OnLocation: One Night in Manchester
There is only one city in the UK that gives BarLifeUK an equal feeling of excitement and dread as we contemplate a night out there, that city is Manchester and that was where our train was heading.
I know we are not the only ones to get this combination of seemingly disparate feelings when this northern bar-gem is mentioned. The excitement stems from what you know will be an awesome night out, the dread comes from the knowledge of how you will feel the next morning.
This is one of the reasons I love visiting Manchester so much, this combined with some of best bartenders in the country and of course the bars themselves. So alongside our OnLocation partner Tim Homewood from Jose Cuervo we dropped off the bags at the hotel and hit the first of our bars for the evening.
The Ski Club (Hardman Street, Spinningfields M3 3JE)
The winter version of the summer’s biggest Manchester pop-up success the Yacht Club, The Ski Club is the brain child of Jamie Jones one of the many outstanding hosts/bartenders Manchester has in abundance.
The Ski Club looks out over the ice rink at the shopping area of Spinningfields, and as soon as you enter the doors you could easily believe you were walking into a bar on the ski slopes of any top resort in Europe.
The bar itself has a selection of warming winter drinks, mulled wine and cider, beers on tap, all offered alongside the classic melted cheese based skiing fodder.
Jamie took the bottle of Jose Cuervo Tradicional and gave it the Ski Club treatment with a Tequila Blazer:
Joe Crow Blazer
- 50ml Jose Cuervo Tradicional
- 20ml Grand Marnier
- 5ml maple syrup
- 5ml agave
- 5ml hazelnut syrup
- Dash Peychauds Bitters
Garnish with a toasted marshmallow
Summary – The Ski Club is a great addition to the Manchester bar scene during the winter months and I could easily see myself losing a whole afternoon within the oak panelled walls. With Jamie heading up the team you know that the drinks will all be great and everyone will be well looked after.
Socio Rehab (100-102 High Street, M4 1HP)
The Northern Quarter is the heart of the Manchester scene and one of the first bars to start the Manchester revolution is still one of its stars – Socio Rehab.
Over the coming hours we were to discover that Manchester had embraced the Christmas spirit with a giant bear hug and the cocktail menu at Socio Rehab was as Christmassy as sitting on Santa’s knee.
I opted for the Mince Pie Mojito which contained sweet mincemeat and was mouthful after mouthful of yuletide joy. Tim’s Miracle On Higham Street was no less delicious with a spiced rum and smoky whiskey taking you immediately to a log fire on a cold winters night.
Socio Rehab has continuously had one of the most interesting and entertaining cocktail menu’s in the country for many years. The bar itself is designed for drinking and the perfect place to go with a few friends and make your way through the menu.
Leon may have not joined us for a shot but was more than happy to come up with a very tasty cocktail with the bottle of Tradicional:
- 50ml Jose Cuervo Tradicional
- 25ml Antica Formula
- 5ml Pedro Jimez Sherry
- Dash orange bitters
- Twist of lime
Summary – It was announced this week that Socio Rehab will be closing its doors for good on New Years Eve. This means you have just a few days to visit one the UK’s consistently best bars before, so get down there while you still can.
Keko Moku (100 High Street, M4 1HP)
Socio’s sister bar Keko Moku is a little nugget of Tiki joy in the same building. In a similar way to London’s Casita bar, Keko makes up for its small size with a massive personality.
The moment you walk in you are drawn to the rum shack designed bar itself with a huge amount of rums squashed onto the back bar.
BarLifeUK has a bit of a tradition of ordering a Daiquiri each time we venture into Keko (ever since Lyndon Higginson made us a face meltingly great one on our first visit). Lyndon may have moved onto pastures new (more on him later) but the Daiquiris are still great, as was the Mai Tai Tim opted for.
Despite the Tiki bar design the boys weren’t shying away from the festive theming with the classic Christmas movie Elf on loop on the screen alongside the decorations hanging from the ceiling. The naturalness with which Bigsy handled the spray can meant the finishing touches were expertly done as we sat there.
