OnLocation: Manchester with Espolon Tequila

Our monthly city tour bringing you all the exciting bar news and tips for bartenders on the road hits Manchester.

Manchester has had more bar openings per head than any other city in the country in the past year (this is based on no facts whatsoever but it sounded better than ‘loads of new places have opened recently’). Whilst we visit Manchester a fair bit when on judging duties we tend to see a lot of the same bars so this time we, with the help of some local friends, decided to check out some of these newer venues.

Which one's Lyndon and which is Alex?
Which one’s Lyndon and which is Alex?

Of course you can’t do a bar tour without some liquid refreshment and we were once again joined by our good friends Espolon Tequila and their representatives Kat Sellers and Sam Burke. They had with them a few bottles to give bartenders we visited the chance to come up with a cocktail for us. We have picked our favourites and included them below.

Crazy Pedro’s: 55–57 Bridge St, M3 3BQ

All that talk of new venues and we head to one of our go to favourites. Crazy Pedro’s is newer on the Manchester scene than it seems and is one of those venues you always seem to bump into a familiar face or two.

For those not familiar with the concept Pedro’s is part of Lyndon Higginson’s rapidly growing empire (Liar’s Club, Cane & Grain etc) and is in it’s essence a tequila, mezcal and pizza bar. Located round the corner from Liar’s and Mojo it keeps the party vibe (punch pong is often played) whilst having great (if crazy – hotdog? fried chicken and waffle?) pizza’s, on offer in both slice and full serve form.

Bar Manager and longterm BarLifeUK friend Alex Proudfoot sadly wasn’t on hand but bartender Chris Jordan looked after us superbly, guiding us through the vast mezcal range. It is always difficult to choose between mezcal and beer or cocktails and slushes at Pedro’s so we stayed long enough to have both whilst soaking in the amazing decor.

Crazy Pedro’s is definitely a great place to start (or end due it’s late license) your night out in Manchester with a slice a sensible option to line your stomach at either end of the evening, oh and if you are lucky enough to be there when the sun is shining it has a big outdoor area out front.

Tariff & Dale: 2 Tariff St, M1 2FN

One of the cities newer offerings is Tariff & Dale which also has a pizza option with a restaurant underneath the bar featuring a impressive looking wood fired pizza oven. That though is pretty much where the similarities end.

Whilst Pedro’s design is along the lines of more is more, T&D follows the more famous less is more option. The big open plan room is stripped back with exposed brick walls (which we were to discover was rather in vogue as the night went on), big metal pillars rising to the ceiling and wooden floors.

The cocktail menu is equally stripped back consisting of 9 classics cocktails done their 3 favourite ways with the Fig & PX Old Fashioned our favourite from the list. Behind the bar we found Danny Schofield who may be a familiar name to some of you, he’s been off shaking his skills overseas but is now back and can be found most nights at T&D.

Whilst the decor might not be up our street the drinks list certainly was and we can imagine a group of people sitting back in the comfy sofas and slowly working their way through the list over an afternoon.

The Seed 2.0
The Seed 2.0

Danny Schofield – The Seed 2.0

  • 40ml Espolon Reposado
  • 25ml beetroot juice
  • 10ml Absolut Vodka
  • 2.5ml muscovado sugar syrup
  • 2 dashes orange bitters
  • 5ml pedro ximenez sherry

Stir down and serve in a rocks glass with a grapefruit zest

Kosmonaut: 10 Tariff St, M1 2FF

Another old favourite which we just had to pop into as we were passing for a refreshing beer. Kosmonaut is close to the station and the Northern Quarters many bars. It has one of the cities best beer selections which we are slowly, over our visits to Manchester, trying to work our way through.

It isn’t just about the beer however with an impressive back bar, solid cocktail offering and food, which if the smells coming out of the kitchen are anything to go by is pretty damn fine. The dark wood decor with booth seating is broken up with quirky touches such as the red barbers chairs which always look inviting.

Hidden away downstairs is another bar which contains a table tennis table, this said table tennis table has seen some great battles in the past, just don’t bring it up with Jamie Jones, he gets very upset when having to relive one particular evening.

If you like beer then you have to pop into Kosmonaut, if you don’t then you still should. If you are travelling to Manchester by train walk there, get your bearings and you are minutes walk from any Northern Quarter bar.

The Pen & Pencil: 57 Hilton Street, M1 2EJ

The newest bar on our tour having been open only 1 week, Pen & Pencil is named after the bar from Mad Men. Don’t let this put you off however (as one of our guides ‘AB’ pointed out it is the equivalent of naming your new coffee shop ‘Central Perk’ two decades ago), as the name only tells half the story.

As the evening went on and we spoke to more people about P&P we discovered it divided opinion across the Manchester bar community. From our point of view we had a great time with some tasty drinks, especially when you take into account the staff are still getting to grips with the new opening.

It is a big venue with an imposing L-shaped bar the focal point, highlighted by some amazing lights hovering over it and a back bar made from metal scaffolding poles. There were plenty of big comfy looking bench style seats (although we chose the bar stools) and more of that exposed brick wall.

