks here are very focused on whiskey, so if you’re a whiskey person or you just like a slower more personal jam, then this is where you want to be.
The Castle Hotel - Oldham Street
The Castle Hotel has a long history dating back to 1776. It started as a pub called The Crown and Sceptre, but has rebranded multiple times, calling itself The Crown and Anchor, and then later The Clock Face, before finally settling as The Castle Hotel sometime in the 1800s. The music hall opened in 2010, with a capacity of only 80, giving this venue the special title of the smallest on this list.
The Manchester Arena
Of course, we couldn’t talk about Manchester gigs without bringing up the behemoth itself, the Manchester Arena. This is the only venue on the list that isn’t in the Gig District, but its right outside of the Gig District so it won’t pose too much of a challenge to walk here from the other venues. Pretty much every big artist in the last 30 years has played here, and if a big artist wants to come to Manchester, this is usually where they play. That said, sometimes an artist will be hosted by a stadium which will be converted just for the night of the show, like Old Trafford or Etihad Stadium. The Arena has, needless to say, hosted pretty much every genre of music, and with a capacity of 21,000, don’t come here if you’re looking for a quiet night. With that said, if you’ve ever been in an arena crowd for a gig, you’ll know that the atmosphere is electric, whoever you’re seeing. The Arena has hosted almost every artist that you’ll have heard of, from Queens of the Stone age to Gorillaz to Metallica to Arctic Monkeys to Nicki Minaj to Harry Styles, all since it opened in 1990. The Arena was also voted the International Venue of the Year in 2002 and was nominated an unrivalled 10 consecutive times since then.
Places to eat in the Gig District
Of course, wish though we may, gigs are not the only basic human need that we have, and during your time in Manchester, you might want to eat something too. Don’t neglect food for gigs, however tempted you might be. Here’s a few places to eat so you can stay energetic when the main act comes out. There’s also McDonalds and Subways everywhere all over the Northern Quarter so if you fancy something quicker or cheaper, you might want to take a quick look around and find the nearest one (it’s probably on the same road as you). All restaurants recommended. have both vegetarian and vegan options.
Why not kick it off with the most popular type of food in Britain, Chinese food. Sweet Mandarin is a Chinese restaurant located on Copperas Street. This award-winning restaurant has quick service, great prices, and delicious food, as well as cocktails. It is wheelchair accessible and provides highchairs.
R Rev Vegan Diner
An American Vegan Fast Food Cafe right in the centre of the Northern Quarter sounds perfect for those with special dietary requirements, and that’s because it is. There’s also a full bar, wheelchair access, and highchairs available, as well as takeout if you’re in a rush to get back to the gig line. You can find R Rev on Edge Street.
Archie's All American Diner
Archie’s is located on Oxford Road, ideally placed if you’re going to a show at the academies or the Ritz, or anywhere in-between. The American themes fast food restaurant provides great service, great food, and a seat to eat-in before or after the gig.
Luck Lust Liquor and Burn
If Mexican food is what you’re after, then just pop over to High Street and find yourself at Luck Lust Liquor and Burn for some delicious food.
And of course, how could we leave Italian food off of the list. Noi Quattro offers a range of delicious Italian, Mediterranean, and general European food for all dietary requirements, at very reasonable prices, with great service.
Trof - Northern Quarter
But if you’re feeling particularly English today, you can pop over to Thomas Street for some great pub food at Trof. That said, if you’re going to eat here, you should book in advance, as it is a popular demand restaurant.
As you can see there is no shortage of places to see Manchester gigs, where it's a chart topping band or a up and coming solo singer. The venues range from tiny but legendary back street pubs to national arenas with everything inbetween. In such an energetic and diverse city you'll find Manchester gigs no matter what your taste.