The closure of Manchester’s Night & Day cafe would be “devastating” for the area and kill its image as a music city, council chiefs have been warned, before a crucial court battle that threatens the future of the famous venue.
Many of the biggest names in British music have graced the Night & Day stage in its 31-year history, including Johnny Marr, the Charlatans, Arctic Monkeys and Ed Sheeran.
But it could soon close its doors for good following a noise complaint made by a resident who moved into an apartment next door during the quiet of the Covid lockdown in 2020.
The cafe, which is credited for sparking the beginning of Manchester’s thriving northern quarter, faces a three-day court hearing this week to try to overturn a noise abatement order served by the city council last year. If it loses, Night & Day has said it would have no choice but to close.
The prospect of losing such a treasured venue would be hugely embarrassing for a city that has traded for years on its proud musical legacy, from “Madchester” and the Hacienda to recent acts such as Blossoms and the Courteeners. This month, it was the only UK city to feature in Lonely Planet’s must-visit destinations for 2023, with judges citing its musical heritage.
This weekend two of Greater Manchester’s music heavyweights urged the council to drop its legal action against Night & Day, while musicians said if it continued, the city should “take down the billboards, switch off the marketing, drop the pretence, and prepare to close up shop on music”.
Jay Taylor, chair of Greater Manchester’s music commission, a body set up by mayor Andy Burnham, said closing Night & Day would be devastating for live music across the region.
He added: “With regards to the council, they should admit the mistakes that were made when that development went in and remove that noise abatement order, and then make good on that problem – which was a developmental problem, not a problem with the business that exists next door.”
Sacha Lord, the region’s night-time economy adviser, said he would struggle to find a grassroots venue more important than Night & Day to Greater Manchester and urged the council to find a “commonsense approach”.
The complaint was received following the bar’s first live show after lockdown in June 2021, when a neighbour who moved in during the pandemic the previous year complained about the volume.
Manchester city council has been accused of failing to ensure that the apartments were properly soundproofed when it allowed them to be built in a converted millinery warehouse next door to Night & Day in April 2000 – a charge it strenuously denies.
The case has sparked a debate about the future of Britain’s increasingly densely populated cities, which market themselves as vibrant areas in which to live, work and play.
In 1990, the year before Night & Day opened, only 500 people lived in Manchester city centre. In 2025, its population is expected to hit 100,000 – 75% of whom will have moved in since 2015.
The northern quarter, which was dangerous and dilapidated in the early 90s, is now one of the most sought-after urban living areas in Britain. A penthouse apartment in the warehouse next door costs £440,000. Several other flats are advertised on the same street for upwards of £300,000 – far out of reach for many locals.
The success of the area is thanks, its supporters say, to pioneers like Night & Day’s founder Jan Oldenburg, who died in 2018. Oldenburg’s daughter, Jennifer Smithson, who runs Night & Day with her husband Ben, said she was “terrified” about having to call last orders for a final time.
She said any change to the way it operates, including reducing its opening hours at weekends, would prove fatal: “If they cut you there, how could we continue? If they prosecute us for being a nuisance, I don’t think we could come back from that.
“I don’t know what they envisage but any change to how we do things now would ultimately mean we’d close.” Smithson said there had only been two other complaints about loud music from the venue in its 31-year history, one of which was believed to be a blackmail attempt. A council spokesperson said it had received five complaints from four properties regarding noise since July 2021.
More than 93,000 people have signed a petition to save the venue, which still hosts up to 100 musicians from 25 acts every week.
Guy Garvey, whose band Elbow received its first contract on stage at Night & Day, said the dispute risked turning the northern quarter into one of “these boroughs in London where only rich people can afford to live”.
He added last week: “Yes, they’re quiet and it’s all very Mary Poppins, but that’s not Manchester, that’s not Manchester city centre, and that’s the death of culture.”
Jeremy Pritchard, of the rock band Everything Everything, said: “If Manchester cannot protect the Night & Day, it isn’t a music city.”
A spokesperson from Manchester city council said: “It must be made explicitly clear from the outset that the council has never threatened to close down this venue, nor is there any legislation which would allow a noise abatement notice to be used to close a premises.”