It’s a traditional Manchester pub – but with Hollywood sparkle covering every inch.
For as soon as you approach Monroes pub and hotel on London Road at Piccadilly, you are greeted by images of Hollywood’s most famous blonde bombshell in silhouette outside.
Walk through the door and a portrait of a smiling Marilyn Monroe in a bright red dress seductively welcomes you inside.
Choose the door to your left to the main Gentlemen Prefer Blondes bar or turn right for the Some Like It Hot bistro (named after two of Marilyn’s most famous movies).
And once inside the pub you’ll find something akin to a shrine to the American actress – with every surface, even the ceiling, covered with an extraordinary array of portraits, models and photos of the star. There’s also a retro Marilyn cigarette machine, Marilyn mugs and Marilyn statuettes on display.
It’s one of Manchester’s quirkiest and kitsch pubs, in a landmark location right opposite Piccadilly Station.
And the 200-year-old building has also proudly stood firm while developments have taken place all around – rather dramatically so with the towering Motel One on either side of the pub.
The pub and hotel, formerly The White Hart, became Monroes in 1984 – renamed by the then landlady Anna Melvin at a time when themed pubs were all the rage.
Husband and wife Debbie and Michael Ryan took over in 1995 – and it was then that the Monroe theme really started to grow.
For, incredibly, most of the Marilyn memorabilia on display has been donated by visitors to the pub over the years – with people travelling from all over the world to see inside the venue named after the Hollywood icon.
Michael says: “People are very fond of this place. We bought the pub in 1995 and the Monroe theme really ballooned from then on, 90 per cent of the pictures are presents from people who’ve been in to the pub or stayed here.
“It became Monroes in the 80s, it was the theme pub era, they decided to go with Monroe, but it could have easily been Elvis. When we bought it we thought why change it? And since then people have come from all over the country, indeed all over the world and giving us their pictures. We’ve become a bit of a tourist attraction.”
The Monroe theme continues up the hallways to the nine hotel rooms which all feature images of 1950s icon Marilyn too.
There are also portraits of Manchester’s legendary drag queen Foo Foo Lammar in the parlour. Legend has long had it that he used to own Monroes.
Michael, 62, who was formerly Foo Foo’s manager, says he has never tried to dispel the rumour.
“Everybody thought Frank owned it, so we never disillusioned anybody as it didn’t do the business any harm. He was Debbie’s uncle and I was his manager so he was often here. People still say “Oh, Frank owned this place didn’t he?” If he parked up his Rolls Royce outside, it was Frank’s! But my name has always been on its lease.”
Michael, who has three children and seven grandchildren, was Frank’s manager from 1985. He credits him with instilling in him a work ethic that keeps him going with the pub business with wife Debbie to this day.
The venue continues to welcome in an eclectic mix of guests – it’s popular with football fans on match days and is regularly booked for big birthday bashes and anniversaries.
The Twisted Wheel club was famously based in the adjacent buildings which were demolished for the Motel One development, and Northern Soul fans still regularly stop off at Monroes on the way to club nights held in the city.
“Our customers range from 22 to 82,” says Michael. “There really is a great mix.
“We have a lot of family dos in here. It’s the sort of place you can have three people or 100 and it’s still a great atmosphere. A lot of people use it as a landmark to meet here because it is somewhere nice and comfortable to meet.”
But Michael and Debbie have also watched as the city has dramatically changed around them. In 2012 the construction of the huge Motel One development began, wrapping completely around every side of the pub.
An approach was made for developers to buy out Monroes, but agreement couldn’t be reached between the brewery, the Ryans and the builders – so the developers said they’d simply build around the pub instead.
Michael recalls: “That was a hard time, as we were literally cleaning at 4am in the morning to get all the soot off the building from all the construction. But we got through it and we’re still here.”
As for all the Marilyn memorabilia, Michael says the biggest talking point for visitors tends to be a large portrait of Hollywood legends balancing on a beam in New York as they like to try and guess who all the stars are.
There are also a couple of original paintings that have been donated including Marilyn in a hardhat that was drawn by a builder who stayed at the venue, and a needlepoint collection of Marilyn images.
Michael laughs: “People are always coming in and taking pictures. Sometimes I think we’d be better to have a turnstile than a door. Although we’re well known in Manchester, we’re still that little bit out of the way so we’ve relied on our reputation.
“People do make the effort to come rather than passing trade.”
But it seems that despite the very obvious theme of Monroes pub, it is still lost on some people.
Michael laughs: “You’d be amazed the number of people who come in and say “why is it called Monroes?”
“I always say: “oh, it’s because of all the pictures of Elvis.”