Literary cafes: The best and most bookish places to eat & drink

Susie Stubbs

With Manchester Literature Festival coming up, our thoughts naturally turned to our diaries, and to our stomachs…

What better pairing that literature and food? There are cookbooks dedicated to it, stuffed with recipes from the novels we like best. We can’t tell you where to get Mock Turtle Soup (although Neighbourhood does a great Alice in Wonderland afternoon tea), but here are our favourite places to combine our love of literature with our love of food (and drink).

Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

The former home of the industrial novelist – the woman behind North and South and Mary Barton – reopens this weekend after a £2.5 million restoration. The Regency home, with its beautifully furnished rooms, includes a study stocked with period books – as well as a tearoom and garden.

Mr. Thomas’ Chophouse

OK, so this Victorian boozer and eatery doesn’t have any literary connections. But we include it in our list for two reasons. One, it is close to the Cross Street Unitarian Chapel where the Reverend William Gaskell (that’s Mr. Elizabeth Gaskell to you) thumped his tubs. Two, it has the sort of Victorian vibe that we can imagine our Mr. Gaskell feeling entirely at home with (corned beef hash, anyone?). And three, it’s really rather nice. Sorry – we said two reasons, didn’t we? Numbers were never a strong point. Words, on the other hand…

Peveril of The Peak

Another pub, and another one liberally plastered with the sorts of bottle green, yellow and brown Victorian tiles that are a reclamation yard’s dream – this gem of a boozer is named after Sir Walter Scott’s novel of the same name.

John Rylands Library

For atmospheric libraries, you can’t really beat Deansgate’s finest. Settle down in one of the nooks off the main reading room, then head downstairs to its modest café.

The Marble Arch

The passive, patient face of this historic pub must have witnessed a few sights, not least the ups and downs of what was once the notorious Angel Meadow slum on its doorstep. It was this slum that, among others festering in Industrial Revolution Manchester, later inspired Karl Marx to write the Communist Manifesto.


And when it comes to slums, king among them all (probably) was Little Ireland, which had the dubious honour of inspiring another writer; Friedrich Engels, this time, with his The Conditions of the Working Class in England. Think on, as you sup your cappuccino at Cornerhouse: Little Ireland once occupied the land around and behind Oxford Road Station.

The Art of Tea

It’s a little off our city centre patch, but The Art of Tea is a Didsbury café whose unhurried, stay-as-long-as-you-like demeanor stretches to the bookshop in the back (AKA the Didsbury Village Bookshop, AKA “The Friendliest Bookshop in the World”). Choose a brew, pick a paperback and settle in.

The Castle Hotel

This diminutive pub on Oldham Street is one of our favourite live music haunts – and it’s also the venue for some of the city’s regular live literature nights, including Bad Language, First Draft and experimental poetry night The Other Room. True storytelling night Tales of Whatever also happens intermittently at the newly refurbished Gulliver’s pub across the road.


While we’re in the Northern Quarter, make time to pop into the Icelandic-inspired coffee house, whose claim to literary fame only extends as far as its bookcase at the back – but it’s a good place to sit and read as any, or eavesdrop as you gather material for your next bestseller. There are plug sockets next to most of the tables, too.

International Anthony Burgess Foundation

Free wifi, great coffee and a centre dedicated to that most prolific of writers, the Burgess Foundation is usually a peaceful spot – though it’s only open weekdays (10am-2pm).

Central Library

Central Library can stake its own literary claim. It houses, after all, enough books to fill a Cheshire salt mine. But it also made an appearance as a dusty old relic in Steven Hall’s The Raw Shark Texts, a very strange novel that featured a conceptual shark that fed on human memories. The café here is more clattery canteen-like than sophisticated coffee house, but its flapjacks and brownies would surely sate even a memory-munching shark.

The Portico Library

Another library, another gem: the Portico is such a sweet, wee place, tucked up a set of stairs and, you’d think, open to members only. Not so: non-members can swing by, breathe in the papery smell of all those 19th-century novels, and then take tea, cake or lunch in the gallery between 12pm-2pm (except Sundays). The Portico is also one of the settings for Emma Jane Unsworth’s second novel, Animals.

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