Sunday, 9 May 2010

Socio Rehab, Manchester

Anyone who says its grim up North has clearly not been to Manchester. Several decades of regeneration and reinvigoration inspired by the music, gay and student scenes respectively have, given it a social diversity and energy better then anywhere in the UK outside of London. And I don't mean that in a patronising way. But having been to Manchester many times in the last few years (to visit the Three Amigos - more of which later) both the Northerner and I have been struck at how much better and how many more top quality bars and pubs there are. Or perhaps that's because we're late in discovering them.
For our last few visits the Amigos have been taking us to Manchester's Northern Quarter - the 'creative quarter' of Manchester and home of many fashion designers, creative agencies, art galleries and quirky retailers. In this vibrant and lively part of the city, several blocks of former offices have been transformed into bars and restaurants as a sort of Hoxton of the North - and arguably much better.
Last weekend they introduced us to Socio Rehab - the reining champion of Manchester's cocktail bars and according to Amigo 1, home to some very good looking barman. On the corner of Edge and High street the bar's cool credentials are signaled early by the lack of signage. Large windows, low leather sofas and wooden flooring are offset by pastel blues and luscious purple walls. The places feels more advertising agency then bar, although any fears that you are in the wrong place are soon alleviated once you get a hold of the extensive cocktail menu.
No Long Island Ice Teas or Screaming Orgasms in this place. The cocktails are for people who know and enjoy a good drink. Amongst the ten or so that our crew consumed, the rum based David Banner and Big Hitters received top marks for the Amigos, as did another rum concoction - the Stingaree - and the vodka based Allo Poppet. Each a perfect combination of sweet and bitter flavours, and also seriously alcoholic. I took the unnecessary step of ordering a Midweek Roller which with its descriptor as being for the man who drinks during the week at the expense of his work and personal life seemed to sum me up in a glass. However the whisky, rum and vermouth based drink did more the hit the sides. One for the serious drinkers only.
The crowd are a mix of Manchester's hip and party crowd who manage to look fabulous but unlike their London counterparts don't take themselves too seriously. The music is a mix of modern indie, retro 80s and 90's rock, and a dash of dance, and for a small bar, the chat amongst the punters is loud. As all good Northern bars should be then. We didn't stay at this bar as long as I would have liked, as a dinner reservation needed to be honoured. However we did stay long enough to appreciate what a great little bar it is and mark it as a 'must visit again' for our next trip. Oh, and in case you were wondering, yes the bar men are very good looking.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

The Book Club, Shoreditch

Has it really already been 10 years since Shoreditch shoved aside Notting Hill and Soho and established itself as the centre of London 'cool'?
For those of us old enough to remember those hedonistic days out east, venues such as Cantaloupe, Dragon, the Great Eastern Dining Room - and the wonderfully named Dreambagsandjaguarshoes - set the template for how great London bars could be. Amongst that illustrious crowd of drinking holes was Home, which for a time was the destination bar of choice for London’s beautiful and hip young things.Sadly Home has since moved to that great bar stool in the sky, but its spirit lives on in The Book Club, the stylish, more upmarket little sister of the Queen of Hoxton.TBC, as it likes to be known, is a statement to post-noughties design. Set over two spacious floors of a former Victorian warehouse, the upstairs features exposed brickwork interspersed with white brick tiling, held together by mix and match furnishings, mosaics and graphic light features. The long retro wooden trestle tables are adorned by the now-essential school chairs (which begs the question - what are London’s school children sitting on?).In keeping with its cool factor, the DJs use iBooks instead of vinyl (of course). And the people are stylish in that London way that most other cities can only dream of, with their effortless mix of vintage, high street and high couture. Books are littered liberally throughout the bar, but people don’t go to TBC to read. The place is vibrant and full of energy, and people to a fashion accessory are friendly, and when we visited, not in the slightest bit pretentious. The bar staff were fun and super-efficient, and it had that buzz that reflects the confidence of a place that knows it’s nailed it.Downstairs is more club than bar, and therefore more minimalist and grungy, but never in any sense dirty (something which some of TBC’s local rivals would do well to bear in mind).I’ve never understood the idea of getting together with a bunch of strangers to review books. Too Stepford Wives for me. However, TBC is somewhere I will happily revisit. Although I’m sure I’ll be having too much fun to read books.