Hidden Gems: Manchester’s most hidden of 'hidden bars' with its own Old Fashioned trolley and a wild absinthe salon

Project Halcyon is very, very much worth seeking out...

By Ben Arnold | 9 July 2024

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There’s ‘hidden bars’, and then there’s hidden bars. And then there’s Project Halcyon, which is so well hidden it’s almost like it doesn’t want to be found in the first place.

Or maybe it’s just taking its time, waiting patiently for the right people to turn up.

Finding it involves lifts, corridors, thinking you’ve gone the wrong way, actually going the wrong way, confusion and then elation as you discover that hidden door, behind which is one of the very best cocktail bars in the city.

Hands down.

It’s the passion project of Adam Montanaro-Taylor, who has previous form at the sadly-missed Northern Quarter cocktail venue Mecanica, and who has already been named ‘One To Watch’ by the respected Top 50 Cocktail Bars list, not to mention Best New Bar at the Manchester Bar Awards.

“It’s kind of by design,” he jokes of the labyrinthine route to the bar’s underground location. “Keeps the riff raff out.”

He worked bars while studying game design at university, but slowly the noble art of bartending began to take precedence. And now he’s got his own post-industrial speakeasy buried in the guts of the Bonded Warehouse.

Hidden Bar Project Halcyon

“It’s a kind of turn of the century, illicit warehouse bar,” he goes on. “A speakeasy is the term that people would use. The speakeasy concept is basically ‘if you know you know, if you don’t know, you don’t know’. 

Indeed, to misquote the late, great Anthony H. Wilson for the 17,000 time, they do things differently here. They have their own ‘absinthe parlour, the wonderfully-named ‘salon vert’. They have their own distillery, where they make their own gin, their own lab and tasting room, where they invent new concoctions, mixing up botanicals of all kinds.

They even have their own Old Fashioned trolley, so if you want your Old Fashioned made properly – the real thing takes time – there is perhaps no better place to have it made in Manchester.

If absinthe is your thing, the feted French liquor known for its mystery and largely fictional hallucinogenic qualities, you’ve come to the right place too.

Project Halcyon Absinthe

An antique piece of paraphernalia on the table, a vintage absinthe fountain, dispenses the water into your glass, with the traditional sugar dissolving into the booze. You can even choose from the French or Swiss styles, a rare treat for the true absinthe aficionado in your life.

But while some of these drinks (they have booze here worth tens of thousands of pounds, up to £500 a glass in some cases) and processes might seem rarified, the atmosphere here is all inclusive. If complex cocktails made with foraged botanicals aren’t your thing, come in for a beer.

“We’ve redefined what [speakeasy] means in terms of hospitality,” says Adam. “We’re actually very casual, very personable. It’s supposed to be an experiential place.”

It is nothing but.

Project Halcyon, Bonded Warehouse, Lower Byrom St, Manchester M3 4AP

More Hidden Gems:
Wythenshawe’s community noodle hut where Pad Thai is £6
Manchester’s best jerk is coming out of a nursery kitchen in Hulme (sort of)
Örme, the neighbourhood restaurant doing tasting menus for £45