If Manchester has long been considered England’s second city when it comes to LGBT life, over the last ten years it has rapidly ascended to that status when it comes to every form of other cultural attraction. The unrivalled atmosphere of Canal Street’s bars and clubs might have been immortalised by Queer as Folk at the turn of the millennium, but whether it’s arts, food or the vintage shops and hipster haunts that adorn the city’s Northern Quarter, the years since have seen Manchester firmly establish itself as a city on the move outside of the village too.
If a single establishment could be emblematic of the transformation this historically industrial city continues to undergo, The Principal Manchester would come pretty close. Situated on Oxford Street just minutes away from the slick facades of Deansgate on one side and the raucous, still-romantic (thanks Russell T Davies) potential of the gay village on the other, this striking, Grade II-listed Victorian red brick building has been a staple of the Manchester skyline since 1895, when it began life as the offices of the Refuge Assurance Company. After garnering a somewhat stuffy reputation during its 20 years the Palace Hotel, a colossal two-year, £25million refurbishment project has brought the newly-reopened establishment smack bang into the 21st century, while preserving all the character you’d expect of a building with such a long historical legacy.
The crisp elegance of the building’s original features marks the new interiors, which have been artfully designed by Michaelis Boyd. Ceramic tiled walls and marble staircases connect the maze of 270 guestrooms, which themselves have been fabulously reappointed with cool blues and greys, heavy wooden furniture, and more brass than a Canal Street hen party. The bedrooms themselves are expansive, with the floor-to-ceiling curtains that cover the double height windows on the lowers floors adding a real sense of grandeur to this gorgeously made-up four-star hotel.
Given its size and historical status, you’d be forgiven for assuming The Principal comes with a potentially intimidating degree of pomposity. In reality, that that couldn’t be further from the truth: With its warm interior stylings, a ‘Den’ for pool and table football and a cleverly appointed central dining room-cum-public bar that has the atmosphere of a splendidly vintage but relaxed drinking lounge, The Principal somehow manages to retain the welcoming intimacy of a hotel half the size.
That dining room-cum-bar is the The Refuge; a grand former typing pool at the hotel’s heart that’s been cleverly divided in cosy sitting areas and whose sweeping, well-stocked central bar and glorious art deco design touches will make you feel as if you’ve just stepped into a ‘30s Manhattan watering hole. The restaurant and its drool-inducing menu of traditional favourites with a global twist were created in partnership with the duo behind the hit Volta restaurant in Manchester’s West Didsbury, while adjacent interior glasshouse The Winter Garden is was twinkling oasis of calm come nightfall during our visit.
Whatever nocturnal amusements lie right around the corner on Canal Street, The Principal Manchester is a place you can happily while away a relaxed, indulgent evening in luxurious surrounds, without ever having to having to put on airs.
Double rooms from £134.50, including breakfast. The Principal Manchester, Oxford Street, Manchester, M60 7HA (0161 288 1111)