Summary – Keko Moku is one of many feel good bars in Manchester and still one of the best. A place to make friends, drink rum and have a guaranteed great night.
Miracle on High Street (Access through Socio Rehab)
By this point we were in need of some sustenance to see us through the rest of the evening and luckily we didn’t have to go far. Up above Socio and Keko was another seasonal pop-up in the form of Miracle on High Street.
We had been told that the Christmas Diner Turkey Roll was a feast to behold and we didn’t need to be told twice. Tom greeted us at the top of the stairs and immediately set about furnishing us with a massive helping of turkey roll, stuffing, pigs in blankets and chips.
The theming of Miracle is unashamedly Christmas with a big neon sign over the bar declaring ‘Santa’s Your Daddy’, a saucy Christmas cocktail list and all the staff dressed in a variety of Christmas jumpers JJ Goodman would be proud of. Even the Christmas songs didn’t have their usual effect of making me want to kick Rudolph in his baubles.
Whilst I plumped for a beer from the excellent selection on hand Tim went more experimental with an Xmas In New York (a mix of stout, spiced rum, vanilla ice-cream and other goodies) which was a superb creation and had Tim telling stories of childhood days unwrapping presents.
Tom also took up the challenge creating a fantastic cocktail on the spot with our ever faithful bottle of Tradicional.
Mince & Tinsel Margarita
- 50ml Jose Cuervo Tradicional
- 25ml homemade five spice mince meat syrup
- 10ml Crème de Fig
- 30ml lime juice
Garnished with squirty cream and a cinnamon roll.
Summary – if you know anyone who is a humbugger at this time of year then get them to Miracle. Tom and the team will have them singing Ding Dong Merrily On High and telling bad cracker jokes in no time. Don’t let the festive appearance fool you, the drinks and food are top notch.
Hula Bar (11 Stevenson Square, M1 1DB)
If there is any doubt that Manchester is town that enjoys having fun whilst knocking out drinks the fact that it has more great quality Tiki bars than London should be proof. The Tiki bar is the home of fun cocktails and Manchester does it better than anyone in the UK.
The second Tiki bar of the night was the famous Hula bar just a 2 minute walk from the heart of the Northern Quarter. As you descend the stairs you are transported into a tropical den complete with fish tanks and tiki memorabilia.
As is always the case when BarLifeUK goes to Hula, the customers were sat at the bar chatting to the staff and enjoying some great, colourful looking drinks. This helps create the friendly, warm atmosphere we always associate with this bar.
Unsurprisingly the selection of rums on the back bar is massively impressive and, like a lot of the bars in Manchester, if the staff see you are interested are always more than happy to let you try a little sample of something you are unfamiliar with.
Boss man and Manchester Tiki legend Bart wasn’t around but Pablo and the rest of the team looked after us with a superb Mai Tai and a taste of something weird that Pablo had found on his way to work that day.
Summary – Hula may sometimes get overlooked on a trip to Manchester with Keko and Liars both attracting a lot of press but doing so is a huge mistake. It is a fantastic venue with a great bunch of guys behind the stick knocking out brilliant Tiki drinks all night long.
Kosmonaut (10 Tariff Street, M1 2FF)
Over the last couple of months a few new bars have popped up on the scene in Manchester and Kosmonaut was first on our list. This dark wood panelled bar wouldn’t feel out of place in the heart of New York and adds a nice change of pace to the current bar scene in Manchester.
The first thing you notice when you sit at the bar is the excellent beer selection they have, a big blackboard list dozens of beers from all around the world. Old favourites mixed with unusual unpronounceable ales was enough to leave me salivating as I chose my brew of choice.
Cocktails are also offered and Tim decided on a Tequila Old Fashioned which was lovingly prepared by the team of Kay & Jo behind the bar. It is easy to see this as a place to lose an entire Sunday afternoon and I am sure it gets pretty lively on Friday & Saturday nights.
On a walk around I discovered a table tennis table downstairs and a quick 5 – 0 thumping of Tim was the perfect way to work off the Turkey Dinner Roll from Miracle.
