A so-called ‘secret’ bar can be an irritating thing; the supposed hideaway that requests you to “only tell your friends”, but has a noisy social media side line, for instance. The whole idea definitely feels less gimmicky when the place takes an actual risk, and doesn’t make it easy for you to get in – like number one on our list, The Washhouse. Alternatively, Manchester has its fair share of bars that wouldn’t know a marketing ploy if it came up and stuck a toy crocodile in each of its drinks: they’re just dashed difficult to find. Here’s a mix of the two.
Here are our top 5 picks
Perhaps the most committed to the concept of them all, The Washhouse bar hides behind its ‘front’, a pokey laundry with a couple of proper washing machines and one suspiciously large, door-shaped one. You’ll need to “book a machine” (for which, read table) before you turn up, which means finding both the website for the telephone number, then the location itself (hint – Google is your friend). Inside, you’ll be treated to some pretty stellar cocktails in a narrow, dimly-lit space. Good luck!
Another elaborate front here, this time in the form of a pawn shop: don’t be fooled by the retro TVs, amps and jewellery in the windows, though, or the lettering that says ‘Buy, Sell, Gold’ – push through the double doors and you will find a bar behind. This place does a good list of unusual cocktail mixes, plus they’re usually ready to ad lib it if you’re after something different. The crowd is mixed and it does get busy; bagsy a corner seat for the quietest spot.
Hidden away up a staircase behind an unmarked door in the metropolis of bars that is Cane & Grain (there’s also a tap room and a Liar’s Lounge) is the first floor bar Science & Industry. The walls are wood-panelled, the bar is copper-topped and the cabinets are full of a wide assortment of liquor – bees on the wallpaper hint to Manchester’s industrial past, and there’s a back room laboratory for cooking up drinks.
This one is really off the beaten track – it’s also on the other side of the Irwell River, in Salford. Tucked away down a back alley and with little in the way of a sign, Under New Management Bar is definitely a challenge to find, but it’s also worth it, mostly because of the drinks. The ultimate bartender’s bar, the staff here really know what they’re doing when it comes to cocktails. Take a seat and focus on the excellent libations.
There’s little that marks The Temple’s presence above ground: a small awning and some metal railings in the middle of a road is your only clue to this tiny, crowded bolt hole. Originally called The Temple of Convenience owing to its former life as a public toilet block, the bar is said to be referenced in Elbow’s 2008 single Grounds for Divorce(“There’s a hole in my neighbourhood / Down which of late I cannot help but fall”). Dingy, with rock ‘n’ roll vibes, the beer and the atmosphere are winners here.