On Location: Manchester BarLife

Any journalist who tells you it is possible to visit and write about a city’s best bars in one night is fucking lying. It’s like asking a Kamikaze pilot how many missions he has flown. Doesn’t make sense.

Think about it. You spend time putting together a list of ten or so bars that by reputation are the best in the Manor. You pick them because the drinks are great and the staff are your new best friends in waiting. Why would you want to leave once you got to the first? How can you walk when you leave the third? A pointless but enjoyable exercise. With that in mind, here’s how our trip to Manchester went…

I Heart Keko Moku
I Heart Keko Moku

On Location…

People who know told us that Obsidian should be one of our first stops, and we made it so. It’s a hotel bar, and as such it is dark and discrete, the kind of place you could swap a brown envelope full of cash for a briefcase. It’s long and thin, lots of dark wood and a back bar with bottles so evenly spaced you have to think a German with a protractor was involved. A very nice young man called Kamil made us some very nice drinks and told us about a few places we should visit. They were already on our list, which makes Kamil one of those people who know. If you were staying in that hotel, you probably wouldn’t make it out the building… it’s that kind of place.

We left Obsidian and strode out into the Manchester dusk, full of intent and totally lacking in sense of direction. And this is where it went wrong. At this point our journey of a million miles went wrong (or right?) with a single step.

After circling the same four streets for an hour, trying to find the illusive K2 bar, and dropping into The Grill on the Alley for a side of beef (this place is our honourable mention for Manchester… really, really good food and cracking service) I said “Fuck it. Lets jump a cab to the Northern Quarter…” and the plans of men went the way of mice.

‘I Heart KM’

Those are the words above the door of what was Rodeo last time I was in Manchester that spelled our doom. We’d heard about Keko Moku from those that know, and they said: “You gotta visit the Kinky Monkey. It’s Tiki heaven”.

And so it was. Keko is everything a bar should be: small but perfectly formed, at least two really weird looking people sitting at the bar at all times, a crew behind the bar who are obviously in love with what they do. And I’m not just saying this, but the best straight up, no nonsense Platino daiquiri I’ve ever had.

We stuck around for a while, and had a few drinks. Lyndon showed us his scars, like that bit in Jaws. Bars were falling out the bottom of our list like Connect Four counters when you pop the catch at the end of a game. But we rallied. We put in a Herculean effort and left that little patch of Pacific heaven and Ray Mearsed it next door, to Socio Rehab.

Socio Strain
Socio Strain

Now I don’t know about you, but I yawn fit to burst when some magazine or other puts out a ‘World’s Best Bars’ feature and Milk and Honey New York is number one. I think ‘Really? Still?’ Don’t know why I think that because I’ve never been there, but you know… come on. But in the same way, ask one of those people who know about Manchester bars, and first out is always Socio.

I have been there, several times. It’s always superb. There might be different faces behind the stick, and the menu might have changed a tad, but the experience is the same. It’s a bar with an identity, an ethos that remains constant despite the vagaries of fashionable trouser tightness, or the spirit of the moment.

Socio Smeg
Socio Smeg

A warm, boozy womb

The boys behind the bar, Joannes and Ossie, sorted us right out. They made us some cocktails and poured us some Jager and talked to us about life behind the bar, and having babies (not together, just to clarify)… life in general. Fuck, it was hard to leave that place. In truth, I don’t really remember doing so.

Now here is where things start to get loose, as they say down under. I’m not gonna lie to you, I’ve got notes but they aren’t readable. Writing about the rest of the night is like being in CSI: there are flashes of memory, bruises, blurred photographs and a pocket full of receipts to go on.

We’d always intended to hit Black Dog Ballroom, I just don’t know how we got there. It’s the new kid on the Manchester block, and gaffer Tom Sneesby is well known to BarLIfeUK. Immediately it felt like home, and it had pool tables. Incidentally, why is it that so few cocktail joints offer pool? Have you not seen The Hustler? Rye and 9 Ball go together like Tequila and the morning after pill.

Lyndon Keko came down; he read our auras like a shark smells blood in the water. He casually suggested Killer, at £5 a pop, and after a night of ‘I could beat you with a broken broomstick’ claims by BarLife Idiots Ltd, the results were predictable. £50 the worse, and tails between our legs, we left.

At this point, and with a stand to man at Northern Restaurant and Bar the next day, the smart money was on going back to the hotel. But, and this is going to be cheesy, the smart money was in Lyndon’s pocket, so we hit the casinos. Three of them. I have a loyalty card in my wallet to prove it.

Kinky Monkeys
Kinky Monkeys

The BarLife manifesto

If you came by our stand on Monday and spoke to someone who was obviously dead inside, that’s why. We did it in the name of honest, ‘rely on us to tell you what it’s like to go out with the industry in so and so town’ reporting. If you’d rather read about rectified fairy’s tears served in flash-frozen snowdrop petals, look elsewhere, we’ll leave that to the expert$. We’ll stick to going out, talking bollocks, drinking drinks then writing up what we can remember the next day. If that sounds like your cup of tea, stick with us. We’ll see you proud…