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Best Bars in Manchester NH - Reviews, Rants, and Raves
Of all the places to go and things to do in manchester nh, the bar scene is one of the most happening. Us Manchesterites (Manchers? Manchestarians?) seem to sure love our boozahol. That's why when drafting up a "Things to do in Manchester NH" write up, I realized I could do one on just the bars alone. Now of course, I haven't covered all the bars in the great Queen City, but I did my best on what I thought were the most noteworthy, for better or for worse.
The Strange Brew Tavern
The Strange Brew Pub is a regular place for me, its strong suit being its incredible beer selection, and its wonderful menu. Now, many people are there for the beer, but don't neglect the food. While I've been there for the drink much more often than the dinner, their food is inventive and delicious.
But their beer selection is what makes the Strange Brew popular. This is the kind of bar that gives you a menu of their beer selection. With over 100 different beers on tap, it is vast, and it is all pretty good. They carry all the popular urine samples; Bud light, Coors, Rolling Rock, etc, but also many beers from local breweries and small batches are what really populate their taps. Despite their selection, prices remain decent. Sure, some beers offered can reach the $8 mark, but most are around $5 and some are less. Pabst Blue Ribbon is $2.50, as it should be, but all Harpoon beers are the same price point - a great deal. Want a better deal? Head to Strange Brew on a Tuesday and you'll find any liquor drink for a measly $3.
The Strange Brew is an excellent place on the night of a sports game, but if you're there looking for cool new for music, it is generally not the place to be. I'm actually surprised at the success of the Strange Brew given their usual musical choice. While I have seen some great unique acts there, it's more often than not "Dad Rock." Men in their mid 40s playing covers of Cream, the Steve Miller Band, and BB King. Not that there's anything wrong with those bands, it just goes to show that this bar can survive without the pull of original acts. It is the beer and the games on the TV that bring people in, and the excellent staff and realistic pricing that cause people to stay.
I don't tend to go to Murphy's that often, but that is mostly because by the time I am headed downtown, it is already packed… but that's not a bad thing. The amount of business that Murphy's Taproom turns out on a regular basis is extraordinary. Boasting an impressive 120 beers on tap, they have a staggering amount of beer to choose from, and great pub food to boot. (Possibly a pun if you've had too much to drink). With frequent music and events like open mic or comedy night, they keep the scene going, despite being a bit south of the bar sweet spot on Elm street. In the summer time, the crowds happily spill out to their massive patio, which features plenty of seating, a small stage, an upper deck, and even it's own bar almost as big as the main one inside.
Murphy's is also the place to be with sports events. The taproom was a buzzing hornets nest this winter, swarmed with the black and yellow of Bruins fans during every game. The screens are big and the beer is cold. It's a great place to catch dinner and the game, with an eclectic menu offering standard pub fare like burgers and wings, but also sandwiches, pizza, cakes, and traditional Irish meals like their Guinness Beef Stew or shepherds pie. It's a place where I unfortunately don't make it to very often, and I'm always kicking myself because of it. If don't want to end up a self-loathing loser like me, make your way to Murphy's.
The Shaskeen pub, located right on Elm street is the perfect middle ground bar. I don't mean that it is perfect bar or anything, it is just consistantly good. There is pretty solid entertainment throughout the week, with music filling out most of the week, but also fun events filling in between. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday consits of various bands performng on their back room stage. I have seen so many good bands perform in the back room and it is a generally good venue. When bands tour New England, the Shaskeen is a great room to play with a pretty flexible crowd. I have seen metal, hip-hop, bluegrass, rock, country, folk, indie, and punk bands all perform to a full room. Speaking of hip-hop, THE GZA AND COOLIO HAVE PERFORMED AT THE SHASKEEN! I don't understand this, but I guess I don't need to. It's cool. Sunday from 2 to 5 is the Irish Session with the Spain Brothers playing the front room. Hit this up and enjoy happy hour deals like $3 drafts and BOGO appetizers. The food is pretty typical pub too, but good nonetheless. Wednesday night is Open Mic Comedy Night. This is a surprisingly good time. The people that make their way to the stage are generally actually pretty funny. Obviously there are some people that bomb, but those can even be pretty entertaining too!. Fortunately, there is a good sense of community and if you decide to go up, and happen to fail, it's all in good spirits.
