Dusk Til Pawn, Stevenson Square, Manchester, M1 1FB
Don’t be fooled by the old suitcases and ancient guitars, this “pawn shop” is actually a Northern Quarter cocktail joint.
“We’ve had people bringing in their old TVs. They think it really is a pawn shop,” Tom the barman says as he caramelises a piece of passion fruit with a blowtorch. “Until they get inside, of course.” Dusk Til Pawn is one of a number of camouflaged bars in the Northern Quarter: the words “PAWN SHOP” standing proudly in molten neon behind its front windows. A leather suitcase, some looped necklaces and three electric guitars complete the illusion, while the dark doors make it impossible to see what’s actually inside.
If you do venture in beneath the three golden balls hanging above the door, a slightly more conventional bar interior awaits, with circular tables lining the wall and a free jukebox by the door. But the real magic happens in the mixology: the quality and showmanship of Dusk Til Pawn’s cocktails takes some beating. Every drink contains a hidden surprise and ordering is addictive: ask for a Hard Candy and, like a conjuring trick, a wad of candyfloss disappears as the liquid is poured. The bar evens get creative with the names: Fool’s Gold, Making Cents and Rolex in the Deep are among some of the more puntastic offerings. The cocktail menu also includes some wonderfully unexpected ingredients, from pineapple and jalapeno to sage, pea and homemade custard. The Pawn Star Martini comes with a side of champagne sorbet, which, according to our man Tom, is made extra creamy with egg white. Engaging with the bar guys can warrant more than just insider knowledge too. Tom and his team are keen to come up with tailor-made mixes and weekday discounts are offered for off-list challenges. More curious patrons can sample the house infusions of rosemary rum and fig bourbon but should watch out for the gin and blue cheese combo. The bar staff promise it’s excellent, but the smell alone is enough to put us off.
Like a conjuring trick, a wad of candyfloss disappears as your cocktail is poured
It’s only the minor details that let Dusk Til Pawn down. The wooden spoon accompanying the Pawn Star Martini’s sorbet has a parching effect on the tongue and the A Million Dollars cocktail comes with a disproportionally low quality chocolate banknote. Then there’s the bar itself; so tall that you barely graze the top with your chin when sitting at one of the stools. The amount of attention customers will be paying to bar measurements very much depends on which night you visit though. Dusk Til Pawn’s clientele is split between the sippers and the suckers-down and its drinks menu includes wine, beer, bubbly and a selection of specialist Bloody Marys alongside the cocktails.
Outside Dusk Til Pawn, Stevenson Square is undergoing a makeover. Trees and hanging baskets are shooting up and Out House, the disused-public-toilet-cum-art-installation is soon to be turned into a café. But with fears that such regeneration projects run the risk of gentrifying the Northern Quarter into homogeneity, it’s little wonder that Dusk Til Pawn has turned to inverse advertising. Disguise, like a secret, is a fast track to intimacy. Even if you do turn up carrying an unwanted VCR, they’d probably still serve you something astonishing.