I’ve been contemplating ice this week. No, not the hazardous stuff that comes with the wind chill factor and a chance of compound fracture. More the gleaming pure lozenge enveloped by a Negroni.
I’m greeted by one on my arrival at Mecanica, our server Ellie embellishing with “We’ve heard you’re partial to one”. Two or three actually, but I’m at the bar to sample a range of the creative house cocktails, not a stone cold classic. Though like any cocktail bar worth its salt they’ll rustle up whatever you request.
Wine was the selling point of the previous occupant of this site on the busy corner of Oldham Street and Swan Street, but The Quick Brown Fox was never busy and shut all too quickly. I can see Mecanica having a less transitory shelf life – as one of Manchester’s key cocktail destinations. Which bring us to the nice ice touch.
It was such a sparkling snug fit I assumed my Negroni (Martin MIller gin, Campari, Cocchi) was sharing the tumbler with one of those bought-in designer ice cubes. Arch rivals Schofield’s Bar source theirs from Chas Ayres’ cutting edge Black Ice CPD Ltd.
No, like Speak In Code bar, another of the city’s cocktail elite, Mecanica make their own. General manager Phil Aldridge (pictured above) explained: “We use a process known as ‘directional freezing’ where we take a container thats insulated on all sides apart from one, this means the ice freezes from the top down forcing the impurities to the bottom (as the more impurities in the water the lower the freezing point).
“We then remove this from the freezer, dispose of the unclear ice and then break down the clear ice into smaller more manageable pieces by hand. These are then hand chipped down into the perfect size for our rocks glass. Its time consuming and takes a lot of keeping on top of, but it’s cheaper than buying it in and infinitely more rewarding.”
The same attention to detail goes into the in-house preparation of most of the cocktail ingredients (of which more later). It takes a dedicated, trained staff to make this work and all six bartenders get a picture testimonial in the Team section of the website. This add-on always reminds me of those movies where the closing credits incorporate snapshot epilogues of what will happen to all the characters in the future.
But instead of ‘died in Vietnam’ or ‘became an itinerant preacher man’ it namechecks each’s favourite cocktail. Zombie is Ellie’s, which is appropriately cineaste, since two concoctions she has created for the Mecanica list are film-themed. We also tried tipples from Dom, Jack and Adam (Phil and Rory, promise we’ll sample your contributions next time).
See You in Half an Hour (£9.50) is a fruity mix of Suze Aperitif, St Germain, Chazalettes bianco vermouth, with a red wine float and and almond mist for their aromatic qualities. “Reproducing the visual aesthetic of Wes Anderson’s 2007 short Hotel Chevalier, the drink makes multiple references to the characters’ fleeting romance in the titular backdrop.” Phew.
Well, it has put Hotel Chevalier on my streaming bucket list and I’m glad to confirm Ellie and I are devotees of Anderson’s Grand Hotel Budapest and Ralph Fiennes’ comic tour de force but agree to differ on Isle of Dogs. Not the kind of conversation sparked by 2-4-1 happy hour service in Slug and Lettuce.
The 1981 comedy, Arthur, is Ellie’s inspiration for Between the Moon and New York City (£9.50), definitely my punchy kind of cocktail, incorporating Bulleit rye whiskey, Bitter Rose Moonshine, all rosehip and elderberry, Cocchi Rosa vermouth and peach bitters. It’s a line from the theme tune to the movie which follows Dudley Moore as a drunken millionaire who spends his days drinking in the hotel room he calls home.
There’s a further comic backdrop to Jack’s A Touch of Class (£11.50), named after the 1975 pilot episode of Fawlty Towers, and so paying homage to Basil Fawlty and the hapless Manuel. Indeed basil herb dominates in a delightful way, adding surprisingly savoury bacon note to this blend of Sipsmith London Dry Gin, Cocchi Americano vermouth, clementine and champagne.
