There's been some talk among certain friends that I should call this blog Where Abigail Drank instead, but that just feels too limiting. If and when I manage to find a breathalyzer I can hook up live to the main page though, I might do it for the interesting social experiment it's bound to be. (You guys are so full of brilliant ideas.)
I'd first read about Under New Management while on the train, on a list of Manchester's Top 5 Secret Bars, and filed it away under the brain folder Keep In View. Then Mike mentioned it as well, as one of the best places in Manchester to get really well-made cocktails. His suggestion of the Manchester Art Gallery had been an excellent call, so I was inclined to trust his judgement on this point too. Under New Management opens its doors at 5 o'clock (Prime drinking time across the world), which was very conveniently also when the Art Gallery closed, so I strolled out of the city centre across the River Irwell towards Salford once I was ushered out of the museum.
No one (Unless they're a bit bonkers) actually wants to go back to the 1920s, when Prohibition was rife in the USA and heavily mixed cocktails exploded on the scene as a way of disguising the utterly awful taste of moonshine. Rather, the vibe of secrecy and exclusivity you can find at hidden bars is what most people are after, as well as a better class of cocktail. For me, most of the allure of the whole Speakeasy trend lies in hunting the place down and playing Which Doorway in this Dodgy Alley Should I Step Into? You can pull an address up on a map but you might still end up walking back and forth a street trying to find the exact location of the door. When you do find it though, the cocktails taste better because you've had to work a little for it. Some people have complained about how impossible it is to find the place, but I managed to locate the bar without any difficulty whatsoever, mostly because I lucked out and someone was standing just by the doorways for a smoke.
At a little past five, the only other customers inside the dimly-lit and rather cosy bar had been taking their day drinking far more seriously than I had. As I arranged myself at one corner of the bar, I felt like I'd entered a little bubble of happiness dislocated from the rest of space and time. One of the guys at the other end of the bar asked a complete stranger to spin his bar stool, because he'd just realized that twirling around on the chair was the best thing in the world. She obliged while everyone in the room looked on indulgently. No cooler-than-thou posturing, just a bunch of friendly people who really enjoy their drinks. It's a wonderfully laid back location where the only thing taken seriously is the quality of the cocktails, and I felt comfortable immediately.
While Brodie started me off with a nice cool glass of water, everyone else filed out in preparation for the evening's football match, so I had the entire place to myself. The cocktail list rotates every six weeks, and he talked me through the recently updated menu then helped me pick out something interesting once I told him my preferences. We struck up a good chat, and he told me how he and Andy, the other bartender I'd caught a glimpse of earlier on, had quite recently taken over the space from its previous incarnation Corridor. The decor hasn't changed yet, but the both of them have used their considerable talents at mixology to thoroughly reinvent the menu, complete with brilliant-sounding names. (The Genever Convention anyone?)
My first drink turned out to be a frothy and delicious concoction Andy had invented, the very aptly titled Bread & Butter, which tastes exactly like the pudding with lashings and lashings of vanilla custard the way I love it. It isn't actually very sweet though, and I was pleasantly taken aback by how well-balanced the cocktail was. They make a lot of their own ingredients and infusions including the raisin infused rum, which provided a good deal of richness and flavour without making the drink cloying. Anyone who isn't willing to take the fifteen minute walk from the main part of town over to the bar must be mad, because these are definitely cocktails worth travelling for.
I was on a roll after my first drink, and when I saw they had a cocktail involving actual butter on the menu, I knew it was The One. Butter aside, Cognac, champagne and truffles make up How The Other Half Live, but for such a decadent sounding drink, it was very light but dangerously drinkable, much like the slippery slope into over-indulgence. Very creative, and quite unlike anything I've ever tried before, the drink is usually cheekily served on a coaster of fake money, but the bar was flat out broke on that score, so I had to make do with a little platter instead.
From the subject of cocktails, we got round to talking about tea, and after Brodie showed me the Lapsang scent diffuser he made for a cocktail competition, he remembered that his mate Chris was organizing a dinner this evening with tea-pairings, and helped me ring him up to check if there were still places available. Indeed there were, so I was given an address in the Northern Quarter, a 20 minute walk away. I had no dinner plans and this sounded far cooler than wandering to the nearest pub in hopes of food, so it was a very lucky coincidence indeed.
Concluded in Part 4 here.