A dilapidated sign hangs above a seemingly derelict shopfront. The ‘Washhouse’ languishes in a dingy backstreet and is deliberately hard to find. No shiny advertising plaques alert you to its presence, no neon lights or pumping music. In fact, the only indication that this may not be what it seems is the doorman guarding the entrance to the tiny washing area crammed with an industrial-size washing machine and other white goods.
I’m beginning to wonder what my friends Michala and John have got me into. The doorman takes our name and invites us to pick up the phone to announce our arrival. Seriously, am I about to enter the den of iniquity never to be seen again? This isn’t a real-life rocky horror is it?
My fears wash away when the door soundlessly opens towards us and a young girl beckons us inside. She looks normal but the bar looks anything but. Dimly lit with candles dotted around the bijou bar, there’s maybe a dozen serviced tables. You need to pre-book a two-hour slot and the bar policy is no booking, no entry. In fact, the owners of this closely kept secret like to maintain an air of mystery and even the website may leave you guessing as to its services.
Our server guides us to a leather-clad booth reminiscent of 1920s Italian American restaurants. Two mixologists are vigorously concocting potions to enthral fascinated guests. We skim the menu looking for our usual choice of cocktails and quickly realise that the Washhouse does not entertain such mundanity. Do not come to the Washhouse expecting run of the mill Mojitos, margaritas and daiquiris. The Washhouse has literally washed its hand of those mainstream creations.
Instead, they have drinks the like of which I’ve never seen before. They pair mini canapés with astonishing effects, Instagram worthy beauty and salivating tastes to tease your tastebuds.
The cocktail menu
Cocktails at the Washhouse are an art form. I say art as we fully expected a standard cocktail in a glass but what we got was a whole experience. Whether it be burning marshmallows over a mini fire, eating an ice cream from the beach or having to figure out a clue to unlock your drink from its very own padlocked box, the ingenuity and innovation which has gone into creating each one of these drinks is astonishing.
Each cocktail is a masterpiece of design and play, such that you stop shaking your head at the typical price of £10-£11 a drink and start searching for the cocktail with the best glass/presentation/special effects.
Staff update the menu annually with ingenious themed drinks. The current menu was inspired by Manchester and its people and reveals an ironic sense of humour with the likes of a ‘Hard Brex-fast‘ and ‘Soft Brex-fast!’
Here are just some of our amazing creations.
The bar staff pump copious amounts of dry ice into this ‘Quality Street‘ giant test-tube. They then lift the tube dramatically to swirls of smoke billowing from the glass. Pretty awesome right?
The ‘Small Island Punch‘ cocktail was my favourite. I loved the little fire to roast marshmallows although I think the server was a little worried I was going to burn the place down!
You have to work for ‘Turing’s Daisy‘. First, you have to figure out the code to unlock the padlock before indulging. It’s something of an enigma!!
Now if you want something spicy, you may wish to try ‘This Mary Ain’t Going Nowhere‘. Beware, this is a drink with a kick but the Washhouse’s aim is to make every drink a showstopper. They just might clean the floor with you with this drink.
The bar has just one toilet each for ladies and gents. However, because you need to book, the Washhouse is never overpacked. There are no queues for the ladies, which are sweetly scented and decorated with large cathedral candles.
Our time sadly comes to an end and we settle our bill. We all agree that this is one of the coolest places we have visited. Honestly, I think it’s worth a visit to Manchester in its own right.
At this time of year, you can also visit the huge Christmas market by the town hall. It is crammed full of trinkets stalls and food concoctions. From spicy sausages to paella, cocktails to spicy cider, cheese, cupcakes and other savouries you could spend a day feasting on all the temptation.
We stayed at the Innside Melia which is a relative newcomer on the Manchester scene. It has stark white rooms, cool bathrooms and large beds with picture windows and city views.
We paid just £108 including breakfast for two and it is within easy walking distance of the Christmas market and wider city beyond. The Washhouse is around a fifteen minute walk from the hotel.
This is one bar you must give a spin. The Washhouse simply cleans the floor with other cocktail bars! Who knows, you may even be fortunate enough to get your smalls cleaned while you wait!