TRADITIONALLY, Mexicans take their tequila neat without the 'training wheels' technique of licking the salt and biting the lime. Still, that's not for me in this review of the El Capo, the new Northern Quarter Tequila bar - there’s no need for heroes. 

According to one friend, no matter how pretty you dress up a shot of tequila, it will always kick you in the crotch. 

Tequila’s potent reputation (one tequila, two tequila, three tequila... floor) coupled with memories of projectile vomiting and hazy embarrassment during University days makes it a drink I tend to avoid.

Personified, it’s the lover your parents warned you about; the one you eagerly indulged, but then found yourself on the floor clutching at dignity with your skirt over your head. 

On a Thursday night at El Capo our bloomers would remain hidden under our skirts, although there’s the potential here to get absolutely bladdered on 70 different brands of tequila – plus the bar staff will encourage a ‘screw tomorrow, let’s get drunk’ mentality, if you’re up for it.

El Capo Header ImageEl Capo bar

Dsc_2318Mexican sugar art all over the walls

Based on Tariff Street and introduced by Whisky Jar’s Peter Skelton, El Capo is heavily influenced by tequila's Central American origins. Across the exposed brick walls is Mexican sugar art - mainly skulls painted with flowers - and a little mural of Hail Mary cradling a baby Jesus Christ.

“Isn’t that a bit blasphemous?” said my friend who had come over all virtuous. She'd also later ask the bar tender for a cocktail “without any tequila, please.”

We’d learn that the sugar skulls for ‘Dia de Los Muertos’, or Day of the Dead, is all about Catholicism (I imagine throwing down ten tequila shots back to back probably isn’t), and our bar tender would know, thoroughly committed to the job he had a sugar skull tattooed to his arm.

Dsc_2311Is this 'El Capo'?

As Central and Southern American themed bars and restaurants go in Manchester (and there's a few), El Capo is less of a Mexican caricature. You’re not given a flower lei to wear (note to bars: leis are Hawaiian, not Mexican), nor the maracas to shake and the generic Latin American anthem ‘La Bomba’ doesn’t play on loop - that's you Revs de Cuba.

At El Capo they are - for want of a better word - cooler. Cool in the way the nearby Tariff Street bars have developed, dark back-street watering holes away from the surge of the weekend footfall where the district's creatives go to talk about, well, the proliferation of Northern Quarter bars.

So, the tequila.

We were eased into proceedings with a Tommy on Top (£7.50): a mini pool of patron and lime, with a pink bubbly layer of agave foam swimming on the top (that’s the Tommy). It was a sweet little number, perfect for the tequila shy, the sweet-toothed and the lightweights, leaving enough room to stomach more.

Two Cocktails BetterFlight of Fashion (£8.00) and Tommy on Top (£7.50)

And more we had.

El Capo’s staff were keen to encourage my entourage of wusses to have a braver palette when it comes to tequila. This wasn’t the same cheap stuff they served on Tequila Tuesday nights at every Uni Fresher week. Instead we had authentic brands, fresh ingredients and well executed cocktails all delivered with a splash of flair. 

After some coaxing, I went with the Mexican Breakfast (£8.00), a cocktail that includes an entire raw egg. The tequila'd glass is rimmed with chilli and sugar and topped with a jalapeno pepper. It smelled like a spicy pizza. “Everyone gets nervous about this one," said the sugar skull bartender. "But it will surprise you."

The Mexican Breakfast was a suprise. Sweeter than expected and complimented by the hint of chilli. Moresome.

Mexican Breakfast, El CapoMexican Breakfast, El Capo

The Flight of Fashion (£8.00), maraschino, lemon, cherries and topped with edible flowers was also a refreshing quencher, under a heap of crushed ice I quickly downed it as though it was Robinson's cordial juice. 

Flight Of Fashion, El CapoFlight Of Fashion, El Capo

It all felt a little too civilised before the bar tender refused to let us get away without a shot. An evilly black coffee liqueur tequila.


According to one friend, no matter how pretty you dress up a shot of tequila, it will always kick you in the crotch. 

Three cocktails, a beer and one shot in and I was soaring into raptourous laughter. That’s the party atmosphere El Capo hungers, as much as it aims to be the perfect mid-week social boozer. And so far El Capo succeeds. While there's not much to be heard yet about its proposed tapas restaurant, the cocktails alone prove El Capo to be a welcome change to the barrage of tiki bars selling 'Zombies'. 

One, two, three tequila... more. Then floor.

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El Capo, 12 Tariff Street, Manchester, M1 2FF

0161 237 3154



Rating: 17/20 (please read the scoring system in the box below, venues are rated against the best examples of their kind) 

Drinks: 5/5  Very well executed 
Concept: 4/5 Great Mexican themed boozer - without the caricatures.
Service: 4/5 Knowledgeable, fun and helpful .

Ambience: 4/5 Candlelit and sexy 

PLEASE NOTE: Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20, we get carried away.