If anyone needs us, we'll be sipping champagne on the terrace
“I only drink champagne when in love and when not,” said Christian Pol Roger, making the point that you don't need a special occasion to drink this 'special occasion' drink.
At Epernay last Friday night, we had nothing special to celebrate. One friend was sixteen months over deadline on her second novel. Another had returned from holiday that day to find her dad had nailed shut her garden gate when she'd only asked him to take out the bins.
It was nobody's birthday. Nobody had been promoted. Nobody was in love, or for that matter, not in love. But we were going to drink champagne all evening anyway. Because sometimes it's just your best option. And in Manchester, if champagne is your plan, Epernay Champagne Bar is your place.
They've just unveiled a new summer menu with lots of affordable options, including a full fifteen champagnes you can buy by the glass. They don't sell prosecco; why would you bother when champagne starts at just £7 a glass? But you can have a bottle of Cremant de Bourgogne (a lighter, delicate cousin to champagne) for just £20.
With its notes of vanilla, apple and pear, it's perfect for summer evenings on Epernay's sun-trap terrace
And while many bars stock the well-known champagnes, Epernay digs a little deeper with its choices. They go for the lesser known vineyards – the ones producing really interesting champagnes – but which don't have the huge marketing clout of the big labels (or the huge price tags).
For example, the Alfred Gratien (£8 a glass) which is made in oak casks and comes from the region of Epernay itself. With its notes of vanilla and apple and pear, it's perfect for summer evenings on the sun-trap terrace.
Or their house champagne, Palmer & Co. This is made by a co-operative which was set up as a fight-back against the major labels. We tried the rosé (£8.50 a glass). It was tastefully pale in colour and very light on the palette. The restrained, melony flavour made it very easy to drink.
There was a tee-totaller with us who, phoning in her drink order before she arrived, asked for 'something like an Espresso Martini but without the Martini'.
Like a coffee, then?
'NO, don't get me a coffee!!'
Okay. Luckily Epernay's head server Jack McGowan was around to advise. He recommended their English Garden Martini (£6) made with Seedlip – a 'fake gin' that's a big thing in the sober community, apparently. (Not a community we're all that familiar with at Man Con). Its big appeal is that it's distilled to give it the flavour of alcohol without having any alcohol in it.
The tee-totaller proclaimed this cocktail her favourite alcohol-free drink ever, and in her top five of all drinks, even alcoholic ones. Wow. We'd say it was the booze talking but she'd had none.
Meanwhile, in the drinking camp, we moved onto a well-known champagne, Pol Roger (£9.50 a glass). With its notes of brioche and hazelnut (Jack's well-honed observation, not ours) it was a more robust drink than the Alfred Gratien. Think full-bodied and fruity rather than elegant and light.
We had declared we would only be drinking champagne all evening, but that didn't mean we couldn't try a few champagne cocktails, too.
We ordered a Kiss from a Rose (£10), a spritz made with Palmer & Co Rosé, Cocchi Rosa and Pink Grapefruit. It looked beautiful with its single red rose petal floating on top, and had a beguiling taste somewhere in between floral and bitter
We also had a Champagne Pina Colada (£10), which felt a bit like wearing Prada in Primark – surely a champagne wouldn't want to be seen in a drink like that.
In fact, the Champagne Pina Colada was invented at edgy bar Coupette in Bethnal Green and recently won an award for 'best cocktail of the year'. We'll have this one again. It was an unexpected delight.
Amongst all this drinking (we mean, sipping) we did have the good sense to order some food as damage limitation. Epernay's cheeseboards (£12.95) won't prevent a hangover but they taste divine (and they make a very sophisticated backdrop to your insta photos).
There was a gorgeous, creamy vignotte, a full-flavoured blue stilton, a mild brie, and chive and rosemary crackers to accompany. You can also order a charcuterie board (£12.95) or a mixed board (£15).
By now the sun was setting and candles were flickering on the tables. With its glass-walled room, and much coveted terrace, Epernay is a lovely place to watch the night come in.
The conversation moved from writing to weightlifting to which one of our exes is the Manchester Pusher. The champagne (and seedlip) were working their magic. Feeling a little bored of life? Champagne will fix that. For one carefree, giddy, indulgent evening at least.