Summary – Great to see a new bar and indeed a new style of bar in town. The beer selection and feel of the venue are both fantastic and with a little more work I am sure the cocktails won’t be far behind.
The Liquor Store (Maybrook House, 40 Blackfriars Street, M3 2EG)
Another new kid on the block and this time the block was at the base of an office building. At first glance from the outside it isn’t the sort of place that would normally appeal to me, it looks a little like someone took a failed coffee shop and turned it into a bar.
As soon as you step inside however all that changes. The bar itself is well decked out (if a little new a shiny) and whilst the space still felt a little coffee shop like I can imagine that the intimate tables and low lighting will prove a huge hit for the date night crowd.
However it is the tongue in cheek nature of the place that endeared it to me. The cocktail list was not only well laid out but with funny cocktail names based around famous people it is easy to see large groups having a lot of fun choosing their drink orders.
With this in mind it was unsurprising to find out that the manager of the bar, Andy, has previously worked in the likes of Trailer and All Star Lanes as well as Match. As I dived into a Tina Turner Died cocktail Andy grabbed the bottle of Tradicional and started to have a play.
- 40ml Jose Cuervo Tradicional
- 15ml Triple Sec
- 10ml agave
- 5ml grenadine
- 25ml cranberry juice
- 25ml lime juice
Summary – Having only just very recently opened The Liquor Store is still finding its feet slightly in the Manchester bar scene but I have no doubt it will soon be making a name for itself. Any bar that doesn’t take itself too seriously but certainly takes the quality of its drinks seriously will surely be a hit, especially if Andy is there to lead the way.
Liars Club (19A Back Bridge Street M3 2PB)
I cannot think of another example of a bar that has opened and become an institution as quickly as Liars Club. Relatively new on the scene having recently celebrated its first birthday it feels like it has been there for years and rarely does a trip to Manchester not end (and I mean that literally) in Liars.
This is due in large part to Lyndon Higginson the Captain of the ship who moved over from Keko Moku to open this late night (4am license) Tiki Den underneath Manchester’s other late night bartender hangout Mojo. Speak to anyone who has been there and their face will pull the same emotions, in this order – fear, regret, guilt, worry and then unbridled joy.
There is always a massive party atmosphere in Liars, it is as if everyone is celebrating their birthday at the same time. This is not just luck, every element of the bar goes into producing this feeling from the moment you step through the door.
The décor is bright, the staff have an infectious enthusiasm and energy, the drinks are fun and the music is bang on. As we sat at the bar an incredibly hungover Lyndon emerged from his hovel out back (he must have been feeling bad he almost refused a shot!) and set about making sure our night ended with a bang.
A giant blended Strawberry Daiquiri to share was book ended with shots, overproof El Dorado Rum and Ting and he even got involved with concocting a cocktail using the last of the bottle of Tradicional.
Unfortunately I can’t tell you what was in it as by this point my hand writing was illegible (unless it really did contain 15ml St Cheese) but I can tell you it was darn tasty. As I sipped it I looked around and noticed almost everyone was enjoying a cocktail from classic daiquiri’s to giant sharing treasures chest – it is that sort of bar.
Summary – It is true a night in Manchester just isn’t complete without a visit to Liars but with its reputation as the big party bar it is easy to forget that the quality of the cocktails you get there are superb. My advice would be go but don’t leave it too late in the night so you can’t taste anything, that would be a real shame.
Manchester in a Nutshell
It has been a while since BarLifeUK had a big night in Manchester and on our last visit we felt maybe it was losing some of its sparkle. We were wrong. It still has it in big glittery buckets.
Whether it is the new bars on the block pushing the existing venues a little harder, or other cities pushing it to up its game Manchester proved it is still home to one of the best nights out not just in the UK but in the World.
The joy of Manchester is not just that it doesn’t take itself too seriously (you’ll note a distinct lack of Speakeasys in this write-up) but that the quality of drinks are superb. Above all though it is the hospitality of the bartenders that makes Manchester what it is.
So make the trip to the North West because whether you remember all of it or not you are guaranteed a superb night out.