From delicious dive bars and brilliant boozers to chic and swanky cocktail bars with pricey drops and panoramic views, Manchester has it all when it comes to getting a bit squiffy. There's a pretty extensive selection of bars on offer though, so which to head for? We've put together what we deem the best bars in Manchester, so take a look and prepare to raise a glass or two to the spirit of the city. Cheers.
Fancy and Northern to the core, there’s something special about what the local restaurant group, Living Ventures, has done to Manchester’s food and drink scene. With several high-end restaurants and bars on their roster (Australasia, Manchester House) it would be easy to dismiss each as lacking that individual charm, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. Stepping onto the podium as a case in point is The Alchemist. House classics include a smoking Old Fashioned and the foaming Bubble Bath, made with ‘apple fairy liquid’. Gold décor and the city’s most sun-kissed punters complete the look.
Housed between a florist and a kebab house, Big Hands is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of place. A deceptively small entrance belies the Alice in Wonderland adventure that dwells within, where backstage passes and posters from bygone shows adorn the walls. A tropical roof top terrace and touring bands at the bar create a party atmosphere every night of the week.
The original Northern Quarter bar, Common, has lost some of its indie charm following a minimalist overhaul. But attention to detail remains key with impeccably sourced creations like Korean fried chicken burger with kimchi, secret recipe chilli and fine cakes. Enjoy craft beers and cocktails from the team behind the Beagle and Port Street Beer House to the strains of quirky DJs and quiz nights. Changes aside, Common remains one of the most independent feeling and enjoyable bars in town.
Manchester's bohemian pleasure palace is a bar, bierkeller and entertainment venue, co-owned by local success story, the Trof group. As Manchester’s only Tankova, Albert’s serves between 3500 and 7000 pints of unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell a week. Beer is shipped directly from the brewery near Prague. Throw in Alpine cocktails, homemade Schnapps and hearty bar meals plus regular showcases from the Haus band (often starring Jenna G) - and you’ve got one of the busiest (and best) bars in town. As well as being a destination in it’s own right, Albert’ Schloss is the obvious start or end to your night at the Albert Hall music venue upstairs
Cloud 23 is located halfway up Beetham Tower, Manchester's tallest building, separating the lower Hilton hotel from the posh apartments above. Like the filling in a skyscraper sandwich, Cloud 23 has the best views of any bar in the city and impresses as soon as you walk out of the lift. Sit by the floor-to-ceiling windows, overlooking the tiny pedestrians below. The cocktail menu as dizzying as the heights on show, and there’s a popular afternoon tea menu too.
Filling its exposed brick shell with beautiful tan leather stools and classic copper barware, the interior of Pen and Pencil is slick, inviting and made only better by a set of sociable benches at the heart of the main room. Along with a strong bar team serving up twisted classics and house specials like a fig julep and Beer in the Bronx (gin, homemade IPA syrup, grapefruit, sweet and dry vermouth), food-wise you'll find breakfast staples, sandwiches and salads. Plus, in the evening, bar fare including burgers, chicken wings, surf and turf, mac 'n' cheese and other American classics that nod towards the show that inspired the bar. But Pen and Pencil is not about the food. A roster of cool DJs includes local hero, Will Tramp, and the drinks really are the thing, with many referencing episodes or scenes from everyone’s favourite vintage TV show, blended with no messing around. Aside from what is possibly the worst and most ill-placed mural in Manchester, thankfully hidden away in its back room with equally baffling furniture, this sound joint is well suited to evening cocktails and late night antics, complete with good service and friendly doormen.
Mr Cooper’s award-winning cocktails draw on natural and European trends with ingredients like wild strawberry vermouth, dill aquavit and quinoa vodka. Packed with trees and vertical gardens, the interior is like a walk through mossy woodland after the rain. The only thing that doesn’t quite gel is the wider space. This was formerly a genteel hotel brasserie and the garden furniture is a bit of a sticking point. Lighting (over and under in parts) is another issue. Yet the bistro food, overseen overseen by The French’s Adam Reid, and fascinating drinks makes Mr Cooper’s a destination for those in the know.
Few buildings enjoy such a pride of place in the city’s landscape as The Principal Hotel on Oxford Street. Designed by Alfred Waterhouse, his inimitable style includes peaks and gargoyles on the outside, with soaring eaves and fabulous tile work inside. Run by DJs-turned-restaurateurs, Justin Crawford and Luke Cowdrey, expect similar fare to their award-winning eatery, Volta in Didsbury. Think small plates, cocktails and an inspired wine list. A fairy lit courtyard and fabulous DJs mean there’s no need to go on anywhere else.
