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The Refuge by Volta, 2016
Photograph: Jody Hartley

The 14 best bars in Manchester

Want to get your drink on? Classy cocktails and cool craft brews abound in our pick of the best bars in Manchester

Rob Martin
Written by
Rob Martin
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No question about it: Manchester is a city that knows how to party. And no matter where your night is heading – be it a theatre production, a fancy meal, a brilliant gig or an all-night rave – you’ll probably want to start it off in a good bar.

From friendly craft beer bars to elegant drinking dens to sticky-floored beer halls, you can’t move for genuinely brilliant bars in these parts. And there’s innovation too: the pioneering craft scene offers plenty of edgy taprooms to explore, with Manchester’s cool suburbs harbouring all sorts of thriving independent spots. Here you can find a new generation of mixologists shaking up the way we drink cocktails. Make no mistake: this city sets the bar for boozing. And here are the very best bars in Manchester right now.

Drank somewhere on this list and loved it? Share it with the hashtag #TimeOutDrinkList. You can also find out more about how Time Out makes recommendations and reviews bars.

Best bars in Manchester

Flok is the latest from the team behind Balearic party shack Folk in East Didsbury and the (slightly) more grown-up wine bar Wine and Wallop on Lapwing Lane. This newest bar, smack bang in the Northern Quarter, hones to perfection the mix of laid-back atmosphere and serious drinks offering. The bar features a cosy retro interior, well-chosen wine, an incredible sherry list and, downstairs, you’ll find a hidden, gold leaf-lined vault complete with record player and minibar, which groups can rent out for private fiestas.

How did Manchester ever cope before the perfectly mixed negronis of Henry C came along? This tiny cocktail bar has made a big impression on the boozers of the city thanks to an impeccable and inventive drinks list that changes regularly. Choose from the menu or ask for your favourite classic – if they’ve got the ingredients, there’s no doubt they’ll nail it. Get down early to nab a table.

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  • Restaurants

Nineteenth-century architect Alfred Waterhouse designed this grand hotel, bar and restaurant, and what a job he did. The iconic joint on Oxford Street has long been a landmark and made even more so by new owners and a million-pound facelift. The bar was put into the capable hands of 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-light lit courtyard and fabulous DJs in the basement mean there’s no need to go on anywhere else.

The Deaf Institute Cafe Bar & Music Hall
  • Music
  • Music venues

Once a Victorian school for the ‘deaf and dumb’, The Deaf Institute is now a multi-storey bar, restaurant and live music venue, particularly popular among students. Another venue in the Trof empire (see also Gorilla and Albert Schloss), The Deaf Institute’s Grade II-listed ground floor is given over to drinking and dining, while upstairs there’s a music venue with vintage lecture hall seating (plus room for a few hundred standing). Along with live acts, regular club nights keep the crowds coming.

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This place started out as a much-needed Northern Quarter-style bar on the other side of town, but has now evolved into a full-on 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 and some craft beers downstairs or head up to the Gin Parlour on the mezzanine – it’s stocked with some of the finest bottles from around the world.

When it first flung open its doors in 2011, Port Street was welcomed by a handful of beer nerds and a few raised eyebrows. Now, it’s always packed and has proven itself well ahead of the craft beer trend. If you have an interest in real ale and have been to Manchester before, odds are you’ve already been here. If not, get going. It’s the ultimate haven for beer lovers. Port Street’s owners are also behind the region’s favourite beer festival, Victoria Baths’ Indy Man Beer Con, which takes place each October.

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The 20-minute bus journey from central Manchester to Levenshulme is worth it for Isca alone. This wine bar is certainly small, but it has a mighty selection of bottles, all hand-picked by co-founder and Where The Light Gets In sommelier, Caroline Dubois. Expect rare, funky and fascinating vino served with insight into its backstory.

Found on thriving Cutting Room Square, The Jane Eyre is a real corker. The wine and beer list is well curated, but it’s the cocktails you’ll want to try first. The selection is short but extremely sweet, with a focus on offbeat spirits and punchy flavours. Order a Sweet Jane – bourbon, Amaro Averna, amarena cherry and bitters – and settle into a stylish, mid-century armchair for the night.

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Albert’s Schloss
  • Bars and pubs

If you haven’t danced on the tables at Schloss, have you even been to Manchester? This bohemian pleasure palace doubles as a bar, bierkeller and entertainment centre – and it gets hella rowdy. Throw in alpine cocktails, homemade schnapps and hearty bar meals (plus regular musical showcases from the Haus band) and you’ve got one of the best (and busiest) bars in town. As well as being a destination in its own right, Albert’s Schloss is the obvious start or end to your night at the Albert Hall music venue upstairs.

Electrik

Run by local DJs-turned-restaurateurs Justin Crawford and Luke Cowdrey, Electrik smashes the laid-back knees-up vibe that Manchester does so well. Inside, it’s a 1970s-tinged bar that serves stonking real ale and a great Sunday roast. The vibe changes dramatically depending on when you go: what is a family-friendly joint by day transforms into a full-on shindig, complete with questionable dancing, come Friday and Saturday nights.

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Salut
  • Bars and pubs
  • Wine bars

Indecisive wine-lovers will adore Salut. This independent bar serves glasses and tasters with its Enomatic dispensers – like vending machines but for vino. The fancy equipment means they can open expensive bottles and serve by the glass at a more affordable price tag, and you can taste your way through the lot. They’ve got a stonking selection of classics, and friendly staff are on hand to help where needed. It’s simple – just top up your Salut card, push the wine button and enjoy.

Hawksmoor

Not content with being the best steak restaurant in town, Hawksmoor has to go and smash it on the cocktail front, too. Not that we’re complaining. Inside the handsome, low-lit bar, the pin-sharp staff serve a selection of very beautiful, very boozy cocktails. We recommend the full-fat Old Fashioned, a beast of a drink made with butter-infused extra-strong whisky (£12.50).

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Soup
  • Bars and pubs

A bit rough ‘n’ ready – but in the best possible way – Soup is a renowned favourite among the world’s finest up-and-coming bands and it has a jam-packed gig schedule. We’re particularly fond of anything hosted by Banana Hill, an award-winning promoter known for getting top artists from the furthest corners of the earth to come and play in this tiny basement bar.

Big Hands
  • Music
  • Music venues

Ask any Mancunian about Big Hands and their eyes will glaze with nostalgia, trying to recall the many nights lost at this dinky dive bar. Tucked between a florist and a kebab house, it’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of place. With a classic drinks menu (featuring ten types of bourbon and Euro and American lagers by the bottle) and staff with a will to get you drunk, it’s a proper den of iniquity. Bands play, and possibly shouldn’t; the main room isn’t really the right size or shape to house a proper gig. But Big Hands is the kind of place not to let that get in the way of a damn good night.

After more solid recommendations?

  • Things to do

Buzzing, innovative and open all hours, this is a city that draws visitors from all over the world looking for a fresh hit of culture. From world-renowned restaurants to out-there art exhibitions, cutting-edge theatre to clubs that blast bangers into the wee hours, Manchester has it all.

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