All in all, the Shaskeen is one of the best bars in Manchester, though I can't quite put my finger on why. The mix drinks are always just okay. The selection of beer is nothing special. The prices are average. The staff is friendly and professional, but never over the top. The musical acts are generally good. The crowds are mixed and leave no real impression in my mind. So how can I say that the Shaskeen is one of the best watering holes in Manchvegas? I guess it's because they are never bad. They are a jack of all trades, but a master of none. They don't succeed at being the best at anything, but everything they do is solid enough that you are pretty much guaranteed a good time.
The Wild Rover
The Rover shares a lot in vibe with the Shaskeen, it's only flaw being that it is tucked away off Elm street. It sits behind McGurveys and is accessible by Lowell st, buy the Red Arrow. The Rover is like the less hip older brother of the Shaskeen. It's an Irish pub and, unlike the Shaskeen, hasn't forgotten it. It is a smaller room with beautiful wood floors, visible through the abundant peanut shells constantly scattered about. At the end of the bar is an old whiskey barrel, converted now to a shelled peanut bucket. Patrons are free to snack on them, and though I'm not sure if the floor is an encouraged place for the discarded shells, it is evidently acceptable. Call it dingy if you'd like, but I think it is cool and real vibey. Outside seating is suitable with 5 or 6 tables and inside is always a tame, yet not boring, environment. You can have a conversation with the people around you, but you don't feel like you're chatting at a coffee house over elevator jazz.
The beer selection is about typical and the mixed drinks are made pretty well. The staff is friendly, but there is one guy who I've seen working there a few times who looks just like Moe Sizlack from the Simpsons. Not that there is anything wrong with that… I'm sure he's a nice guy… just thought I should point it out. If you want a good pub but want to avoid the thump thump thump thump from PA speakers bashing your ears in all night, or standing elbow-to-elbow with everybody in the place, the Wild Rover is the perfect escape. And when it's time to escape the Rover, Red Arrow is just a short stumble away.
Milly's is a bar that everyone seems to have different opinions on. Some people like the environment and some people just don't seem to dig it. What people do agree on, however, is that the fact that Milly's brews and only serves their own beer, is way cool. Directly behind the bar lives huge vats used to brew their beer, and being located in the basement of an old mill building, they don't even look out of place. Always on tap, they have their signature beers; brews like the John Stark Porter, the Oatmeal Stout, and the Alagash Ale, but also a revolving door of seasonal beers, like their award winning Pumpkin Beer. Order it with a brown sugar coated rim, and Shipyard's classic Pumpkinhead will just never be the same.
Milly's event calendar is certainly an eclectic list - events range from club dance nights, to metal bands, to poetry nights. Immediately on your right when you walk in, sits a stage that is actually pretty decent. When bands play, they call in a sound man to mix for them and make the band sound as good as possible. Having played in a band who has played at Milly's before, I can say this is hit or miss. I've done shows where they sound guy was professional and did good work, and I've played shows where the sound man reeked of weed and was just going through the motions, more interested in the beer at hand than the task.
Poetry night is a surprisingly entertaining engagement. If you are in fact a poetry buff, you will most certainly enjoy it, or at least gain something from it. Myself, not so well versed in the ways of poetry, still rather enjoy myself at this event. It is slam poetry and they select a winner for the night. The camaraderie is palpable and this is extremely inspiring. Poetry night happens every Thursday night at 7:00 pm to sign up, and reading starts at 8:00. If you don't think it's your bag, at least give it a shot. Worse case, you just drink some excellent beer that you can only get in one place, and listen to people express themselves. Much more poetic than you'll find in any other bar.
