Manchester 1977. What an exotic place it seemed to bored teenagers like me from the faceless Cheshire suburbs. The rainy trudge from Piccadilly Road station to the hulking concrete Arndale Centre was filled with anticipation of the off-the-peg delights of Chelsea Girl and Jean-Jeanie. And when punk saw off cheesecloth shirts and velvet loon-pants, we only had to venture a little further to the alternative shops on Oxford Road to find that the patchouli-stinking hippies had boxed up their Dylan and Yes T-shirts to make room on the display for The Clash, Buzzcocks and Sex Pistols.
Manchester 2006. It's another place to me. The factories and warehouses from the city's dark, satanic industrial age have been reclaimed and are now prized edifices for pricey apartments, luxury hotels and gourmet restaurants. The shopping streets that were razed by an IRA bomb 10 years ago have risen from the ashes in glinting glass and steel. I spy retro trams, classy department stores, even a wheel like the London Eye. It's cool and slick and not the Manchester I remember. Why, even the sun is shining...
Home for the night is one of a choice of three serviced apartments at The Edge, two new angular towers overlooking the river Irwell, on the Salford side of Blackfriar's Bridge in the city centre. They're part of a portfolio owned and let by Staying Cool, the initiative of friends Tracey Stephenson and Paul Taylor, who have pooled their marketing, legal and design skills to offer serviced apartments with boutique hotel style.
The comfort factor
The Edge, 1 and 2, joined this month by number 3, are studies in the super-efficient use of minimal space; cosy, modern pads carved out of just a few square metres of new-build. The living area is divided from the bedroom by a deep three-quarter wall that doubles as a fitted wardrobe on the sleeping side and a recessed bookcase in the lounge. A curtain of windows floods in the light to both rooms and neatly turns heads away from the necessary kitchenette at the rear of the living area. It's really a cleverly designed studio, but it feels like a one-bedroom flat.
This architectural magic is enhanced by inspired interior design tricks from up Paul's sleeve. Each apartment revolves around a signature chair, which might be a design classic - an Arne Jacobsen original Egg in Edge 1 - or a specially commissioned piece. The colour palettes are audacious - pink and black in our apartment, Edge 2 - but subtly picked out in a batik lampshade, a shot-silk cushion cover, the stripe in a rug. Everything else is chosen for its ability to fade into the background, from the Perspex bedside tables to the white kitchen units. The space is never overwhelmed.
But it's not just the look. The attention to detail is obvious: you can tell Tracey and Paul are seasoned travellers who have drawn on their own experiences to try to get it just right for their guests. So, there are treats like the Apple entertainment centre - TV, DVD, CD, iTunes, wireless broadband all in one. But you also get the essentials: spare light bulbs, a torch for emergencies, the instructions for the washer-dryer...
Families will find more space 15 minutes' walk along the canal at the Castlefield apartment in the Box Works, though we were very comfortable at The Edge with our six-year-old sleeping on the sofa bed. Just one word of warning, the double beds are small, but that's the scale of things here.
As space is short, no bath. Who cares - there's a huge power shower. A generous selection of Umi toiletries, white robes and towels adds that hotel touch.
Just you. That's the beauty of the serviced apartment, flexibility and freedom and no one to bother you.
Eat at one of the many restaurants within walking distance (there's a city guide in the magazine rack). Or self-cater in the fully - and stylishly - equipped kitchen (including state-of-the-art coffee and juicing machines). The choice of complementary drinks is cute: Tracey likes peppermint tea and Paul likes Illy Coffee, so both are supplied in abundance. They both like fresh juice, hence the fruit bowl and fridge overflow with oranges. Different food packages are available to order, they'll even do a full shop - just ask.
Beware: you are just a few credit-card-quaking steps away from Deansgate, and Exchange and St Anne's Squares, Manchester's retail showcase. And the major museums - Urbis, G-MEX, the MEN Arena, even Coronation Street, are within walking distance, too. For drinks or a special meal, try the Lowry Hotel next door.
All the apartments have lift access and are on one level, so possible for guests with limited mobility. Children are welcome. No pets.
From £100 to £150 per night, depending on the day of the week. Free parking.
Contact Staying Cool (07971 177036; stayingcool.com). Kate Simon
Kate Simon flew from London City to Manchester courtesy of VLM (0871 666 5050; flyvlm.com), which offers return flights from £87. The new DLR extension provides a fast, direct route from the heart of the capital to the airport, with a journey time of 22 minutes from Bank stationReuse content