It is widely assumed that the cocktail as we know it today is an American invention. We beg to differ. It started life as a Victorian concoction designed to cure ailments and the first recorded use of the word cocktail as a drink appears in The Farmer’s Cabinet from 1803.
“Drank a glass of cocktail—excellent for the head.”
There are plenty of watering holes dotted around the city that can make you a pretty decent cocktail. The difference is these seven establishments go the extra mile. Many of them have set trends that have rippled across the city. Some have bartenders who have invented their own elixirs that give a nod back to old Victorian remedies. These bars won’t just help you kick off your night right, they will take your drinking to the next level.
Whether you’re looking for some grade A cocktails or for an intimate outpost to cosy up in, this city has options galore. If you like your bars on the more exclusive side, with a touch of Victorian flare, this list might just help you find your favourite.
So without further ado, here’s our pick of the best Victorian-style cocktail bars in Manchester.
This low-lit NQ haunt is ideal for those who like to impress in a low-key way. You won’t have to dress to the nines or know how to pronounce the names of exotic drinks but it does make for a showstopper of a night nonetheless. Apotheca Restaurant and Cocktail Bar is located in a listed building in the Northern Quarter and offers up an array of zany cocktails and plush elixirs. They have class act cocktail classes on offer too and the sky’s the limit on what flavours or flavour combinations can be achieved. Everything from Voodoo Chilli, which is Hendrick’s gin muddled with fresh cucumber, red chilli, lime, and sugar to the Very English Breakfast, which comes served in a teacup and packs quite a punch. Oof.
17 Thomas Street, Northern Quarter, Manchester M4 1FS
Tucked away just off Deansgate you’ll find Arcane Cocktail Bar, a moodily-lit cosy basement space that’s been stripped back to reveal the grade II-listed building’s bare brickwork and original white tiles. Arcane’s skilled bartenders mean business. They’ve made waves by slinging cocktails that are both approachable and inventive. Choose from quirky flavours like the sage and onion daiquiri or the very tantalisingly tasty Polski Pear. These drinks are anything but your pedestrian rum and coke. If you want to find this covert watering hole, look for the sign and the books in the window. It operates under the alias of a bookmakers. Blink and you might just miss it.
There’s no food on offer at this joint but guests are welcome to bring in their own from restaurants nearby. The cocktail list is as long as a goalkeeper’s arm and they’re always open to making bespoke concoctions to suit individual tastes. Drinks are all priced at £7 and there’s a pretty decent range of beer and wine. Look for the white tiled wall and the red Goods Entrance sign and you’re in. Enjoy.
39 South King St, Manchester M2 6DE
If you want to get close – really close – to your date, head for Cain and Grain and make for the secret Science and Industry room upstairs. This itty bitty NQ spot will have you and your date squeezed together in the best way possible. All drinks are between £7 and £9, so you can buy your special friend more than one Bad Boy lemonade. If you’re feeling really experimental, order yourself a very zesty North Pole.
49 -51 Thomas Street (Northern Quarter), Manchester M4 1NA
Dusk Til Pawn
Make a beeline for Dusk Till Pawn if you’re in the mood to grab a drink away from crowds. From the outside it looks like a quirky little pawn shop. The windows on the doors are barred and the large displays are filled with old guitars, televisions and a sign outside reads Pawn Shop. But once inside you’re in one of the Northern Quarter’s best kept secrets. Admittedly not the classiest establishment, but with expertly crafted cocktails and a decor flush with quirky bric-a-brac, this place is often rammed come the weekend. If you’re feeling adventurous, ask for the Hard Core Pawn. Steady.
Northern Quarter, Manchester M1 1FB
No washing. No drying. We know that a washhouse doesn’t exactly sound like the sort of place you want to spend much time but you could spend the whole day here and still want more. According to the shop front it’s a laundrette. This has fooled many a visitor to the city. When you enter you’ll find an old phone with a button to press. If somebody speaks to you, tell them you’re here to wash some dirty clothes and follow their instructions. Inside you’ll find a roster of drinks that’ll put your standard gin and tonics to shame. They boast inventive mixes like the Chai Martini or Memoirs of a Geisha. That’s vodka, sake and wasabi, served with a sushi roll. Leave your bin liner full of next week’s washing at home.
19 Shudehill, Manchester M4 2AF
If you’re on the hunt for cocktails near the Northern Quarter, look no further than The Fitzgerald. Head straight for the stairs and through the hidden entrance (just off Stevenson’s Square). There’s an air of mystery from the off as classic chandeliers guide you to the dark and mysterious drinking den with its plush velvet and leather sofas and dark wooden tables. Drinks are served in some very swanky 1920’s cut glass. You can sip on classic cocktails as well as a smattering of less common potions like South Side, which was allegedly the favourite drink of Al Capone. Bada-bing.
11 Stevenson Square, Manchester M1 1DB