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Inside the glitzy cabaret club hidden beneath a Manchester barber shop


Those who frequent Deansgate may have noticed that a jazzy new barber shop has sprung up in the old Courthouse building next door to Hawskmoor.

During the day, it’s buzzing with customers treating themselves to a fresh trim or shave. But come the evening, Mancs are flocking here for an entirely different purpose altogether.

Because beyond the barber shop, apparent only to those in the know, One Eight Six conceals a hidden cocktail club and a music venue that boasts live performers seven days a week.

Its owners have built up their own team of in house local musicians using their own network, and from this created a range of house bands.

Depending on what night you go down, you might find a jazz band, a soul band, a 90s R&B band, an acoustic band, a little four piece, or even a seventies band playing disco and motown with a sax carrying the top line instead of a vocalist.

Arrive of an evening and you’ll find a rope outside with two dark-suited security men. If you’re asked if you have a booking, just say yes – then make your way down through the barbershop into the below-ground floor.

Here you can access the club via a two-way mirrored door, which will be opened from the other side by an apron-clad employee. And so the fun begins.

Inside, a long cocktail bar flanks the back wall on the right whilst to the left lies a fully-equipped stage with a full band set up. We head down on a Saturday night around 9pm and the atmosphere is heaving – to say it’s merely lively would be an understatement.

Punters of all ages are crowded around the stage as Dean, one of the owners, belts out soulful classics to the backing of a full house band. Everyone’s dancing, drinks are in the air. it’s like being let into a secret party you don’t want to leave.

The space itself, in the basement of the old Courthouses, was once used to hold prisoners before trial. Now, it’s become one of the best places to party on Deansgate.

Towards the back, plush and low-slung booths house groups of trendy-looking drinkers sipping espresso martinis and gin and tonics.

Behind each is a specially made lightbox, back-lighting powerful photographs of homeless people taken by Bolton-based spiritual photographer Lee Jeffries – who just happens to be a close personal friend of barber Scott Patel’s dad.

Incredibly famous in his own right, his breathtaking work adds another degree of cool to the spot. We’re told that they’ve had people coming up from London in the day, knocking and asking to be let in just to see these pieces.

A lady smokes a pipe with one eye shut in the men’s bathroom at 186

Each photograph is the final product of a connective journey between photographer and subject, with Lee attempting at the end to capture each person’s essence as he first saw it upon meeting them.

After capturing the image, Lee donates money from the sales to help and give back to the homeless people in his photographs.

There’s more art elsewhere, too.

In the hallway leading down to the bathrooms, a local Manchester artist has drawn repeat graffiti in freehand chalk on black walls, giving a tunnel effect. And at the end, a doorway has been sprayed up by Dave O’Howarth – another local artist.

“When we first took the lease on, Dave O’Howarth wanted to do his first exhibition so when we had a building site he put up a load of his artwork in the space and we did an underground exhibition for Dave,” Dean explains.

“As a thank you and a gesture of goodwill he did a cool piece of artwork which in a way is like a frame of a real piece – but actually it’s just a fire exit to Hawksmoor.”

And the place has one more trick up its sleeve, too.

In the ladies bathroom, on Saturday nights the team employs a makeup artist to fix you up. Whether you’ve broken a nail or you want your whole face doing, she’s there to sort you out – completely free of charge.

Taking the same name as its address on 186 Deansgate, One Eight Six adds what feels like a missing piece to the city’s nightlife scene.

For a city so in love with music, we actually have very few live entertainment venues of this sort. It’s great to see Manchester hasn’t lost its imagination and that we’re still, as Tony Wilson so famously said, doing things differently.

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