Manchester's Best Secret Bars

By Manchester's Finest | Last updated 5 January 2024

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Down alleys, up secreted flights of stairs, down into dark, seedy basements, Manchester has a wealth of underground bars that you’d struggle to just happen upon. Luckily, we’re here to help you with that…

Behind Closed Doors

There’s a seemingly nondescript pink door about halfway down Oldham Street. As the door opens you begin to descend into Behind Closed Doors, a veritable den of sleaze and debauchery, complete with a substantial list of fabulous cocktails, vintage (and not-so-vintage) erotica and a buzz of funk and soul tunes. Get yourself a cocktail, park yourself in one of their booths and try your best to chat up some girls and boys on the vintage telephones that are conveniently dotted around.

Science & Industry

In an unassuming corner of Thomas Street watering hole Cain & Grain, you’ll find a secret door. Head through it, up the stairs and you’ll find Science & Industry, a super-spiffy speakeasy specialising in innovative cocktail creations and the attempt to push the boundaries of scientific and molecular mixology. This may all sound rather complicated but the layman can expect an inventive selection of cocktails, mixed up and devised in their own back-room laboratory. Plus some really nice snacks too.

The Washhouse

You’ve spilt beetroot juice all over your new Frankie Says Relax t-shirt and so you quickly run down to the local laundrette on Shudehill to get it cleaned up before you head on over to an 80’s party at Tiger Tiger. As you enter you notice that they don’t have many machines and it’s a bit quiet, but screw it – desperate times and all that. Unfortunately none of the machines work, and as you frustratingly scramble around with your packet of Bold, you realise that a young couple with trendy haircuts have walked in, picked up a phone and then disappeared through a door on the wall disguised as a dryer. Well, this is The Washhouse – a speakeasy bar disguised as a laundrette – offering a range of cocktails and fizz in a newly extended and expanded environment packed with trendy peeps and modern songs. To enter you will need to book on the phone.

Junior Jacksons

It’s almost become ‘Speakeasy Alley’ on Oldham Street, and as the number of innocuous-looking doors uncover full bars and clubs, the better this end of town becomes. The smaller cousin to Bunny Jackson’s – Juniors is hidden behind a pretty manky door next to The Castle, walk in and you’ll find yourself in a basement dive haven, which will instantly transport you over to some murky bar in the States, complete with banging rock anthems, loads of shots and my new favourite drink – the Mega Turbo Shandy.

Dusk til Pawn

You’ve had a bit of financial difficulty recently and have managed to slip your Nan’s ring off her hand and into your pocket while she was sleeping. If only you could get that bloody thing pawned you can head on out this weekend with the girls – it’s Sarah’s birthday after all. Apparently there’s a pawn shop on Stevenson Square, but as you enter, you realise that it’s a bloody bar and not a pawn shop at all! Well, it’s Dusk til Pawn and although the exterior is set up to look like a shop, the interior is very much a buzzing bar complete with a great jukebox, loads of cocktails and a great selection of craft ales. They also have a fantastic selection of whiskeys and bourbons, so you can probably have one of the best Old Fashions in town here. You’ll just have to secretly slip your Nan’s ring back on her finger and think of another way to scrape 50 quid together.

Lost Cat

The entrance to this cocktail and slider den on Oldham Street is shielded by a rather lovely plant shop The Bud & Pot. Pick yourself up a spider plant, a nice new ceramic pot and then slip round the back into the main bar and grab a couple of inventive cocktails, including the amazing Captain Don (which tastes just like liquid Werther’s Originals).

The Fitzgerald

Discreet, delightfully dark, and decadent, this first floor speakeasy at The Fitzgerald owes plenty to Gatsby and the Jazz Age. A subtle speakeasy which, despite its address, is actually tucked away down the aptly-titled Little Lever Street in the Northern Quarter. Newcomers should look for Hula on the corner, duck into the alley, pass through a door on the left and up the stairs, where they’ll find what can only be described as an authentic-feeling time capsule transporting clientele straight back to the Roaring ‘20s.

Speak In Code

On the other side of town, Speak In Code is a top-rated, award-winning cosy drinking den offering a creative, plant-based food and drink selection. There’s something for everyone on the extensive list of forward thinking, sustainably focused cocktails, which take a reduce, reuse and repurpose approach, so there’s no guilt here.

Dear Sailor

This Spinningfields spot is aiming to be the ‘best kitchen party you’ve ever been to’, with a concept that harks back to the heady romance of the secret underground drinking dens of Japan in the 1930s, when it was under prohibition laws. But to get in, you’ll first need to know what kind of behaviour they’re expecting. Though they may be ever-expanding, Dear Sailor’s ‘house rules’ are more about liberating than restricting. Men are asked not to introduce themselves to ladies, rather ask the bartender to do so. Gentlemen’s hats are to be removed, as are shoes ‘when you’re dancing on the sofas’.

Project Halcyon

Project Halcyon is Manchester’s best-keep secret in cocktails, although word has been spreading fast. Hence myriad accolades this place quickly began collecting after opening, including a coveted One To Watch from Top 50 Cocktail Bars and a slew of hat tips from local listings and tastemakers. All this provides the perfect backdrop for some of the most innovative and on-point mixology you’ll find anywhere in town, with an on-site lab in operation where various beverage accoutrements are made using chemistry kits and alcoholic experimentation takes place. There’s also a distillery on site producing some excellent gin, adding to the authenticity. Cocktails here work on a seasonal basis, and combine established classics with more unique and bespoke creations.

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