Harley Young speaks to Stephen Jeffreys, Co-Founder of the Northern Quarter’s first alcohol-free bar

Hinterland, a new alcohol-free bar in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, is redefining what a night out of socialising looks like. 

Nestled in the basement of the Manchester Buddhist Centre, this cosy and inviting speakeasy-style bar is decked out in rich dark greens and wood tones, creating a calm and tranquil space whilst still retaining that classic bar vibe. 

Created by three friends at Manchester Buddhist Centre - Stephen, Tom and Sanghadhara - Hinterland is a space for people to socialise, to come together with friends and to make new ones with the help of their upcoming events. 

Harley Young spoke with Co-Founder Stephen Jeffreys, who gave up drinking five years ago after a difficult battle with alcohol addiction, about what Hinterland will bring to the Northern Quarter.

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Left to right: Sanghadhara, Stephen and Tom Image: Hinterland

How did the concept for Hinterland come about?

It was originally Sanghadhara’s idea - we both live in the community on the top floor of the Buddhist Centre. 

[The bar] has been a commercial space for 20 odd years now. It was originally the first vegan restaurant in the Northern Quarter, Earth Cafe - it was here when the Northern Quarter was still quite industrial so it was part of that frontier I guess. 

It then became a number of different ventures but they didn’t quite work out. 

For quite some time Sanghadhara wanted to do something with the space and about a year and a half ago, he decided he wanted to turn it into a sober bar. 

I’m in alcohol recovery and have been for the last six years, so this idea brought so many things together. For me, I was looking for a job that I could really get inspired by, really put my whole being into. So to have something that brought together my Buddhist practice and my sobriety, that was just perfect. 

Where did the name ‘Hinterland’ come from?

Hinterland means ‘the realm beyond the known’. 

It leans into the fact that we’re a basement so that definitely creates a different environment - we very much decorated the space to feel different from the street that you come in from. It doesn’t necessarily feel like a city centre bar, we’re trying to create a much more relaxed and calm environment. 

So we looked at creating that ‘hinterland’, that unknown, more experimental space for people to broaden their horizons in a way that’s very comfortable and not forced.

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Inside Hinterland Image: Hinterland

What’s the aim?

We really just want to create a space that’s about connecting. More of a social space that wasn't focused around alcohol. Being still able to go out, still have fun, still meet people, still have that kind of social element to your life without it being somewhere that would be a problem for people with addiction to be around. 

But it's also a place for people that are just curious about drinking less or looking at their alcohol intake. We’re also for people who do drink but for whatever reason don’t want to drink that night - alcohol isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's all about your relationship with alcohol, and, for some people, a space without alcohol is really important for dealing with that. 

Why do you think spaces like Hinterland are important?

The idea of Hinterland really inspired me because, when I was first getting sober, I had this fear of losing that social space. The way I would connect with people was really scary because I thought ‘That’s it. I’m going to lose out on any social activities because I can’t be around alcohol.’

I tried clubbing, I tried going to bars to meet with friends and stuff like that, but I’d just end up relapsing again because I was surrounded by alcohol. So it's great to have that calm and friendly space.

We’re also advertising ourselves as that alternative to a noisy bar. We’re not going to have blaring music, or the kind of DJs where you can’t sit down and have a chat. Pretty much everything in this space will be aimed at cultivating community connections between the people who come in, whether that’s people who already know each other or those that happen to meet at one of the events we’ll be putting on. 

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Hinterland will also serve a range of coffees Image: Hinterland

What kind of events will Hinterland host?

Going forward, we’ll be hosting lots of different evenings like poetry, storytelling, philosophy cafes, death cafes, all kinds of things. 

We’re going to put little conversation cards on the tables as well. In fact, we’re looking at getting wooden coasters made with one side being our logo and the other being conversation starters. 

Me and Sanghadhara practised a few the other day and it was great - we’re close friends but we benefited from it. 

You mentioned death cafes. Could you explain a bit more on that?

So this will be an event led by someone who is very experienced in the area and comfortable with the topic of discussion. Obviously, death is something that will happen to all of us and will impact all of us in one way or another. But it's something we don’t really talk about - we’re very uncomfortable about talking about it. 

It’s something that we’re subconsciously aware of yet nobody talks about it. So it's about creating a space where you can come and talk about death in a way that’s not taboo, not scary. It’s slow and comfortable and led in a way that allows you to explore the area without it being too upsetting or triggering. 

These sessions could be beneficial for someone who’s recently lost a loved one, someone who is ill, or someone who just suffers from health anxiety or fear of death. 

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There's a wide range of non-alcoholic beverages available, including house takes on classic cocktails Image: Hinterland

At the moment, there’s only two dedicated sober bars in Manchester; Hinterland and Love From. Do you think there’ll be more non-alcoholic bars opening across the city? 

I think so. I think there’s going to be more and more of a demand. 

When we decided to open a sober bar we didn’t just think ‘oh, we like this. Let’s do it.’ We had a look and, from what we could tell from the market research and studies out there, the demand for alcohol free beverages far outweighed the supply of them - at least, in spaces that only serve alcohol free beverages. 

I was really surprised to read that university students now just aren’t as interested in getting drunk, which must be a really positive change. I think social media is good for that stuff. It makes people more aware, like, there could be photos of this shared when I’m in a state and so on. So the demand for alcohol-free bars is definitely there.

The range of products in bars has really expanded, too. You used to just get a Becks Blue and a Heineken Zero if you were lucky. Now, there’s just so much more variety. 

I mentioned that Earth Cafe was the first vegan cafe in the Northern Quarter and then all of a sudden there were lots. I quite like the symmetry of us being in the same space and being the first sober bar in the Northern Quarter. 

Who is Hinterland for?

We’re underneath a Buddhist centre but that doesn’t mean we’re just for Buddhists; we really are here for everyone and we want everyone to come and experience us. 

We’ve created a space that a range of people, whether that’s people with addiction, those questioning their relationship with alcohol, or those who just aren’t but want to support their sober friends, can come together and do the same. 

We’d love to see the community continue to grow and see how big it can get. It would be great to become a blueprint for more places to take that out and it to become a ripple effect and it keeps going. Hopefully it can go very far. 

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Hinterland opens to the public today Image: Hinterland

Hinterland will open its doors to the public today and aims to provide a welcoming space for all, regardless of their reasons for skipping the booze. The space will be open Tuesday to Saturday from 11am to 11pm, and Sundays from 11am to 5pm.

Tickets for the launch party on Saturday 22 June are available here

Hinterland, 16-20 Turner Street, Manchester, United Kingdom M4 1DZ

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