Just a stone’s throw from the famous ‘Four Banks’ crossroads in Chorlton, Electrik has the vibe of a place John Peel might have built just to listen to records in. It’s a 1970s-tinged bar that serves stonking real ale, great Sunday roasts and DJ sessions hosted by a hugely diverse range of music lovers. Recent examples include Justin Robertson snooker player, Steve Davies. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, local DJs-turned-restaurateurs Justin Crawford and Luke Cowdrey are behind this Chorlton institution; they started out running Manchester’s legendary Electric Chair parties under their Unabombers moniker and their empire now includes Volta in Didsbury and Volta at the Principal Hotel’s Refuge; both musts for any self respecting food and drink fan.
The small upstairs area above this popular Withington bar isn’t really big enough to house the parties and gigs that it does, but try telling that to the trendy students and graduates who’ve made it their local. As well as live music and poetry expect appearances from emerging talent in all manner of creative disciplines. There’s an excellent veggie menu and chilled atmosphere, day or night.
Gorilla occupies the space in the railway arches of Whitworth Street that was formally Manchester's most experimental performance venue, the Green Room. The clever folks behind Gorilla now have a hit on their hands. What started out as a much-needed Northern Quarter-style bar on the other side of town has evolved into a full-fat club, playing host to legends like Derrick Carter in the bar and massive names (MistaJam, Mike Skinner, Hot Wuk) in the main room. Tuck into a gourmet kebab, locally crafted gin and tonic and what we consider to be Manchester’s finest Espresso Martini at the bar.
The drinks aren’t bad – you’ll find beers from a range of local breweries on draught and staff pour classic cocktails very well. The real draw, however, is the speakeasy vibe and cool crowd. This is one of the city’s finest late night bars with a personality all of it’s own. Look out for art exhibitions and evening appearances from some of Manchester’s finest DJs.
With a sumptuous sky bar and tasting menu by ambitious executive chef, Aiden Byrne, Manchester House celebrates the city’s inimitable sense of style with aplomb. As the flagship restaurant and bar of Manchester’s most prolific and showy restaurant group, Living Ventures, no expense has been spared on the sleek industrial-chic design – or on the multi-million pound state of the art kitchens.
Sandbar is the bar that keeps on giving. Just when you think you’ve found your preferred spot in the bar, next to the fire or next to the spacious smokers' terrace, you’ll turn a corner and find more pews and pals in another section of the bar. Locally roasted coffee is served with a Tunnock’s chocolate bar as a matter of course, while beers (Belgian and regional) and Scotch whiskies are a strength. Eat stone-baked pizza and get involved with one of the many friendly comedy, spoken word and improv nights at this bar with a heart.
Soup Kitchen strikes a unique balance between enduringly pleasant canteen by day and anything-goes club by night. A favourite of the world’s finest up and coming bands, it has a jam-packed live schedule and the management are always making changes to improve the experience. Club wise, Swing Ting’s monthly basement takeovers are a highlight.
Manchester doesn’t do badly for tiki bars but The Liars Club is arguably where the formula is realised best. So much more than just a Zombie and Mai Tai haven, The Liars Club serves up a variety of tropical inspired cocktails and tiki variations on old classics, with crowd-pleasing sharers that become a party piece at the bar – think slurping pina coladas from a hollowed out pineapple and drinks served in novelty steins, barrels and volcanoes.
While it may not have the best selection of drinks (think Jack Daniels and Euro- faves by the bottle), the regular haunt of Elbow’s Guy Garvey is the kind of place where all you need is a beer and a whiskey chaser. The kind of place where you could waste a tenner on the jukebox and hide away for days.
Once the plethora of bars and pubs around the Northern Quarter have kicked out, there’s only one place to go. For good or ill, that place is Blackdog Ballroom. Open until 4am on school nights and even later on the weekend, this is the place for that ‘one more drink’ you definitely don’t need but crave so desperately. See sister bars Cane and Grain (Thomas Street) and Crazy Pedro’s (Short & Bridge Street) for more of the same.
Yes, it’s a curious name for a bar and music venue, but The Deaf Institute is an inspired use for what was, in late Victorian times, a deaf and dumb school. Another venue in the Trof empire (see Gorilla and Albert Schloss), the Grade II listed ground floor offers space for drinking and dining, while upstairs there's a music hall with space for a few hundred people and vintage lecture hall seating. Along with live acts, regular club nights keep the crowds coming. One of Manchester’s most unusual and much loved venues.