The Trafford & Hulme Branch Pub Of The Season for Autumn 2012 is The Hillary Step on Upper Chorlton Road, Whalley Range. The award will be presented on Monday 1st October from 8pm. The pub are promising to lay on an extra special range of beers - all are welcome.
The pub achieved brief notoriety when it first opened in 2004 by being Manchester's first non-smoking pub. Although the change in the law three years later removed its unique selling point, the pub has continued to go from strength to strength, so much so that earlier this year, it almost doubled in size with a large extension being added to the rear and the bar being extended.
Prior to the Hillary Step, drinkers in Whalley Range had to journey to The Whalley right at the northern end of Upper Chorlton Road or south to neighbouring Chorlton. Set in a short row of shops a few hundred yards from the junction with Seymour Grove, the Hilary was neighbour to well regarded Italian restaurant Palmiro which had been established in 2000. The two venues gave new life to the area and were soon joined by Jam Street Café. Palmiro was sold in early 2010 and is now the home to Nip & Tipple, the three bars now making this short strip a viable alternative to Cholrton's more intensive scene.
Like many good pubs, the key to the Hillary Step's success is keeping things simple. The interior décor is clean and contemporary with bench seating at tables in the ground level front section. Steps take you up to the bar which sits in what is now the centre of the pub with the bright new extension beyond being furnished with a mixture of comfortable sofas and more traditional tables & chairs. To the front of the pub is a large al fresco area with triangular picnic tables.
Six handpulls grace the bar with one dedicated to beers from Chesterfield's Thornbridge brewery and one to those from Phoenix of Heywood. One will often have a beer from Thwaites, most usually the ever popular Wainwright while the remaining pumps host an ever changing range of guests from a mixture of microbreweries such as Dunham Massey, Prospect, Abbeydale, Dark Star, Hawkshead and Saltaire. Most recently they have succeeded in becoming a regular outlet for Rochdale's multi-award winning Pictish, a brewery whose success allows them the freedom to only supply carefully selected outlets.
The proximity of Chorlton's many pubs and bars selling cask ale has often lead to cask ale fans overlooking the excellent range available a couple more stops up the no 86 bus route (or a short walk from Firswood Metrolink station). Slowly but surely the Hillary Step have made themselves difficult to ignore through a good range and consistent quality. They have inspired their neighbouring bars to also up the quality and range of the ales they serve. It is part recognition of years of hard work and past recognition of the positive influence on the local pub scene that has earned them this Pub Of The Season Award.