These recent years, which could politely be called ‘tough’ and impolitely called ‘a complete shit show’, the sale of cocktails has skyrocketed, accounting for almost one-tenth of alcohol sales in bars and restaurants in 2020, compared with just 6% before the pandemic.
Add to this an explosion in the at-home cocktail market and it’s clear that we Brits are hitting the hard liquor in response to all of this bad news, be it a pandemic, war, or just the seemingly unending negativity that we hear about day-in, day-out. I’ve not watched it for a while but I expect that the 10 o’clock News doesn’t even bother with the ‘And Finally’ bits anymore, those nice little tidbits of news, usually about a squirrel who’s just passed his forklift driver’s licence, that at least but a little smile on your face on an evening.
Instead, and I’ll hold my hands up here, we’re hitting the vodka and the gin and the whiskey – and it seems like it’s a case of ‘drinking less, but drinking better’.
As distilleries across the region continue to churn out exceptional, locally produced liquor, and the demand rises for drinks that are creative, innovative and increasingly gastronomic – we should expect to see more and more high-quality cocktail establishments arrive here in Manchester.
But that’s not to say that there aren’t already some world-class bars already here, and you lot certainly know your stuff when it comes to cocktails. Back at the beginning of June, we posed the question ‘Where does the best cocktails in Manchester‘ and you responded in kind – with over 400 comments and suggestions – and the vast majority of them were coherent and actually made sense.
There was one fella who responded with “our kid down a ginnel“, whilst another said “Old Market Tavern, Altrincham, their lager and lime I’d die for” – the rest were very helpful indeed. So, let’s get started with the countdown to YOUR favourite cocktail bars in Manchester…
Okay, I’m going to first mention my slight discontent that right here at the bottom of the list is the absolutely phenomenal Henry C in Chorlton, which I personally consider to be one of, if not the very best cocktail bar in the city. Perhaps not enough of you know about it though, which would explain its rather low ranking.
It’s a similar story with the sister venue in the centre, 10 Tib Lane, which is the result of a collaboration between Henry C and the excellent CBRB in the Northern Quarter. If you’ve yet to visit either of these venues and consider yourself a fan of cocktails, then you need to get down there ASAP and sample their concoctions. I wholeheartedly recommend Henry C on a Thursday where you can drink their first-class Negronis for just £5.
Next on the list is Science & Industry, the speakeasy-style bar above Cane & Grain, accessible through a seemingly innocent-looking wall in the bar and featuring a dazzling array of scientifically poured-over creations. These cocktails are meticulously created and every ingredient considered, and they even do a feta cheese cocktail in here – and it’s fantastic.
Off to Monton and next up is the very popular Vintage Ambience, who were also noted for their “awesome brunch“, while Grand Pacific is also well-enjoyed in the city centre, a resplendent setting in which to enjoy their “excellent Salted Caramel Espresso Martini“.
Many people recommended the rather excellent Elnecot on Cutting Room Square in Ancoats as a great place to grab a cocktail – a venue that puts just as much time and attention into their drinks as they do their food dishes – and stick to the same rigorous use of top local British suppliers. They also have a menu of cocktails that have been designed by staff, both current and past, including a unique take on the Old Fashioned made using chocolate bitters.
We’re inching closer to the top five now and next up on your list of favourite cocktail bars is the enigmatic Liquor Store – tucked away down off Deansgate on Blackfriars for years and solidly banging out consistently exciting and innovative cocktails the whole time.
There’s also Three Little Words, one of the newer arrivals on this list but a bar and restaurant that not only benefits from a fully-fledged gin and rum distillery on site but also a rather elaborate new cocktail menu that revolves around ‘Ground to Glass’, taking you on a journey of the spirit from ‘Cultivation’ with earthy, vegetal flavours, through ‘Distillation’, ‘Maturation’ and finally ‘Adoration’ with their most complex, bold and delicate cocktails.
And at number 6 is Arcane, the basement Deansgate cocktail bar who have been innovating for years, offering up some seriously offbeat drinks alongside a huge menu of classics. With drinks such as the Cucumber & Chilli, Pickled Onion & Bitter Orange and Coffee & Pineapple – you know that you’re in for a truly unique experience when you walk down those steps.
Now on to the top five, and this one was a VERY close call with just 5 votes between number 1 and number 2…
The newest cocktail bar on this list, Blinker Bar opened its doors on King Street back in mid-May and they’ve already seemingly managed to impress the people of the city. Helmed by ex-Gordon Ramsay bars boss – Dan Berger – Blinker’s focus is driven by seasonality, sustainability and simplicity, with a menu of classic cocktails alongside an additional menu that reimagines classics based around four flavours each month – all determined by what’s in season. June’s focus is on mint, nectarine, rhubarb and strawberry.
Blinker Bar, 64-72 Spring Gardens, Manchester M2 2BQ
A classic Manchester cocktail establishment which has expanded over the years from its initial home in Spinningfields to take in New York Street near Piccadilly, Media City, and seemingly every city in the UK, including five spots in London. The Alchemist was the first of Manchester’s Living Ventures’ cocktail bars to launch and still focuses on “mixing unexpected ingredients with unconventional equipment and remarkable craftsmanship“.
3 Hardman St, Manchester M3 3HF
1 New York St, Manchester M1 4HD
The Bund The Quays, MediaCity UK, Salford M50 3AB
Speak in Code
A small, hidden gem just off Deansgate, Speak in Code proudly proclaim not to offer any “gimmicks” – just high-quality cocktails from the very best bartenders and mixologists in the city. Their most recent menu is only their second ever, and is called the ‘Subjective interpretation of Cocktails’ – mixing up flavour exploration and hip-hop. The menu is designed to resemble a record, and every drink there has a story and a link to staff experiences.
Speak In Code, 7 Jackson’s Row, Manchester M2 5ND
Recent recipient of an impressive expansion – taking over more of the space upstairs and increasing capacity 3-fold, The Washhouse is a massive favourite amongst you lot – only missing out on the top spot by a measly 5 votes. A quintessential speakeasy experience, from the outside this bar looks like a normal, albeit tiny laundrette – but pick up the phone and you’ll be ushered into one of the city’s most impressive cocktail bars – with all manner of weird and wonderful concoctions. The oddest? The ‘Winner Winner’ made with chicken-infused whiskey, parsley liqueur and chips on the side!
The Washhouse,19 Shudehill, Manchester M4 2AF
Who of you just knew that Schofields would be at number one here? Probably most of you – as this exceptional cocktail bar has countless won awards and hearts since opening to rather muted fanfare during the lockdown of 2021. Since then, Schofield’s has cemented itself as the city’s premier cocktail destination – where every single ingredient is meticulously considered, and every element goes into maximising your ‘experience’. If you think you know cocktails – this place is a must-visit.
Schofield’s Bar, 3 Little Quay Street Sunlight House, Manchester M3 3JZ