Where once you'd have found second-hand record shops and Christian bookstores, it goes without saying that this little section of Deansgate has changed a great deal in recent years. Always a strange cocktail (appropriately enough) of niche retail, mini-supermarkets and chain bars and restaurants with the occasional brave indie rearing its head, the long stretch of road itself has struggled to find its own identity. Elixir has the creativity, personality and gusto of a bar you'd find in the Northern Quarter, yet offers the sophistication and experience of a high-end Spinningfields venue.
Offering Tonics and Treats, Elixir is a whimsical bar with a old school saloon vibe.
Elixir's humble surrounds, neighbouring a fried chicken joint and a betting shop, belie its sumptuous interior, with its moody lighting and intoxicating incense. The décor felt somewhere between a small chapel and a vintage gin saloon. It never felt overwhelmingly packed which small bars often do. This may seem like the kind of bar to start your start in, but with plenty of plush seating, table service (with attentive and knowledgeable bar staff) and a menu that reads like a great literary thriller, you might as well stay for the long haul. Oh and just for the record, gorgeous toilets. These are important things.
The Clientele & Atmosphere
At 8pm on a Saturday, Elixir certainly wasn't wanting for customers, and they came in all forms. Another reserved table next to us were enjoying a celebratory bottle of champers before moving on to a club; there were plenty of couples, groups of friends and folks sat at the bar chatting away to the staff. It felt friendly and down-to-earth whilst at the same time giving that atmosphere of exclusivity and sophistication; all down to its attention to detail and the superb, reasonably priced cocktails. And Elixir is nothing if not different. I can't think of another bar on all of Deansgate; nay, in Central Manchester in fact, that makes you feel quite as welcome and guides you through the extensive drinks menu with as much expertise. Another plus point is that none of the clientele were rowdy, invasive or basically the sort you'd avoid in town. Elixir doesn't attract the type of person that isn't on for a nice relaxing night, so that's a huge bonus.
The Food & Drink
Some tasty-sounding grub is served at Elixir until 6pm, with delicious platters already garnering a cult status. We didn't have to worry about the lack of food available at our evening visit though, thanks to the bar's amazing little cocktail accompaniments. How about an Earl's Breakfast – a smoky, savoury-tasting concoction that comes with a delicious little cheese and chutney cracker on the side to complement it? Or maybe you're more up for drinking the evening's dessert thanks to the Life is Sweet? A raspberry liqueur and white chocolate treat made with ice cream that comes in a cocktail shaker with a milkshake straw and a cupcake garnish.
No cocktail on the Treats side of the menu is left flying solo; however if you swing towards the Tonics end you'll still get some brilliant presentation. My Hermit, a sour whisky dream come true arrived in a hipflask with a gigantic ball of ice in an old fashioned glass, a rosemary sprig to stir that bad boy up, and a stress ball on the side. Hey, people who love whisky often have stressful lives – I'm a prime example. I appreciated it. Or for the mad scientists out there, Mr Bertoux's Sip offers a variation on the Side Car and gives you an already delicious cocktail with three pipettes on the side, offering different flavours and allowing you to experiment and make your cocktail entirely bespoke.
When was the last time YOU had that much fun with a drink? Keep going through this incredible and brilliantly thought out menu and you'll find cocktails with edible lace, dry ice on the side, caviar pearls... the combinations are endlessly entertaining. And as for their #tenoclocktreats, we certainly didn't go home hungry, as they turned out to be exceptional little portions of tiramisu. They are different every day and they don't reveal them until the clock strikes ten, so be sure to stick around for the latest surprise.
Even the beer taps at Elixir are rather special.
Heston Blumenthal WISHES his restaurants were as brilliantly, beautifully bonkers as this fantastic little gem. It's a unique find in an area that's starting to see a little more excitement, and if you're a cocktail-lover, it's your new Manchester paradise. Hey, even if you're not, Elixir is bound to convert you. Don't be scared if you're uninitiated when it comes to complex drinks – the superb staff will guide you every step of the way and chat through your favourite flavours with you, offering advice and recommendations. It's a decadent treat of a night out and one for the more discerning partygoer. Price-wise it can be as reasonable or as blow-out as you want it to be, with something for everyone, and once you've tried it, you'll be raving to your friends - and probably, like me, straight back.