“I know it’s opening weekend, but this might be the best venue I’ve been to in Manchester.”
My brother is convinced.
We’re stood on the rooftop bar in YES, and the whole place is in full-blown party mode. Music is blazing across every floor, the scent of freshly cooked pizza wafts gently through the air, and bright balloons bob behind grinning guests en route to the dance floors.
The place is absolutely buzzing. It feels like everyone in Manchester is here.
Naturally, you’d expect big things from the opening night of a venue with such a self-assured, emphatic name. But it’s fair to say that this weekend YES set a new standard in nightclub ribbon-cutting.
The attempt to transform an old auction building into a gig haven is one of the more ambitious Manchester live music projects in recent memory. The Deaf Institute and Now Wave pulled out all the stops for the historic occasion with a marathon launch that went on from Friday to Sunday.
Waiting for punters inside the former bidding site on Charles Street were thousands of free beers, an out-of-this-world soundsystem approved by NASA no less, and more than 40 live performers playing across a basement, two middle bars (including a room swathed head-to-toe in pink), and an idyllic rooftop terrace fit for a bar in southern Spain.
A glut of major artists – including DJ Seinfeld, Let’s Eat Grandma, Everything Everything, and London Astrobeat Orchestra – served up the tunes, whilst an equally familiar array of food vendors plated up great grub for downtime.
Pepperoni Playboy dished out bubbling red and yellow pizza downstairs, whilst Holy Crab and Bundobust pitched themselves up at the apex. And Firebird Hope will soon take up residence serving the city’s favourite fried chicken sandwich.
Clutching a piping hot pizza slice and squeezing my way between the hordes of people, I realised how YES was shouting three clear aims over its four floors: to break convention, appeal to every kind of crowd, and emphasise the best elements of a good gig venue (with a smart layout guaranteeing clear stage views and quality speakers exhaling crisp, high-quality music).
The result is an inventively eclectic experience. The subterranean vault is as raw, rough and ready as any DJ-loving cellar-dweller could hope for, whilst the bar areas above are strikingly refined and garden-fresh, with lush greenery and smooth wooden furnishings leaning gently against the industrial brickwork interior.
Hosting a hodgepodge of different spaces always comes with the risk of rooms clashing against each another inelegantly, but YES strikes a fine balance in ambience. The luminous loungers are snug enough for a lunchtime coffee on a busy workday and, crucially, the venue décor doesn’t wander too far into living-room territory, remaining suitably decked out for a good knees-up when the weekend rolls around.
Refreshingly, you won’t have to break the bank to enjoy YES. With drinks prices climbing steadily elsewhere across the city, the fact that you’ll always be able to get a pint for less than £3 will be music to the ears of party people. The bar and rooftop terrace will be permanently free to access during opening hours.
Between the bargain beer, draught taps and bottle fridges, there’s also an all-bloody drinks menu, including a medley of tomato juice-based cocktails that range from brunch staple Bloody Mary to the entertainingly-titled Bloody Southerners.
There’s a big hullaballoo about vermouth, too. You can take your pick from a hat-trick of fruity ingredients accompanied by a healthy splash of tonic. The cocktail crowd won’t miss out either, with seven different options all going at less than £6 each.
Diverse and dynamic, YES is a treat for the senses. But is it the next big venue Manchester has been craving? I asked myself this question whilst exploring what it had to offer. One word kept popping into my head. YES.