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Ssshhh! Our Guide to Manchester’s Secret Bars

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As one of the UK’s most well-known cities, it will come as little surprise to learn that Manchester is home to all kinds of wonderful things to see and do, including bars that are among the best in the country. Of course, Old Trafford is an awesome venue and a trip to the Arndale Centre will entertain even the most dedicated shopping aficionado. But we believe the best way to truly experience Manchester in its rarest and finest form is to delve into its heart and discover its lesser-known sights.

We’re not talking about those so-called “secret” bars that are little more than an irritating gimmick. Tricky to find, they have a less-than-welcoming ambience when you eventually stumble through their gloomy entrance.

No, we want to give you something else - something unique and amazing.

So, we’re delving into places that aren’t afraid to take risks - venues that even if you manage to find the front door, you still have to work to get inside. However, once in, the experience is one that you’ll never forget. These best Manchester bars are a secret we want to share …

Barman making a cocktail behind a locked door is visible through the keyhole

The Wash House Manchester

Address: 19 Shudehill, Manchester, M4 2AF

Phone: 0161 839 5287

A little bit of mystery can lead to a whole lot of fun - good, clean fun in the case of the first Manchester bar to make it onto our list. A well-camouflaged drinking den, The Wash House Manchester is one of the city’s best-kept secret drinking establishments that on the face of it is nothing more than a pokey laundrette – a really, really fun laundrette.

Dirty laundry baskets on top of washing machines and laundry deal stickers disguise The Wash House in Manchester as a regular laundrette

The Lion, The Witch & The Washing Machine

The Wash House Manchester is a Tardis that sells cocktails. It's a place that C.S. Lewis may have written about and somewhere you might expect to bump into a lion and a witch. Simply replace the wardrobe with a washing machine and you have one of the best bars in Manchester.

We told you it was fun!

  • Complete with real washing machines and spinning dryers, it’s easy to walk past and think it's nothing more than somewhere to bring your dirty linen
  • For those not in-the-know, even once inside this Narnia-like laundry shop, you would be forgiven for not realising that behind the door-shaped washing machine is a chic bar

Wickedly delicious cocktails are consumed on the classy leather-clad seating, amid the resonant base of deep house music. Cocktails bars in Manchester taste so much sweeter when you have to work to find them.

Be sure to leave your laundry at home, as there’s no washing, no drying and definitely no ironing allowed in this Manchester bar! As you might expect from such a dedicated covert bar, you do have to “book a machine” in advance if you want to get in.

Dusk Til Pawn

Address: Northern Quarter, Manchester, M1 1FB

Phone: 0161 236 5355

Scurry around the side streets and you’ll stumble upon unusual shops and underground drinking holes. Even these secret spots aren’t enough to quell the inquisitive nature of the most dedicated of explorers, but Dusk Til Pawn is. If you want to tour Manchester’s secret bars, then this one has to make your must-see list.

Neon lights and second hand items disguise Manchester's secret bar Dusk Til Pawn as a regular pawn shop

If you are sampling the Manchester nightlife and you glee in all things ‘different’, Dusk Til Pawn is the place for you. With a shop front styled as a neon-lit pawnbroker, complete with metal bars that stand guard over the doors and flashing signs advertising their false desire to buy your old ‘gold for cash’, this Manchester bar is certainly one of the most unique.

Comfortable Pawn

Here’s the crux of it:

  • Think America’s Deep South
  • Take shelves stacked high with spirits
  • Add one of the city’s best collections of Bourbon
  • Throw in some innovative house-infused cocktails.

And you have one very unique pawnshop indeed.

Metal bar stools line up against an empty bar at Dusk Til Pawn bar in Manchester

You’ll find vintage guitars hanging on the walls next to a huge collection of old-fashioned, boxy televisions. Its antiquated look is just-the-right-amount of tack on the outside to lure you into what is a surprisingly stylish establishment hidden behind the façade of a pawnbrokers.

Cane & Grain

Address: 49 -51 Thomas Street, Manchester M4 1NA

Phone: 0161 839 7033

Manchester bars offer a little bit of something for everyone and while anyone can dance the night away at a live gig at the Manchester Arena, only those with a real thirst for adventure will really get to know Manchester inside out. If you want to experience Manchester nightlife at its best, we suggest a trip to Cane & Grain, where the ribs are as awesome as the bourbon, as the beer, as the rum – you get the picture.

Dark interior decoration, low lighting and leather seating gives a luxury feel to one of the floors in the Cane & Grain secret bar in Manchester

Ribs, Rum & A Whole Lotta Fun

Cane & Grain is the king of Manchester’s dirty-food scene, which basically means its rib-filled menu will make you drool as you read it. Some come drenched in a deliciously sticky sweet sauce made from Dr Pepper, while others hail from more traditional recipes from Memphis to St Louis.If you love ribs – we promise this is a rib joint like no other.

As far as Manchester bars go, this wacky venue has an unassuming entrance with limited signs to indicate what trendy treats await inside, which can make it tricky to find tucked away in the city’s bustling Northern Quarter.