The cocktail list had something to tempt everyone in even our fussy and ever expanding group, and if that did fail there was always the impressive beer selection on draught to keep you entertained. The lovely Beki made sure we were kept topped up at all times and you would have struggled to note the short time since it opened it’s doors.

It seems Pen & Pencil is a bit of a marmite bar in Manchester but we’re not entirely sure why, it is certainly a must visit for any Mad Men fans, anyone on a date or, from our point of view, anyone else.

Beki at Pen & Pencil
Beki at Pen & Pencil

Beki Gordon – Tequila Mai Tai

  • 25ml Espolon Reposado
  • 25ml Espolon Blanco
  • 25ml lime juice
  • 25ml Cointreau
  • 12.5ml cardamon syrup

Garnish with two orange slices and a cherry 

Hold Fast: 50 Newton St, M1 2EA

Last month up in Newcastle we found a hidden gem in the form of No. 28 and this time we hit gold again when we were directed to Hold Fast by Lyndon. Dive bars these days tend to be a little try hard and over designed. Hold Fast doesn’t have this problem.

It is owned by three brothers who have a series of backpacker hostels across Manchester and decided they should open up a bar in the basement of one of their venues. With no experience in this area they simply opened what they wanted to drink in.

The result is a red light strewn bar with nooks and crannies, a plethora of random objects, mini cinema room and even an outdoor smoking area despite it’s subterranean location. Like any good dive bar Hold Fast is the perfect place for a beer and a shot, get down there, seriously, you’ll love it.

The Wash House: Shudehill somewhere (it is a speakeasy after all)

Wash House is very much not a dive bar, this is a modern twist on the classic speakeasy. Entering through a Laundromat frontage you walk into a small dark drinking den with leather seating and down lighting on each table providing the majority of the bars illumination, oh and of course the exposed brick wall.

The cocktail menu is superbly written and well designed ensuring not only do you want a cocktail but you also want to try everyone else’s around the table. The sorbet G&T is a superb serve and as tasty as it looks, which led to everyone having probably more than they should when it was passed round the table.

A table of joy at Wash Room
A table of joy at Wash House

It must be said as strong as the decor and drinks and indeed service from the two bartenders on duty was, the music was a disaster. Once again showing how important and often overlooked this aspect of venue success is. What should have been background jazz or swing, maybe even some crooners stretching their vocal cords was replaced by a DJ playing what can only be described as dance floor hell.

Providing they sort the music out (which we’re sure they will) this is an amazing spot to enjoy some great drinks, escape from the real world and, if it’s your thing, have an illicit affair…

Chris Melville

  • 50ml Espolon Blanco
  • 10ml Solerno
  • 20ml lime juice
  • 10ml Blossom’s Mango Syrup
  • 25ml mango juice
  • 3 jalapeno slices
  • pinch coriander stalks
  • cardamon pod
  • 1 dash Angostura Orange Bitters

Muddle jalapeno, coriander and cardamon before adding other ingredients and shaking. 

Cane & Grain: 49 -51 Thomas Street, M4 1NA

Well it had to be done didn’t it? You can’t go to Manchester without ending up in Cane & Grain, Mojo or Liars Club (or if you’re really brave all three). Cane & Grain is probably least dangerous of the three, which is like choosing to wrestle a crocodile instead of a bear or a lion.

C&G is a three story bar with a different feel to each level. The ground floor is beer and food, open through the day and night and decked out (see what we did there) in skateboarding memorabilia. The top floor is a fantastic tiki bar den with one of the best neon signs ever made (we’ll let you find out what it is yourself).

However it was on the second floor we based ourselves. This floor is more of a whiskey den. Sit at the bar and chat away to the great bartenders (headed up by Massimo Zitti) or find yourself a table sit back and work your way through the cocktail list and back bar. Either way no matter how hard you try you’ll end up leaving much more ‘relaxed’ than you planned.

Get comfy at Cane & Grain
Get comfy at Cane & Grain

Cane & Grain is always worth a visit and has something for everyone at anytime of day. Beer and the ‘Hot As F*#@ Wings’ is always a fantastic afternoon treat by the way.

Rory Bourke – Down In Mexico

  • 40ml Espolon Reposado
  • 30ml Campari
  • 5ml pink grapefruit juice
  • 5ml Green Chartreuse
  • 5ml Amaro Meletti
  • 5ml Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao
  • 2 dashes salted Campari bitters

Shake and serve up in a glass with an islay whisky mist

Well as it turns out C&G wasn’t the last stop of the night (with bowling, pool and a few more drinks taking us to the early hours of the morning) but it is the last one we are willing to tell you about.

Verdict: Manchester still has it in spades. ‘It’ being one of the, if not the, best nights out in the country. The new selection of bars have added to the scene by offering a more mature offering for visitors. There are certainly some new favourites on our list after our night out and it’s good to know the older venues are going to be kept on their toes. If you haven’t been to Manchester then you are incapable of talking about the UK bar scene with any sort of credence.

Special thanks to all of the venues and bartenders we met, to Lyndon, Bart, Chris and the rest of our tour guides for the night and of course to the Espolon Tequila gang for making these trips possible and being so much fun in the process. Next up Nottingham.