Where can you go in Manchester, if you can't decide between the cinema, a bar or an art gallery? The Cornerhouse centre provides all three. You can even get married there.
The centre has three patrons Helen Mirren, Damien Hirst and Olympics opening ceremony director, Danny Boyle. It describes its mission as being a place where audiences, artists and filmmakers are brought together. There are three cinemas with the biggest seating 297 people. The cinemas lack the size and advanced technology of the multiplexes. However, at Cornerhouse, you can be confident of seeing those interesting films you have read about but which don't necessarily have big commercial backing. Two film festivals take place there each year ¡Viva!, which has a Spanish and Latin American focus and Exposures, which gives a platform to new talent.
The art shown in the galleries tends towards the conceptual and film and video. I don't always come away feeling inspired by the exhibitions. However, it's refreshing to see the work of new and mid-career artists. If you visit regularly you inevitably find something that stimulates the imagination or is at least amusing. It's also good to see artists striving for something new, rather than reproducing a safe formula for the sake of a quick sale.
Cornerhouse estimates that it gets 500,000 visitors a year. It would be interesting to know how many of these just visit the bar. The main bar is on the first floor. It's filled with tables and gets very busy on weekday evenings. Perhaps surprisingly, it's often easier to find a seat late on Saturday night.
The drinks on offer, like the cinema-selection, have an international range. On draft you could find Brooklyn Lager sitting alongside Moravka a Czech-style lager, brewed in the Peak District. If you're celebrating a lottery win you might opt for a bottle of Dom Perignon Vintage champagne. The normal range of coffee-house brews is also on sale. You might fancy Devilled Mushrooms on toast or Manhattan Style Fish Chowder, amongst others, to accompany your drink. The bar's white walls are brightened by an ever-changing display of photographs and paintings, by contemporary artists.
Despite being a serious arts venue, Cornerhouse has a very sociable feel. Colleagues and friends fill the bar-tables, catching up on gossip and opinions, maybe over a pizza. There is a Monday night quiz and a monthly film quiz with DVDs, books, CDs and film memorabilia on as prizes. If romance blossoms over a shared interest in avant-garde films, the centre now even offers marriage and civil partnership ceremonies in its cinemas and galleries.
Cornerhouse began its life in 1985, after the conversion of Shaw's furniture store and Tatler Cinema club. It won't, however, celebrate its 30th birthday in its current location on the corner of Oxford Street and Whitworth Street. The centre has now formally merged with the Library Theatre Company and both will move into a purpose-built home on nearby First Street. It is only to be hoped that the arty but inclusive atmosphere moves with it into its new home.