Say what you want about Wigan town centre - and many people do - there are attractive parts. Standishgate, The Wiend, Market Place, the Grand Arcade, the splendid park...
But for years, Wallgate was an eyesore.
And I couldn’t help wonder what first-time visitors to the town thought when they stepped out of North Western Station.
Now, thankfully, anyone new to the town will look across the road and see Marty’s - an American bar and restaurant.
Situated in the former Pooles cafe, it pledges to serve “the best burgers, dogs and wings you ever did try”.
A few old college mates try and meet up every few weeks to chew the fat over recent events, laugh about nights out in Park Hall way back when and bemoan the fact we’re all creeping up to our 40th birthdays.
There are plenty of nice restaurants in the areas surrounding Wigan, but the trouble with those is someone has to drive, or get a taxi.
With Marty’s, across from the station, close to town, no such problem.
So last Thursday night, four of us met at 7.30pm (of course 7.30pm... does anyone meet at any other time for a meal out?) for our first sample of Marty’s.
There is something of a Tardis-effect to the building. Walk in, there’s a stylish bar in front, with tables to the left. More tables out back and upstairs, too.
The tables seem small, the arrangement cosy - critics may say squeezed - and it was quite busy when we arrived.
The decor is splendid, all wood floors and weathered-brick walls, with lamps and stylish pictures providing the finishing touch.
It was already quite busy when we arrived, but the service was efficient, and friendly, and we were soon led to a crescent-shaped booth.
Keeping with the USA trend, the choice of beers include Budweiser and Brooklyn on tap, as well a house brew Marty’s, Brazilian beer Brahma and a range of American bottled beers.
I opted for the cajun calamari for starter. At £6.10, it isn’t exactly cheap, but there were 10 golden rings of tasty seafood – served with a lemon wedge and garlic mayo’, but no salad garnish.
Another friend opted for the same, and another gave the ribs, cooked in a bourbon and BBQ sauce, a (sticky) thumbs up.
For a reason I couldn’t understand, a waitress brought over two complimentary bottles of wine. It must have been a promotion I couldn’t see on the menu, but we weren’t complaining.
My chicken Missouri (£11.95) fell into the ‘would have it again’ bracket; two fillets with salad and avocado salsa. I’m not sure what diners Stateside may think of the portion-size, but it was fine for me.
And my friend who tried the ‘Wigan Warrior’ burger admitted the three patties made it too big, and slightly off-putting – though he thoroughly enjoyed it. I understood ‘sliders’ to mean small burgers, but not the ‘54 slider’ here; it was one burger in a brioche-style bun, but my friend had no complaints. The sweet potato burger was also well-received - the well-presented menu also features hot-dogs, ‘smoker’ options, seafood and grills, and the sweet potato fries – from the extras – were delicious.
There is an early-bird option of ‘two for £11’ before 7pm Monday to Thursday, 5pm Friday and Saturday, and there is also a lunch menu boasting a variety of fajitas, salads and sandwiches.
Look, this isn’t fine dining – the American-flag napkins are a giveaway it isn’t pretentious. If someone says it’s pricey for what it is, I’d understand. If someone told me there is better food at somewhere else, I’d believe them.
But it’s an attractive venue with a good atmosphere, and it lives up to its mantra of ‘good food, good company and good fun’.
I like that it’s independent – rather than a ‘chain’ – and also the fact it offers something new (as much as I love a good curry, Wigan isn’t short of good Indian restaurants).
Above all else, the more nice, new restaurants which open in Wigan town centre, the better. And I’ll be back to Marty’s soon. The bill
Cajun calamari £6.10
BBQ rib £5.90
Chicken Missouri £11.95
Wigan Warrior burger £14.95
54 Sliders (burger) £12.90
Beer: Budweiser (pint) £3.95