I loved it. Just the kind of cocktail you’d never get at a hotel of the calibre of Fawlty Towers. ‘Touch of Class’ alludes to Basil’s snobbish aspirations for it. To quote the script… Basil: If we can attract this class of customer then the sky’s the limit. Sybil: Basil, 22 rooms is the limit. Basil: Have you seen the people in room six. They’ve never sat on chairs before.”
The cannier of you may have twigged by now that a connecting theme in all these cocktails is HOTELS. Mecanica declares itself a ‘No-tel’ bar, promising the hotel bar experience without the hotel and yet inspired by the world’s best hotel bars… in sumptuous surroundings. Certainly the sophisticated interior belies the plain frontage but more importantly for me the slightly random hotel pegging doesn’t feel a distracting imposition.
The theme is up there with Speak In Code current record sleeve inspired drinks menu and the ambitious ‘Japanese Idioms’ list developed by Gethin Jones at Cottonopolis a few years back. I like lists that tell stories.
Fear and Loathing (£10.50) courtesy of Adam, is a rollercoaster a cocktail ride as you’d expect from its inspiration, Hunter S. Thompson’s novel later adapted into the 1998 film featuring Johnny Depp and various oddballs holed up in a hotel sipping Singapore Slings and Mezcal. This bittersweet homage is appropriately in your face, blending Koch Mezcal, D.O.M Benedictine, passion fruit liqueur, a Sipello and grapefruit shot and, a new one for me, citrus squid ink.
You get a subtler but equally powerful buzz from El Convento (£10). It’s based on an actual hotel in a convent building dating back to 1646, neighbour of the oldest cathedral in Puerto Rico. Has creator Dom been there? Or is the Latin holy trinity of olive oil washed Barsol Pisco, Cocchi Americano and pickled chilli just a tot of inspired cultural appropriation?
Finally, a five star hotel I’ve actually stayed in a couple of times – Ashford Castle at Cong in County Galway. It was home to the Guinness family in the 19th century, so the eponymous dark stout features in Dom’s super smooth Ashford Estate (£10) along with nutmeg, orange and Roe & Co Irish Whiskey, whose creamy texture is enhanced by milk washing.
Not a term you’re acquainted with? Olive oil washed too? Let’ close with dip into the behind the scenes teamwork that makes Mecanica quite special.
Over to Phil again, the ringmaster of this project with a CV that impresses (from Sokyo, a high-end Japanese bar in Sydney to MIchelin-starred Mana in Ancoats):
“For our home made ingredients we use a number of different methods and techniques, the majority of our ‘fresh’ ingredients are made in a water bath that’s heated using an immersion circulator set to around 54 degrees. This is the perfect temperature to both speed up the process of infusing flavour without exposing the ingredients to direct, intense heat.
“We’re aiming to stay away from the idea of cooking or caramelising, the maillard reaction or anything that will alter the chemical structure of the amino acids and sugar compounds found in our ingredients (unless on purpose of course), changing the fresh flavour we’re trying so hard to preserve.
“There are processes such as ‘fat washing’, cold infusion and elements of fermentation, shrub and brining included on our menu. We also have access to things like centrifugal juicers and chamber vacuum machines, allowing us to extract flavour from nearly any ingredient we choose to work with, which when you work with the seasons, can be very valuable.
“We then store everything under vacuum to prevent oxidisation, preserve flavour and cut down on the need for excessive storage space.”
It is not just our restaurants – the likes of Mana, Where The Light Gets In and the Moorcock at Norland – with their foraging, fermenting and passion for ingredients that are the contemporary cutting edge cauldrons. The cocktail scene at Mecanica’s level is equally vibrant.
Mecanica, 1-3 Swan Street, Manchester M4 5JJ. 0161 806 1492. Wednesday and Thursday 3pm-12am; Friday and Saturday 12pm-1am; Sunday 12pm-12am. Bar snacks include handmade flatbreads and cheese and charcuterie from the Butcher’ Quarter. The wine list is better than at mot cocktail bar, too.
Check out Mecanica’s festive packages HERE. Also every advance booking of four or more this New Year’s Eve will receive a complimentary bottle of Prosecco when purchasing a round of cocktails