Britain’s tiki capital has other styles of bar, too, and yet they’ve all got a little of that chilled-out Polynesian vibe. Clinton Cawood heads north-west to share a Zombie with some Mancunians
There’s a beautiful paradox to Manchester’s bar scene in that it manages to be one of the UK’s more mature cities for a drink, while simultaneously being noticeably laid-back and unpretentious.
Brodie Meah has a theory about this. ‘Anyone who’s anyone in Manchester has worked behind a tiki bar,’ he explains. He’s no exception, even if he’s now behind the bar at the decidedly non-tiki Under New Management.
The theory holds water. It doesn’t explain why the city has so many tiki bars, but it does throw some light on why its bartenders understand spectacle and entertainment. Even the bar names are entertaining: Dusk Til Pawn and Luck Lust Liquor & Burn are just two cases in point.
Traditionally, things have centred around Manchester’s Northern Quarter. ‘It was once the entirety of Manchester’s cocktail scene, but it’s become quite gentrified, with lots of below-average places opening,’ says Meah.
So now there are other areas emerging, in the direction of Salford, for example. ‘The Liars Club has been a big draw towards that end,’ says Meah.
Each area’s distinct, and yet the city’s bars consistently deliver a casual, welcoming environment. You might not necessarily find the next cutting-edge drink trend here, but you’ll have a damn fine time doing it.
A TOUCH OF CLASS
A champagne bar shouldn’t, by rights, be this down to earth – particularly one with Épernay’s reputation. And yet this is exactly what it proves to be, as we start our night with a glass of Ayala, on one of the city’s best terraces.
‘It’s not too wanky, and yet this is pretty top-end for Manchester,’ says Meah. ‘It’s just about good service and a good product.’ In addition to its Grandes Marques-heavy selection of fizz, there’s an accessible but engaging cocktail list.
‘This is actually quite a bartender’s bar,’ observes Meah. ‘During the week it’s full of bartenders drinking champagne.’
The terrace is the perfect vantage point to discuss the non-Northern Quarter bar scene in Manchester. Looking down on Lucha Libre, All Star Lanes and Almost Famous, and with new openings planned nearby, this is clearly one such area.
‘It doesn’t even really have a name yet,’ Meah explains, settling on ‘the cool end of Deansgate’.
Épernay Manchester, Great Northern Tower, Unit 1a, Watson Street, Manchester, M3 4EE; 0161 834 8802; epernaychampagnebars.com
THE NEIGHBOURHOOD ALL-ROUNDER
Before heading out to explore some of the city’s more remote drinking spots, it’s only fitting we hit the area that started it all.
Exposed brick and pipe combine with some comfortable seating and contemporary artwork to make for the type of neighbourhood bar that you can dedicate an evening to. The drinks offering plays its part – Kosmonaut’s an accomplished all-rounder in this respect. There’s a vast selection of international craft beer, alongside a surprisingly decent, compact wine list and a good but not game-changing cocktail list.
The décor, much of the beer list and, most of all, the food offering reveal something of an American vibe here, an influence that could be a challenger to tiki’s crown in Manchester. There’s a big bourbon scene in the city, and places like Red’s True Barbecue are making sure that bartenders and civilians alike have all the pulled pork and Picklebacks they need.
Kosmonaut, 10 Tariff Street, Manchester, M1 2FF; kosmonaut.co
Located just above tiki bar Hula, The Fitzgerald still has that new bar smell – it opened its doors towards the end of last year. It’s a speakeasy in every sense except for the whole ‘speaking easy’ part. The entrance isn’t all that secret, and the bar’s in plain sight, above ground. Other than that, we’re talking full-on 1920s décor, dim lighting, chandeliers – the works. There’s more of that American influence, straight from F Scott Fitzgerald’s era, with a beautiful hard-bound list of classic cocktails to match.
The Fitzgerald, 11 Stevenson Square, Manchester, M1 1DB; 07442 502547
Under New Management
Suitably fortified, it’s time to head across the river to Manchester’s Left Bank, down a dodgy alley to a barely signposted door.
The new management in the name refers to both Meah and Adam Binnersley, though the latter has since moved on to nearby Mojo. ‘The guys who were running Corridor went to open Dogs ’n’ Dough, so Adam and I came in to sort it out,’ says Meah.
The bar is a really satisfying example of the no-frills, good drinks, good ingredients trend that’s not specific to any one UK city. It ticks all the boxes when it comes to homemade ingredients, while keeping things fun and lighthearted – think toy car garnishes. And Meah’s got some ideas to develop it further. One is to introduce flight nights on certain quieter evenings, offering either cocktail or spirit flights.
Combine that with some late closing times and it’s no wonder the trade’s now using this as its after-hours home.
Under New Management, 6-8 Barlows Croft, Salford, Manchester, M3 5DY
The Liars Club
And so, after a night of talking tiki without a single overproof rum or drink served in a pineapple, the time comes.
Self-described as a ‘tiki dive bar’, and helmed by self-described Captain Lyndon Higginson, Th Liars Club is open every day until 4am. That in itself is enough to have earned it a reputation as a rum-soaked bartender den of iniquity.
They do what they do well here – it’s fun and irreverent, but with some good drinks and some really inventive ideas. The Liars Club’s famous list of rums available by the bottle, half-bottle or quart, is approaching genius.
The Liars Club, 19A Back Bridge Street, Manchester, M3 2PB; 0161 834 5111; theliarsclub.co.uk
ALSO CHECK OUT:
Dusk Til Pawn; Hula; Lucha Libre; Luck Lust Liquor & Burn; Mojo; Port Street Beer House; Red’s True Barbecue; The Liquor Store