Nothing beats Manchester’s Northern Quarter. The eclectic mix of cafes, boutiques, restaurants, and bars means no-one is left wanting. So, when out for a meal in NQ the idea sprung on me to go on an impromptu bar crawl with my girlfriend I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by.
For any readers unfamiliar with NQ it is, unsurprisingly, the northern part of Manchester city centre. The area is filled with hundreds of independent retails of all sorts and there really is something to suit everyone. Now, while I love the shops this is going to be all about the bars and drinking establishments of NQ.
The night started with myself and my girlfriend getting 22” pizza slices and ice cream sandwiches from Nell’s. We made sure to hit up the town after sun set to experience the gorgeous fairy light that line the streets in winter. While this will mainly be about cocktails I will indulge you with the low down on Nell’s Pizzas. We both got one slice each and, very, messily tried to tear them in half to share. I got the ‘Do you ‘roni, honey?’ which was good but I could take or leave the chilli honey, however, it was a hit with my girlfriend. I much preferred her pizza but the name escapes me as of writing this (I will come edit it if I can find out the info though).
We grabbed one cocktail each to enjoy with our pizza. I wasn’t a massive fan of either of them. They just weren’t sweet enough for me. I do apologise as well as I hadn’t started documenting drinks until the next bar so not entirely sure what was ordered at Nell’s. Shout out to the ‘fluffer martini’ though, I didn’t order it but it had me in stitches when I figured out the name.
After stuffing ourselves full we moved onto our first bar. We’d been intrigued by the colourful facade of Wolf At The Door, and the siren song of £1 tacos and bao buns only urged us on. A bouncer stopped us from entering until there was seating available, which for me is a positive as I’d rather not be crammed into a bar already ten past capacity. It was table service only with a QR code directing you to a menu to order from. The atmosphere was great inside, but then again I’m a sucker for dark lit bars and restaurants. We were sat on a long bench with a few other groups but due to the background music and low lights it didn’t feel too exposed.
I was pleasantly surprised by the extensive and varied cocktail menu, grabbing myself a ‘watermelon sugar’ with a king prawn bao bun. My girlfriend got herself a ‘velvet underground’. We tried each others drinks and even though mine was definitely the one, I enjoyed the ‘velvet underground’ too. Both cocktails clocked in at £7. The ‘watermelon sugar’ was sweet and had a strong melon taste – probably due to the melon liquor – exactly what I enjoy in a cocktail. The ‘velvet underground’ was originally by Pabsy Hutton and featured banana run and velvet falernum.
It was around this time the plan formed of actually going on a bar crawl, so we pulled out our phones and researched interesting bars in the area. I knew I wanted to go to Lost In Tokyo as it was one I’d never been to before but seen so much about. My girlfriend also jumped at the idea, making there our next port of call. We had a little difficulty locating it from google maps and my vague understanding of where it was, but eventually we found the lit up pink windows. Lost In Tokyo is underneath one of the large buildings in the heart of stevenson’s square.
It was very quiet with only a few patrons scattered through the various booths. Me and my girlfriend took an unoccupied booth by the bar and began to pour over the cocktail menu. The cocktails were mainly Japanese twists on classics with some original ones thrown in. My aim was to get as many different drinks rather than the same three I default to normally. I settled for the ‘asa akira’ and my girlfriend got the ‘strawberry sakquiri’.
The quiet Wednesday night meant I didn’t have to negotiate around any queues at the bar which was pleasant. The bartender was friendly, even when I asked if I could bribe him for a plastic dinosaur for my girlfriend’s drink. He refused the bribe but did give me the dinosaur, so that was a win! The drinks were fun and quirky, very on brand with the rest of the bar. One thing I would like to do is revisit them on one of their club nights and see how that is.
The drinks were a hit. My ‘asa akira’ was a mix of absolut vanilla, passoa and pineapple. Upon reexamining my choice, I did buy their version of a pornstar martini – which makes sense considering Asa Akira is an Asian pornstar. I never claimed I was smart. The main twist on my girlfriend’s ‘strawberry sakquiri’ was the inclusion of a strawberry infused sake. They stock a wide variety of sake and Japanese whiskeys if cocktails aren’t what you fancy.
Our next target was one I’d heard great things about – Dusk Til Pawn. I think most people in Manchester know about this bar even if you’ve never ventured inside. We managed to snag a two person table, the kind with a long shared bench chair on one side and normal chairs on the other side of the table. This was by far the busiest bar we went into that evening with almost every table occupied and a few deep at the bar as well.
I found the menu here underwhelming if I’m honest. Most the cocktails seemed generic but one did catch my eye which included ice-cream – what a treat! My girlfriend went up to buy the round this time and she was served in a reasonable amount of time considering the crowd at the bar. Another group came in and managed to fit themselves around the table next to us but things were becoming quite squished on the bench seating.
One of the bar staff came over to let us know that the ice cream for my drink was unavailable and she even popped out to try and find some. This was disappointing but I can’t blame them for lack of trying, however it did mean I had to pick a new drink on the spot. I ordered an ‘espresso martini’ because I know I like them and not much had caught my eye on the menu. I am disappointed I bought a generic drink but it was still enjoyable. My girlfriend got the ‘pawn-o-graphic’ which was caramelo rum, mozart dark, and vanilla. I tried it knowing I’m not a fan of caramel but I can understand why she enjoyed it.
Our last stop was Guilty By Association. It caught our eye when we were looking for Lost In Tokyo, so we made sure to stop by it during our bar crawl. From the outside I expected it to be a lot darker inside and more of a moody, gritty vibe. Instead, it was brightly lit with a more industrial feel – concrete floors, metal pipes, and light wood furnishings. We did benefit from their brand new cocktail menu which had lots to chose from. We ordered a ‘lifes a peach’ and one ‘Thelma and Louise please’ at the bar before sliding into one of the booths.
These were the cheapest cocktails of the night at £6.50 each. My ‘lifes a peach’ was gin, strawberry, and peach – it was fruity and sweet, my two wants in a cocktail. The ‘thelma and louise please’ was a mix of vodka, elderflower, strawberry, and mint. This was what my girlfriend got and I’m not the biggest fan of elderflower but it was fine otherwise.
The atmosphere was relax and the music quiet enough to comfortable have a conversation over. The highlight of Guilty By Association was the appearance of a dachshund, which I think was a staff members dog, which was playing fetch with a ball and came over for pets.
We called it a night after that but I would love to go out to NQ again and go to even more bars. There were ones we didn’t go to as we were trying to go places neither of us had been which knocked a few out. If we do I’ll expand on this. If you have any recommendations I’d love to hear them, just drop a comment below.