Bar and tables in one of the rooms of Machester's secret bar the Cane & Grain

Once you find it, you’ll see that it is set over three wonderfully different floors, with equally distinctive names:

  • Ground Floor: The Rib Joint & Tap Room
  • Second Floor: Science & Industry
  • Third Floor: The Liars Lounge

Retro 80s skateboarding posters, along with bits of old skateboards, adorn the walls of the Rib Joint & Tap Room, while the Science & Industry level has a secret bar that can only be accessed via a hidden door craftily disguised by old wooden beer crates.

The top floor is known as The Liars Lounge and only at Cane & Grain can one can expect to bump into zombies as you drink your body weight in rum, while surrounded by fiery cocktails. This restaurant-cum-bar unashamedly owns its weird persona and will whet the appetite of any red-blooded carnivore, rum-fan or cocktail groupie.

Tiki decorations and barrels at Manchester's secret bar Cane & Grain

Islington Mill

Address: James Street, Salford, M3 5HW

Phone: 0161 278 6404

If you want to enjoy a truly unique experience, then you will need to head slightly out of the city into Salford, where you will find a hotspot so elusive that even many Mancunians don’t know it. The Islington Mill is an ultra-hip venue with an artsy vibe, often described as a place where all the uber-cool people hang out. It is certainly one of the best bars in Manchester.

Run down brick wall and metal gated facade of Manchester's secret bar, the Islington Mill

Old Mill, New Tricks

On the outside, this five-storey tall former cotton mill looks like nothing more than a crumbly derelict building. Intriguingly, the longer you stay, the more you appreciate that its dilapidated appearance adds to its creative personality, which is how it draws in artistic souls from all around.

We caught up with Verity Gardner, Director of Fat Out’s Burrow (the event space at the Islington Mill) who lends her imaginative psyche to the mill’s event line-ups, to find out what she is most excited about in 2017:

The run-down brickwork exterior of the multi-story mill buildings at the Islington Mill bar in Manchester

Question: We see you have a busy 2017 lined up with lots of great upcoming events. Which ones stand out to you as some of the most exciting?

Verity: “We have our two flagship festivals in April: “Fat Out Fest” over Easter weekend and “Sounds From the Other City” on Bank Holiday Sunday - both celebrate DIY music, art and curators and we are working with local artists and promoters as well as national and international collaborators on both events.”

She went on to add: “We are immensely proud of both these festivals but people can also check out our other upcoming events, like the “Daniel Wakeford Experience” in May and “High Hoops” in June.”

Young people drink and chat together in the outdoor beer garden of The Islington Mill bar in Manchester

The bargain beer, late night curfew and off-the-cuff originality, ingeniously mixed with its trendy non-descript building, give this old mill a hip atmosphere and make it one of Manchester’s secret bars that is well worth tracking down.

Under New Management

Address: 6 Barlow's Croft, Salford M3 5DY

Phone: 0161 832 6699

Sure, every city has its secrets but somewhere in Manchester is a treasure trove of surprises that only the most intrepid of discoverers will manage to find and one of the best secret bars is Under New Management.

Candles and fruit decorate the wooden bar top of the Manchester bar, Under New Management

A Secretive Speakeasy

Harder to find than the proverbial needle in a haystack, Under New Management is undeniably funky and unlike other speakeasies that can feel too-cool-for-school, this bar has a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

Here are a few reasons why you should check it out:

  • Its impressive mixologists dish out yummy cocktails into the small hours
  • Dancing on the tables is not only acceptable, but actively encouraged
  • Its mysterious atmosphere derives not only from its almost impossible-to-find location down an appropriately eerie alleyway, but also from the gloomy walls that are scattered with burn marks.

Under New Management makes you feel tingly with a sense of naughtiness and apprehension in equal amounts.

A yellow toy car adorns a cocktail at the Under New Management bar in Manchester

Leave conventionality at the door: forget umbrellas and straws, and instead prepare for your cocktails to be decorated with toy cars.

Hunt down this secret spot found just off Chapel Street on Barlow’s Croft, ignoring the sights along the way that can only be described as reminiscent of a scene from “Snatch” and pop into this hidden bar that makes for one very cool, covert night out.

The Temple

Address: 100 Great Bridgewater St, Manchester, M1 5JW

Phone: 0161 278 1610

An eclectic melting pot of cultures and societies, Manchester is a bustling metropolis. If you’re truly prepared to leave your reservations at the city limit, you may even find yourself drinking in a block of old toilets, now better known as The Temple and one of the best bars in Manchester.

Concrete steps surrounded by meta railings lead down to the Temple bar in Manchester

Beer in a Bathroom, Anyone?

This quirky, pint-sized bar is full of eccentricities and its roots as a former public bathroom add to its bizarrely captivating appeal. It revels in its unconventionality, boasting a peculiar charm that cements it as the Johnny Depp of the Manchester nightlife scene.

One of the best bars in Manchester, The Temple is located underground below the hubbub of Oxford Road and is home to a jukebox that blasts out tunes from local bands, giving it a funky rock ‘n roll atmosphere. As weird as it is to drink in an old toilet block, it certainly makes for a great talking point.

There is a vast choice of foreign bottled beers to choose from and as if it wasn’t already trendy enough, the walls are adorned with graffitied one-liners giving it a shabby chic feel straight out of 1970s New York.

From bars that look like laundrettes and pawn shops, to cocktails that are served with a side of car, Manchester’s best secret bars offer more mystery and fun than anywhere else in the city.

 

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