A Venue to Visit: Antwerp Mansion, Manchester

by Amy Johnson

In the first of a new series that highlights the best venues across the UK, Amy visits Manchester’s Antwerp Mansion, hidden near the city’s famed curry mile.

The mansion's graffiti wall. Or one of them, at least. Image by Andrew Dubber used under a CC 2.0 license.

The mansion’s graffiti wall. Or one of them, at least. Image by Andrew Dubber used under a CC 2.0 license.

It is hard to think of a place in Manchester that does more for music and culture than Antwerp Mansion. Housed in a real and sprawling mansion built in 1840, it’s hidden from the bright and busy lights of Rusholme. This quirky renovation project collectively represents everything that’s brilliant about music, art and community.

You’ll find gigs here, life drawing classes, photography, drama and art all under one (crumbly, old) roof.

It’s a little DIY and dirty (complete with the occasional hole in the wall) and it is completely brilliant. There’s a graffiti wall that artists are welcome to contribute to. The vibe is relaxed and cool and the volume of hipsters is much lower than expected.

The Mansion is one of the shabbiest, most ramshackle and – at the same time – finest venues in the city.

Owner Andy has spent five years slowly transforming Antwerp Mansion from a decaying Victorian ruin into a popular multi-purpose venue.

“It’s the polar opposite of all the other pristine clubs you can find all over Manchester,” he says, “They just feel too sterile to me. Antwerp Mansion is everything I wanted it to be – a place where you can really have a proper party without worrying that you’re going to be thrown out for enjoying yourself too much.”

One of the mansion's performance spaces, the gig room - with purpose built stage.

One of the mansion’s performance spaces, the gig room – with purpose built stage.

Despite the ongoing renovations, the mansion is already pretty perfect in its own squatter-chic way. There are half a dozen different and enormous spaces, enabling the owners to put on all kinds of events. Armed with a smoking garden, a bar, a stage and a number of assembly rooms, it’s easy to forget it that it’s a work in progress. But you definitely know you’re somewhere very different.

It feels like Lewis Carroll dreamed a house, it came to life and was left to decay.

The lack of rules and order make for an eclectic evening. If you like your nights classy and with a curfew, Antwerp Mansion probably isn’t the place for you. It hosts regular nights where you can hear underground DJs, live acts and themed nights which cover most of the cultural spectrum. You can “Disco til Dawn” on the 16th of September or come along to circus themed life drawing on the 18th, for example.

Antwerp knows how to rock too – on the 27th of September there’s an evening of math and post rock with Mountains Under Oceans, Halo Tora and Zilov Gaps. The cost? Just £3 in advance.

Colt 45 play the mansion in 2012. Image by Man Alive, used under a CC 2.0 license.

Colt 45 play the mansion in 2012. Image by Man Alive!, used under a CC 2.0 license.

But Antwerp’s best nights are dedicated to house and garage music. We’re thinking of popular heavy house night Rum and Bass.

Rum and Bass runs themed nights in the Victorian edifice, including the much anticipated official afterparty for Parklife, aptly named Afterlife. The night featured some of Manchester’s most popular DJ’s, including Cassio Co and Kidnap Kid.

The success of Antwerp lies in its ability to be anything it likes or anything the community wants with an enviable amount of eclectic space to do it in. Other venues struggle hard to convey a brand. Antwerp Mansion is already and effortlessly a crumbling part of the fabric of Manchester, a unique place where – during the day time – the light shines through the walls and the ghosts go to sleep. It’s a house built with love and a true one of a kind.

Without any real competition, it’s fast becoming one of the best places for a night out in a city that’s brimming with them.