Ah, Christmas in Manchester. Over the years we've seen the likes of the North Pole Bar, The Ski Club, The Moose Bar, Almost Famous' 'Miracle on High Street', all offering a fine line in mulled wine, hot fruity toddies and Christmassy stodge to stick to one's ribs. Spinningfields' summer (summer? Do we even remember what that is?) pop-up drinking den In Bloom has gone the clever way of last year's Yacht Club (which became The Ski Club for the winter) and acclimatised to the cold with a total transformation to become, Hibernate. Gone is the alfresco focus and while it retains the appearance of being entangled within its own site-grown greenery, this summery bar has made way for a cosy ski-lodge esque shelter in prime position adjacent to the yearly ice rink. Surely even Scrooge couldn't resist?
Spinningfields can feel like a sprawling maze of high-rise glass and concrete but if there's a central focal point, it's where movies under the stars are screened during summer and where Mancunians practice their pirouettes on the winter ice rink. As the season changes one becomes the other, In Bloom becomes Hibernate. Walking into their transformed cosy ski lodge, you'd be forgiven for thinking you've just zipped off the slopes in Tignes or Verbier with log stools, fur throws and the smoky sensation one only gets from two real burning fires. Dimly lit and comfortingly warm, it's a real tonic for those cold post-work evenings. And we haven't even got to the cocktails yet.
Clientele and Atmosphere
Hibernate is surrounded by a whole host of major offices but much like the Christmas Markets, the ice rink is an annual spectacle worth travelling for, therefore Spinningfields boasts a bit of a demographic variation at the most wonderful time of the year. We visited on a busy evening, and saw a range of ages eating, drinking and being merry – couples in their fifties sharing soup, parties of twentysomethings toasting with prosecco... Christmas brings out the best in customers and Hibernate promote festive winter joy with their décor, their warmth (literal and metaphorical) and their menu. We felt wonderfully looked after both by our server and by Tom, who spoke to us at length about the food, the drink, and the process of putting those things together.
Food & Drink
Like its summer incarnation In Bloom, winter's Hibernate has kept the food menu small, without it skimping on functionality or flavour. Bowl food is the order of the day with a choice of a hearty chilli, nachos topped with that same signature chilli, soup of the day or chicken stew. We opted for chicken stew and nachos but with a sneaky peek around at what others were eating, the leek and potato soup also looked very tempting. Our portions were the perfect size for the start of a night out or a pit-stop plate – not too heavy but certainly enough to keep you going and line your stomach for those heady hot cocktails. The chicken stew is the closest thing I can imagine to a proper, grandparent-passed-down chicken soup. Thick, flavourful and packed with goodness, I cannot envisage any winter sniffle this wouldn't knock down in seconds. The menu describes it as 'soul food', and I couldn't agree more. My only complaint? Add a fifth choice of fondue! Go on, you know it's not a ski lodge without bread dipped in a giant vat of melted cheese...
If the food menu is short and sweet, the cocktail list is something you could take with you as extracurricular reading. We didn't know there could be so many delicious festive warmers! A choice of five hot drinks means you shan't be shivering for long (and there are a whole host of creative cold signatures too); we began our evening of Hibernation with the classics, a mulled wine and a hot cider. Orangey, spicy and with a real kick, the mulled wine is a great one for lovers of rich flavours but certainly more divisive than the crowd-pleasing hot cider, which was hot, sweet and soothing... rather like a Christmas apple strudel with a generous dollop of custard. Post-munchies we treated ourselves to dessert, or rather Grown Up Hot Chocolate, something we're convinced many of the parents in our lives would want to feed their unruly children. A delicious cup of cocoa on its own merit with the requisite frothy cream and melting marshmallows, the addition of chocolate liqueur and vodka blasts it into deliciously boozy hyperspace. Unreal. But nothing could compare in intensity to the Tom-recommended Fig Old Fashioned. There's nothing I love more in a cocktail than whisky (okay, perhaps a sparkler or a rhubarb stirrer, but let's not nitpick), and an Old Fashioned is a firm favourite of mine. The addition of Crème de Fig liqueur to 50.5% Wild Turkey 101 bourbon and bitters, is a sweet, smoky stroke of genius and one that Tom should be lauded for. I didn't think I could feel more festive with a wee dram in hand, but this Figgy Pudding proved me wrong. A revelation.
Reasonably priced and welcomingly cosy enough to have you setting up camp for more than a couple of hours, Hibernate makes for a great pre-Christmas Markets or night out stop, or an evening all its own. When we visited there was live music due on at 7pm, but if that's not your bag, there's plenty of people-watching entertainment next door on the ice. If you're struggling for Christmas cheer this year, it'll certainly set you right and makes for a welcome adaptation in Spinningfields' pop-up village of bars and eateries.