Raxx Billiards is located on Elm st and is certainly not what anyone would call a "nice" bar... But that doesn't mean that it's not a fun bar. Raxx is one of the last bars on the north side of Elm and is right next to the Breezeway, a fairly uncomfortable looking gay bar ... But if people-watching is your type of thing, the real characters await inside Raxx.
As you pass through the door, notice the sign out front saying what beers are on sale tonight... Making them EXTRA cheap since the beer there is already pretty cheap. Don't walk in Raxx expecting to order up some pinky-out micro brew from Vermont... This is a Miller or PBR type of place. They do, however, keep some Magic Hat and Shipyard on tap or bottles, but if you really want to save some cash, check out the chalkboard where they have the beers listed that they are trying to get rid of. I've had Pumpkinhead here in July... It's insane. This is their collection of expired or outdated beer. Perfect.
The next thing you'll notice, besides the dimly lit interior in place to mask the patrons' faces and increase mingling, is that this joint is full of pool tables. There must be almost a dozen of them. For $5 you can play as long as you want, although technically, it is only supposed to be for an hour. In my experience, however, as long as you are ordering drinks, they don't really care.
The people there are very friendly and typically not in a real creepy way. Age wise, the people range from 30s to 40s, but occasionally some of the younger crew finds their way in to persuade the jukebox to change up from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Rihanna, confusing the regulars.
I understand that I may not exactly be selling this place or filling it with flattery, but it is one of those places where you will almost definitely leave with a story. The Pool tables are good, if that's your thing, and the beer is cheap. The staff is friendly and the tiny bandana-clad bartender is friendly and cute. Give her a good tip. She deserves it. Raxx is a people-watching dream and if you have an affinity for a fun dive bar, this is your place.
Ohhh man. Yee Dynasty. Where to begin? Yee is one of those trashy-beautiful places that is certainly not for everyone but man… it can be a good time if you bring enough friends. You see, during the day, Yee Dynasty is just an easily passable Chinese restaurant, living a pretty recluse life on South Willow street by the CVS. But come nighttime, it is an easily passable dive bar with stiff drinks, Chinese food, and karaoke every night! That means every night is a good night at Yee Dynasty. You know how the only good episodes of American Idol are the first couple ones where it is mostly crap with a few good people mixed in? Yee is much the same. The patrons at Yee love karaoke, but that doesn't mean they are good at it. It is like a circus of people watching, singing you their favorite Bob Seger songs. Also, surprisinglyy enough, the food there is actually pretty good. I'm not sure I've ever eaten in sober... but I'm sure its good. Unless you can't stand not drinking Miller Lite, I'd go for the liquor selections. They are strong and reasonably priced. Their scorpion bowls are a powerful orange poison in an old pitcher, possibly made with Sunny D. Yeah, Yee Dynasty is that good of a place.
My first night in Manchester, I went out with 2 of my friends (a guy and a girl) who had also just moved in. We walked down Elm street, hitting up bars we thought looked cool and eventually made our way to the Breezeway. My first hint that the Breezeway should have been that the bartender charged me for me and my buddy's drink. (I guess that means I look like a top? So that's good I guess). My second clue should have been the complete sausage fest taking place. As we noticed the lack of females, we started looking around and noticed the big rainbow flag on the wall - Third clue. If the place had been a little more happening, we probably would have stayed, being the open minded youth that we are. However, it was dead inside and weird feeling, so we chugged our beers and kept on strolling down the road. That's really my only experience with this place... so I kind of have no business writing a review... I just wanted to share that story. Despite it not being our scene, I do think that it is a pretty cool looking place inside. I have no clue about the drink selection, or the regulars that frequent thr Breezeway but I can say this: I don’t think I've ever been in a cleaner bar.
Manchester's Club Scene
There are a fair amount of dance clubs in Manchester, but every time I'm in one, I don’t stay long. Its not that I don’t like dancing, but I guess I'm just not in to having my ears pummeled by 112 db while trying to order a $7 drink with sweaty gelled faux hawks and girls the color of Oompa Loompas grinding up against me. But hey, if that's your thing, you'll probably love them.