The Best Small Venues for Live Music in Manchester

Soup Kitchen
Soup Kitchen | © Side Stage Collective / Flickr
Emma Lavelle

Manchester is well known for its music scene and is an obvious stopping place for most bands on tour. Large venues such as Manchester Arena, the O2 Apollo and the Albert Hall regularly host sell-out gigs and concerts by anyone from pop sensations to indie heroes – but where should you head to catch smaller bands or local music? The city is full of small venues hosting independent festivals, acoustic performances and raucous gigs. These are the places you should have on your radar if you want to watch a band in small intimate surroundings before they make it big.

1. The Castle Hotel

From the street, The Castle Hotel may look like your average boozer but venture past the bar into the back room and you’ll discover one of the most intimate venues in Manchester. The double-height ceiling perfectly frames the small stage that has played host to the likes of Mercury-Prize winners Alt-J and many other bands that have gone on to play much larger venues. You’re just as likely to stumble across a local folk night with everyone sat on the floor and fairy-lights strung above the stage as you are to discover a tightly packed crowd jumping around to guitar music.

The Castle Hotel, 66 Oldham St, Manchester, +44 61 237 9485

2. Gullivers

Located right across the street from the Castle, Gullivers has a larger room for live music located on its first floor. The downstairs bar and snug are always packed with music-lovers on the night of a gig, and several independent festivals include the traditional pub as one of their venues. Touring bands, local musicians and experimental artists all perform here regularly, with a gig occurring most nights of the week.

Gullivers, 109 Oldham St, Manchester, +44 161 819 2970

3. Soup Kitchen

Another Northern Quarter venue, Soup Kitchen sits on the corner of Stevenson Square, tempting in passers-by to its upstairs bar and canteen. However, its downstairs in the somewhat dingy basement that lively, packed out gigs are common place. This is the place to discover the latest hyped band with the promoters having a keen eye for spotting the next big thing. It’s cold, grimy and the concrete floor will make your feet ache – but you’ll forget all of that when you’re dancing around and enjoying the music.

Soup Kitchen, 31-33 Spear St, Manchester, +44 161 236 5100

4. Gorilla

Bar, Restaurant, Pub Grub, British

Located under the railway tracks around the corner from Oxford Road train station, Gorilla is part of the Trof empire that dominates the city’s music scene (the Albert Hall being the largest venue in the repertoire). The cavernous room echoes the shape of the arch located above, providing a medium-sized space that caters to music acts that have outgrown smaller venues but aren’t quite ready for arenas. The venue has played host to a wide variety of bands and performers from a vast spectrum of musical genres including dance, indie and garage.

5. Deaf Institute

Nightclub, Bar, Wine, Cocktails, Beer, Pub Grub, Fast Food

Another venue owned by Trof, the Deaf Institute may be located within the student corridor of Oxford Road but it’s impressive calibre of gigs ensure that it attracts a wider audience. The venue space is on the first floor of the Grade II listed building; a small room with a domed ceiling and large bar. There’s plenty of standing room but the tiered seats at the back of the room or the small balcony to the left of the stage give you impressive views of the stage while saving you from bashing elbows with over-enthusiast music fans.

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