The first thing you’ll notice walking up to Deaf Institute from Oxford Road will be its building – and its curious name. Pitched somewhere between a chapel and a particularly Gothic market hall, the grade-II listed building was first conceived in 1878 as a sanctuary for deaf and mute people, before falling into generations of disrepair. In 2008, symbolic of Manchester’s emerging rebirth, the venue was given the tender care and new life that’s evident across every inch of this much-loved jewel in Manchester’s live music crown.
An independent bar and venue, Deaf Institute, is a meeting point, nightspot and – most importantly – highly popular live music venue. The main bar room is the first thing you’ll see as you enter through the grand, stone doors. With rows of benches as well as more secluded booths on the outer ring of the room, there’s generally plenty of space as well as selection – not just the bar’s extensive menu of beers, cocktails and spirits but its popular, affordable range of vegan and Indian street foods. More often than not, you’ll find DJ’s in the wooden booth at the room’s back, but it’s never too loud or imposing as to drown out conversation. Though occasionally open, the downstairs bar is generally the preserve of functions and private parties – its small, plush bar is equal parts cosy and velvety, an American whisky joint straight of central casting.
The music hall on the first floor is, however, the venue’s star attraction. Holding around 250 people – a mixture of standing and some raised seating at the hall’s back – Deaf Institute is to be experienced to be understood. With velvet curtains, a domed ceiling and a unique wallpaper and backdrop of finely illustrated parrots, Deaf Institute’s music hall generally hosts live gigs, comedy and club nights until late – the club nights largely aimed at Oxford Road’s student population. As a venue, however, it’s one of the most respected spots in the city – artists like Kate Tempest and the 1975 cut their teeth here, whilst Johnny Marr chose the venue in 2011 to host a residency that relaunched his solo career.
During the darkest days of the pandemic, the venue – along with sister venue Gorilla – made national headlines when it came near to closure. The public outcry was evidence of real love for the venue, and its fate was quickly turned around – in its reputation and in the quality of its offer, Deaf Institute has never been in better shape.