Why the Northern Quarter's newest venue claims it's more than just another NQ cocktail bar
It started with a peacock feather.
Entrepreneur Gareth Harold had a vision for the Northern Quarter's newest cocktail bar Mecanica - all lush greens and jewelled turquoise hues - he knew it had to have impeccable service but he also knew his own limits.
We wanted to create a classic cocktail bar. No fuss, no gimmicks. You’re not going to drink out of a jam jar
He’d never opened a bar before, so with help from Marc Benton (previously restaurant manager at La Bandera) he set about finding his dream team. Heading the team is Philip Aldridge, formerly of Mana - who talks briefly of his time at the now Michelin starred destination restaurant as if he has just come back from ‘Nam.
Add to the mix bartenders previously from the likes of Dusk Til Pawn, Australasia and London Cocktail Club and you’re shaking up something pretty special.
Mecanica has quietly moved into the spot vacated by the much hyped yet very short lived The Quick Brown Fox. It’s currently a bit of a no mans land between the Northern Quarter and Ancoats but it won’t be long before the gloss from Ancoats seeps into the spray paint of the NQ and that crossroads just becomes a part of the big picture.
As owner of the co-living space, Oppidan (Latin for urban dweller) in the same building, Gareth was the bar’s landlord so when TQBF folded, he thought he’d take it on. He’s already implemented a clever system to ensure nobody is left wanting.
“Wherever you go, you see people waving at servers who are busy walking up and down. So we decided that we were going to operate a light system.”
A mood lamp is placed on every table along with some water and bar snacks that come as standard.
“Everybody is familiar with the term 'green means go’. When you turn your light to green it means you want service. When your light’s blue you’re happy doing what you’re doing and when you want your bill, you turn it to red. It’s a very visual, easy way of providing great service.”
Gareth says this is just one way they are providing the best bar service in Manchester. “We’ve got some outstanding people. We’re getting a nice little reputation within the industry. I’m just waiting for how long it is before they steal the light idea because everybody’s said what a great idea it is."
“We wanted to create a classic cocktail bar. No fuss, no gimmicks. You’re not going to drink out of a jam jar. You’re not going to get served food on a shovel" says Gareth. "Philip has crafted our original cocktail menu but whatever your poison is, we can create it for you - 'the answer’s yes, now what’s your question?’
“I cut my teeth in service. If you go to a venue you and you have a poor experience you’re not going to go back even if the drink was good. We want to serve you outstanding drinks with outstanding service.”
The eponymous 'Mecanica' cocktail blends house-made rose and verbena syrup with fresh strawberry juice and Black Cow Vodka (made using lactose as a by-product from the dairy industry). It’s delicate, elegant and fresh.
In contrast, the Limè, which looks innocent but packs quite a punch, showcasing the nutty, aromatic flavour of curry leaf. We also try what Gareth describes as a ‘life changing’ Negroni. His enthusiasm is infectious and the quality of the ingredients speaks for itself.
Cheese and meats for sharing platters are sourced from The Butcher’s Quarter. A cheese platter features Durrus from Ireland and St Andrews cheddar and Isle of Mull from Scotland. It comes with grapes and quenelles of caramelised onion and quince chutney. Campanio provide the bread and Grindsmith the coffee in their espresso martini.
"Philip is very passionate about using the best ingredients and the best technology and kit to make sure that you get the best output" says Gareth. "We don’t buy our syrups. We sous vide fresh rose petals and verbena. We’re juicing peaches, we’re separating the juice out of a banana to make banana paint for our Cruel Summer cocktail. It’s artistry."
"There are lots of great bars in Manchester and I don’t want to be a new kid on the block going ‘I do it better than everybody else’ but I want to make sure that everybody has a welcoming experience.
But it's not just about cocktails.
"Our wine list is extraordinary," claims Gareth. "You are not going to get a bottle of Amarone or Whispering Angel or Gavi di Gavi by the glass in the Northern Quarter. We chose our bottles carefully based on grape, region and popularity. You’d always expect to find an Argentinian Malbec on the menu. You’d always expect a Sauvignon Blanc, it’s just that ours happens to be Greywacke.
What does he think about what the local competition are doing?
"I think the idea of having cocktails on tap is a nice idea but the quality’s not there. Cocktails should be made fresh. Our syrups have a shelf life of two weeks. If it’s on tap it’s pumped full of preservatives. The flavour profile of an espresso changes as soon as you draw it through the machine. It starts to degrade. How do you maintain that flavour in a keg that can hold 30 litres? When you think about how that works behind the scenes, well, you might as well work in factory putting lids on yoghurt pots."
Mecanica, 1-3 Swan St, Manchester M4 5JJ