Katherine Price checks out a former textile warehouse in Manchester’s Northern Quarter that has been transformed into a hotel full of character with a cool, west coast vibe
Located just a short walk from Manchester Piccadilly station, the Cow Hollow is the first hotel from husband and wife team Muj and Amelia Rana. On a quiet, unassuming street, with only a small gold plaque on the wall divulging what lies within, you wouldn’t anticipate the glamorous San Francisco-meets-Shoreditch cocktail bar inside.
Neither Muj, a former investment banker, nor Amelia, who spent seven years at Universal Music Group, have any prior hospitality experience, but the pair have thrown themselves into developing the concept over the last three-and-a-half years, which they completely self-funded.
“It’s all been what I expect from a hotel from travelling the world and picking out the bits that do very well and trying to replicate that here, as well as adding a few of my own ideas,” says Muj.
“The plan was to do it in the Northern Quarter, the buildings here lend themselves quite well – the old textile factories have lots of windows. We walked around for four or five days looking at every single building and working out which ones were derelict and which ones were usable. This property was in a terrible state of disrepair when we got our hands on the keys, so to do it to the level that we wanted it was always going to take a long time.”
Opened in January this year, the hotel has a guest profile which spans from students to travelling business people, mostly from the UK, although they are seeing more international guests, and averages 70% occupancy. The property is overseen by 10 members of staff, half of whom came from another boutique hotel in Manchester, although they won’t say which one. As the Ranas step back to focus on the next hotel, assistant general manager Ricky Gwilliam will step up to general manager and the team will expand as the hotel gets busier.
Both the name and design inspiration come from the Cow Hollow neighbourhood in San Francisco, where Muj and Amelia spent their first holiday.
“It has a very nice, cool vibe,” he says. “I’m hesitant to say hipster, but it is a little. We figured we’d bring some of that west coast vibe back to Manchester. It almost feels like you’re in a different city.”
A small marble reception desk next to the door welcomes hotel guests. White concrete steps lead up to the bar, made from an old solicitor’s desk, topped with marble and decorated with dried flowers from Essentially Hops (“there’s less wastage than fresh flowers; they last for six months instead of six days”).
The bar hosts events on top of the nightly ‘Prosecco hour’ with complimentary Prosecco for guests, and all drinks are flat-priced. Apart from the downstairs Aviary café with self-service tea and coffee, and ‘gourmet breakfast bags’ filled with Dorset Cereals granola, orange juice, fruit and croissants, there are no other food and beverage options.
“Unless you’re running a destination restaurant, the idea of a hotel restaurant run in-house is dead,” says Muj. “We figured we’d focus on the cocktail bar as a main revenue stream, and if we were ever to expand to do a larger hotel which necessitated a restaurant, we’d outsource it to a restaurant group, preferably a local one.”
Instead, the hotel recommends local businesses, some of which offer the hotel’s guests discounts, and front of house is happy to accept Deliveroo and UberEats deliveries, which staff will deliver to rooms on a tray with cutlery and no additional charge.
The biggest challenge was trying to fit 16 bedrooms (nine standard rooms and seven suites) into the property without it feeling too compact or compromising on style or practicality.
“I’ve always thought big furniture works well in any room, rather than poky little pieces, and I like the grandeur of double doors for bathrooms. Trying to fit all that into a building which is only four metres wide comes with its own challenges, but I think we’ve got there,” says Muj.
As a result, a lot of furniture was custom-made, including the beds, which were constructed from Timeless Timber railway sleepers and weigh approximately 300kg; and the bedside tables, which Muj and Amelia designed themselves. “We spent a lot of time making sure everything gave a real luxurious, glamorous feel to the rooms, which I feel is really missing in a lot of hotels in Manchester,” he says.
The luxury element is further emphasised through lashings of Carrara marble and copper, Hypnos mattresses and pillows, chandeliers and the largest vintage mirrors the walls can accommodate. Touches such as Brazilian stepped slate feature walls and antique machine parts hark to the building’s history as a textile warehouse and Manchester’s industrial past.
Space limitations meant certain concessions and imaginative thinking: there are no wardrobes, so safes were built into the beds, wall hooks are provided, and ironing boards are kept in corridor storage cupboards to maximise the space in the bedrooms.
Tech-wise, all rooms have Samsung Ultra HD televisions with Netflix access, music docks from John Lewis and multiple plug and USB sockets to remove the need for adaptors.
A flat pricing system means rooms are approximately £100-£120 during weekdays and £150 on Saturdays, which the owners don’t intend on changing.
Several of the marble-clad bathrooms are located in what used to be the warehouse’s lift shaft. All have REN toiletries; hairdryers, straighteners and curlers; Hilden Turkish cotton towels; and antique brass fixtures and rainfall showers from Bisk Deco AB.
Magnification mirrors with sensors to activate the mirror lights were added recently following guest feedback.
The Ranas are in discussions with investors to pursue a second Cow Hollow in the city’s Spinningfields district, which would be approximately twice the size, with further expansion outside Manchester also possible. They are searching for the right property, which would have a similar design with individual touches according to the property and locality, with Edinburgh a city they’re keen to look at next.
Contact and details
57 Newton Street, Manchester M1 1ET
Owners Muj and Amelia Rana
Opened 25 January 2018
Number of bedrooms 16
Number of staff 10
Starting room rate £99
Brazilian stepped slate feature walls
Mrs Stone Store www.mrs-stone-store.com
White concrete floors
Cornish Lime Company www.cornishlime.co.uk
Raine & Humble www.raineandhumble.com
Samsung Ultra HD www.samsung.com
John Lewis www.johnlewis.com
Jacob Jensen www.jacobjensendesign.com
Dried flowers and vines
Essentially Hops www.essentiallyhops.co.uk
Adax Neo www.adax.lt
Farrow & Ball www.farrow-ball.com
City Cows www.citycows.co.uk
Rusted door numbers and letters