Lock-ins, dancing on the furniture and ‘contraband’… this new Spinningfields bar is aiming for underground cult status

Dear Sailor has 'house rules'... but follow them, and anything goes

By Ben Arnold | 24 November 2023

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Plenty of bars open up with a cocktail menu, a late licence and not much else. Dear Sailor has got other plans.

This Spinningfields spot is aiming to be the ‘best kitchen party you’ve ever been to’, and 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. As concepts go, it’s… specific.

Co-founder Christian tells Finest: “You weren’t allowed to talk to Westerners, there was no candy, no music, no alcohol, so people would meet at these underground places called ‘kissers’.

“They’d listen to music, and drink these weird and wonderful concoctions. Merchants would encounter pilots and sailors, and the merchants would acquire contraband from them. They’d write to them ‘Dear Sailor…’.

Dear Sailor

“We’re not a Japanese bar, but it’s a nod to the censorship of that time, that underground feeling, that forbidenness. It’s a fusion of east meets west.”

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.

They include ‘no name dropping, no star fucking’. 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’.

“They’ll be ever growing,” Christian laughs. “They’re set in stone. We just want people to understand what we expect of them without being too snooty about it. It’s not about telling people what to do, it’s about what to expect. And what’s expected of you.”

While the venue will be open late into the night, the doors will ‘close’ at 1am. “We’ll synthesise a lock in at 1am, after which people can let their hair down,” says Christian. 

“A bit more debauchery but without being seen, and with like-minded people.”

As for getting in, it’ll help if you can get accepted by their Instagram, from where they’ll basically be running the bar. “It’s not about being elitist, or wealth, we’re trying to build a community,” he goes on.

“It’s not a status thing. More like if you know, you know. We’re inclusive for everyone, but because we’re an intimate size, it’ll help us curate what our audience looks like. We want to be speaking the right language to the right people.”

But what about the drinks? The menu is split into sections – Import (your ‘liveners’), like a yuzu meringue martini, ‘Export’, the more grown-up Old Fashioneds and the like, and the ‘Contraband’, more off the leash mash-up drinks and shots to send you off into the night.

Opening ‘Serve of the Month’ will be the intoxicating Hot Buttered Banana Bread – roast banana, OFTD rum, Banane de Bresil liqueur, port, a splash of saline, pecan and spice manuka honey.

There’s a ‘contraband wall’ too, where regulars can have their own bottle for whenever they stop by in their own locker.

“In Manchester, it doesn’t feel like there was that meeting place, for that slightly older generation, over-25, over 30 plus,” he says. “The venue will take you on a journey, like the best hotel bar you’ve ever been to.”

Dear Sailor is open now, at 1 Spinningfields Square, M3 3AP