A bright pink and yellow new cycle cafe has taken over the old Font site
“Franz Ferdinand paid off my student loan.”
Is not something you hear every day but is an intriguing origin story. Good for future merch too.
The coffee machine is the best machine I could get. It’s based on a fighter jet
The former owner of said loan and current owner of Fallowfield café bar and cycle workshop Handlebar, Steve Dunbar, is good like that. Funny, a bit outlandish at times, good stories and with the all-important warmth and welcoming hospitality. Indie music plays over the speakers throughout our visit and Steve has the look of someone who could’ve easily featured in a variety of 00s bands ranging from Vampire Weekend to the Maccabees.
We’ll get onto Franz Ferdinand shortly, but for now, it’s worth mentioning that if you’ve got a bike you should consider cycling it to Handlebar. If the bike’s a bit broken, even better, you can get it fixed and have a drink whilst you wait.
Live, laugh, lube
As soon as you walk into Handlebar on Wilmslow Road the first thing you notice is a large yellow and pink banner that reads "Live, laugh, lube". If you’re slow like me it might take you a few minutes to work out the context, but a quick scan around and any euphemisms quickly fade away with the realisation you’re in a bike café.
Handlebar, Fallowfield’s newest café bar and cycle workshop is immediately photogenic. Painted in the hues of European cycling competition winner’s jerseys (yellow for the Tour De France, pink for the Giro D’Italia and red for Vuelta a Espana) it’s a blast of bright colour from the moment you step in.
Serving coffee and cakes as well as beer, wine and cocktails Handlebar has taken over the former Font site. With inside bike parking (locks and keys provided), a cycle workshop in the back corner and a photogenic new paint job, it’s a far cry from its previous incarnation.
“The coffee machine is the best machine I could get. It’s based on a fighter jet.” Steve tells us. Coffee comes courtesy of Swan Song Roasters in Salford, whilst cakes come courtesy of Longboi’s Bakehouse a stone’s throw away in Levenshulme. The pink-hued stoneware has been made by Salford-based ceramicist Partington Pots, very in keeping with the theme.
Big Dick Energy, but in a Rihanna context
Handlebar sits on a popular cycle route and Steve is hoping to coax some of those cyclists in for a drink, as well as the locals.
“You will see 10 bikes a minute when the students are around. It’s insane.” Steve says. “2000 bikes a day go past. The idea is you can have a drink whilst you wait for your bike to be seen."
Whilst cycling is at the core of Handlebar, race jerseys and memorabilia taking pride of place on the venue walls, Steve hopes for the café bar to be a hub that caters to locals and creatives alike. £2.75 for a surprisingly good pint of lager called "Big Dick Energy" (“it’s inspired by the Rihanna context, not annoying men”) and £6/7 for a cocktail should appeal to cyclists and non-cyclists.
There are more beers and cider on tap with cans and bottles in fridges behind the bar.
Wine comes courtesy of environmentally-minded supplier Sea Change, eschewing unnecessary plastics and packaging, with profits going towards cleaning up the ocean. Steve is at pains to stress prices have been kept low because he wants Handlebar to be affordable. He also says a brunch menu will be revealed soon.
Franz Ferdinand, art and one and a half tonnes of wooden flooring
Steve’s origin story is rooted in music. Born and raised in Manchester, buying and selling niche musical equipment and selling it to the likes of Franz Ferdinand paid for his music production education. Fancying a change he moved to Greece to be a cycle tour guide followed by a stint in Spain doing the same across the Vuelta a Espana route.
A return to Manchester was quickly followed by the pandemic. He took over the former Font site last year and set about creating his dream cycle café bar. Unsurprisingly the unusual building has been a beast to tame. Windows covered in graffiti, homeless people selling drugs out of the front door enclave and two and a half tonnes of double-layered, beer-sodden wooden flooring that had to be removed.
Whilst upstairs remains a work in progress, there are plans for the glorious sun-drenched (all day) balcony that spreads down the side of the building. Further space will be freed upstairs when the bar is ripped out and there are plans for an events space which will play host to ceramics workshops, art pop-ups and open mic nights.
“No more than one cover each, I’m afraid,” Steve says.
Art already spreads through the space. Local artist Nicola Fernandes has painted a mural for the stairs whilst the supposedly first-ever Dave Draws piece covers a back wall on the ground floor. Gallery walls near the bar already allow visitors to buy a selection of pieces from the likes of Christopher Walster and LocalHotelParking. Plugs are available for those who want to whip out their laptop for a bit of work.
Bikes for sale, bikes for fixing
With the bar open 11am until late, Wednesday to Sunday and the bike workshop open 11am until 6pm, Wednesday to Friday, Handlebar is a handy addition to an area synonymous with cycling.
Bikes are also available to buy from the space with a mixture of upcycled vintage beauties and more affordable but still attractive cycles. Due to the infancy of the project, it’s highly likely you can walk in, put your bike in, get it sorted whilst you have a drink and then head back out in the space of an hour or two, but no doubt this’ll change with demand.
“The idea is everything is as good as it can be,” says Steve. “Everything that we sell tastes great and we’re looking forward to building it up as a hub, putting on events and meeting our future regulars.”
Handlebar, 236 Wilmslow Rd, Fallowfield, Manchester M14 6LE
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