Under New Management bar, 6-8 Barlow's Croft, Salford, M3 5DY
Manchester is badly in need of a certain kind of bar. In the Northern Quarter, “theme” is starting to stand for moneyed exaggeration and concepts more pumped than a Tour de France tire. The whole drinking experience in some establishments has become about a brand acting as distraction from a lack of real atmosphere. It’s easy to go to this kind of place to be seen – and not to really focus on those you’re with. There are exceptions: Matt & Phreds, Common and Soup Kitchen continue on with just the right kind of semi-shabby warmth, while 57 Thomas Street remains the kind of clean, well-lighted place you can actually have a conversation, without being choked by tight marketing and psychotically alert staff. Increasingly, among those who know the Northern Quarter well, there’s a desire for spots that bit more level-headed and effortless.
When Salford’s Corridor Bar reopened as Under New Management, it was lauded in some quarters as exactly the kind of edgy, off-the-books bartender’s bar that they were after. Actually, first of all, only a few people noticed it had opened. UNM is only minutely signed, with a hardware store-style door; it’s also part way down an abandoned-looking street. You’d expect to find the moon there, rummaging through the bins like somebody’s forgotten aunt. Inside, UNM is suitably rough and ready – but it doesn’t quite feel like the bar some people want it to be.
There’s the very faintest of nods towards a theme, with a bandana-disguised bandit painted on the wall near the entrance and prints of cowboys high-tailing it over a lady’s behind further in (which, ugh) – but this feels more like an indication that the place is a kind of outlaws’ hangout, than a commercial move. The bar itself is neat and pleasingly straightforward: the tiles aren’t bevelled and the stools are of the sort you might find in a classy saloon. The rest, however, edges closer to cheap than to the DIY-charm of appealing, knocked-together bars: red pleather booths range around a slightly hollow space, beneath a frankly horrible ceiling. Admittedly, we did go on a school night; when filled with people, the place would sure look less lacklustre – and be warmer. Why, then, are we still planning to go back, with friends?
Two reasons: the bar staff, and the drinks. Closely related, those, as you might imagine. The manager of the bar, Brodie, was as welcoming as you could wish – he also had quite a talent with the shaker. UNM does table service until midnight, after which it’s every body for themselves. The Shake a Tail Feather he brought over was wonderfully cosy with sloe gin, but just citrusy enough to feel fresh. Drinking a Bread & Butter cocktail was bizarrely like tucking into the pudding itself – even the non-alcoholic mixes we tried were inventive, and just plain yummy.
The prices were observed to be “not very Salford” – at £7.50 a turn, it’s pretty easy to work your way up through several tenners – but when a place makes the majority of its syrups (we tried a liquor of blackberries picked from the bush across the street), and changes its list as often as they do (every six weeks), this feels like money well spent. You can always chase a cocktail with beer – UNM stocks some First Chop brews among others – after all. UNM is just close enough to Chapel Street, and to Deansgate for Mancunians, that it doesn’t feel entirely isolated. Trust Salford to come up with a bar that, though patchy, is definitely going in the right direction. Go for superb cocktails and an escape from over-hyped über bars. Give it some love and maybe they’ll replace that pleather…