Even newcomers who’ve only been in Manchester a couple of weeks feel they already know the place. In the rush of social events after arriving in a new town they soon get a taste of ‘the big four’: The Printworks, Deansgate Locks, The Village and the Northern Quarter. Yet below all this surface activity, some of Manchester’s best places are right below your feet. So put down that pile of flyers, take my hand, and let me lead you down this back street, through an unassuming door, and down the stairs into the depths of real Manchester.
For it is below the pavements that we’ll go in search of some favourite clandestine haunts – both the new and the old. We’ll visit a little bar that likes to pretend it’s a cave, the one that used to be a public toilet, and a subterranean dive bar that serves the best rum cocktails in Manchester. There’s even a secret speakeasy – don’t worry, we’ve got the password required to get in. We hope…
If you haven’t heard of Corbiere’s Wine Cavern, perhaps you have been living in a cave. But despite the word ‘wine’ in its title, don’t be fooled into thinking this is your typical wine bar. Known simply as Corbiere’s to regulars, this is a true drinking hole in the most unpretentious way. Think pinball, juke box, tradition, and a decent selection of bottled beers and wine.
Years after it’s original public service came to an end, this bar is still about convenience given its handy location on Oxford Road. In the toilets, the grimy, graffiti seemingly encouraged and perhaps a little contrived, but in a former Victorian public toilets, anything else just wouldn’t fit. Think tiny shabby chic recycling before it got trendy, and, like Corbiere’s, being an old favourite on the Manchester scene it really doesn’t need a website. In terms of clientele, there’s a strange mix of people, but hanging around in public toilets, what do you expect?
This unrepentantly kitsch, tiki dive bar is the antithesis of Corbiere’s. If you hate tack, stay away from The Liars Club. But if you like your cocktails served in coconut shells or even a pirate’s chest, you’ll be right at home. And if it all gets too much and you need to call it a night, they’ll even save the other half of that bottle of rum you bought for next time.
On Albert Square, this not-so-secret speakeasy offers floor shows and entertainment for those who manage to get in. Inside Lounge 10 you’ll find overt opulence, and a grown up and expensive 1920s vibe. However, that’s only if you make it past the ‘404 page not found’ error on their website to obtain the necessary password. Open ‘til 4am, but with an absinth fountain, you might not make it ‘til then.
This was once the kitchen of Wood Street Mission, which still helps children today. Rather than food, it’s now most certainly about the drinks. But don’t be put off venturing down the stairs to Gaslamp if it’s huge array of single malts is not for you. There’s also a much less publicised cocktail menu, with mixes that would certainly become classics if anyone knew about them – drinks like a blackcurrant and liquorice daiquiri. Or there’s pale ales and ‘weird’ wine if that’s your thing.
If that’s all been too much for you, we can recover by exploring underground Manchester by day next time. Playing retro board games in a basement art café, eating cakes hidden from the harsh light of the Mancunian summer, and there’s even somewhere for the sci-fi geeks. But I’ll tell you about that next time…
Caroline Matthews is a Mancunian, wife, mother, student and writer. You can follow her on Twitter @CarolBMatthews