Bar review: Lock 91 @ Deansgate, Manchester

By David Aspinall

‘Sit long, talk lots, laugh often’ is a fitting slogan for this Deansgate bar where a heady mix of the comfy chairs and insatiable cocktails may mean you have to sit long, or even eventually lengthways if you’re not careful.

Handily tucked underneath the Deansgate-Castlefield Metrolink station, Lock 91, as the name suggests, is housed in a Grade II listed former lockkeeper’s cottage.

Co-owned by Andi Fenlon, 32, and Gary Harvey, 38, the décor is very much in keeping with the 18th century surroundings with Chesterfield sofas and wooden menus complement the bare brickwork and painted beams.

The decorations may hark back to bygone eras but the drinks on offer bring the bar bang up to date.

Andi describes the canal-side watering hole as ‘not a cocktail bar; just a bar that does great cocktails’.

To ensure this, the cocktails are updated every six months reflecting seasonal changes and ingredients are deliberated over lovingly with customer review panels.

Although not officially done so, the combinations on offer could be widely grouped into three categories; classics with a contemporary twist, unique concoctions and adult versions of childhood classics.

This doting approach to cocktails has been focused into one of the first MM tried; the Smokey Scarlett.

Specially created for four Manchester women, it is based on the principles of the classic Old Fashioned, but dragged into the 21st Century.

Combining Johnnie Walker Red Label Scotch whisky, Southern Comfort Cherry, Canadian maple syrup and lemon and cranberry juices, the cocktail takes on different personalities.

As the crushed ice melts and the drink starts to warm up, different flavours become more prominent, starting with the initial woodiness of the maple syrup finishing with the smooth warmth of the whisky.

Customer interaction is a huge part of the homely atmosphere created in the bar, which only opened 13 months ago.

This has created a loyal band of regulars who not only keep returning, but also recommend it to friends for weddings and birthday events.

For the perfect example of customer interaction, you need look no further than the second page of cocktails, and the Kip-tini.

It is named after the woman who ordered it (Kip obviously), after she asked for something ‘dry yet fruity’ who also admitted to being a big gin fan.

A twist on the classic gin martini was swiftly concocted, adding Chambord to the staple gin and vermouth.

The result is a palate-tingling combination of jam and the signature dry after-taste associated with James Bond’s favourite tipple (albeit he wouldn’t approve of the stirring method involved!).

Contemporary twists sit alongside unique concoctions like the red-wine based Chill Out Pedro.

It uses an organic Rioja, specially selected for its ability to complement other ingredients, which is paired with Bacardi Gold, Chambord, lime juice, gomme and cinnamon syrup.

The mixture of tannins and spices creates a mulled wine type aroma and taste, just chilled instead of warm.

Explaining the thought process behind the Chill Out Pedro, Andi said: “We wanted to try something different as it’s very rare to see a cocktail using red wine, unless you’re talking about Sangria.”

All three floors of Lock 91 have a separate sound system allowing there to be different events to be hosted simultaneously.

This approach, echoed by the eclectic selection of music played from Stevie Wonder to Vampire Weekend, ensures the bar has an event booked almost every weekend.

Andi believes this is the only way an independent bar like theirs can survive when faced with larger brands that have the advantage of economies of scale and big marketing budgets.

The bar has attracted some famous visitors in its short history from The Stone Roses to X-Factor back-up dancers.

One of the most highly-decorated cocktails, The Del Boy, is an upgrade on the Pina Colada and showcases one of the bars other main focuses.

Andi said: “Just like food, the experience starts before you’ve even tasted the cocktail, when you first see it.

“That’s why we aim to make something that looks appealing so you can’t wait to drink it.”

Garnished with a pineapple wedge, palm leaf and mini-umbrella, the rum-based drink may be worthy of its kitsch comedy namesake, but the result is nothing short of ‘lovely jubbly’.

If you wanted to be critical you could focus on the bar not serving food, apart from some pork scratchings and salami bites, but as Andi pointed out there isn’t the space in the cottage to have a kitchen.

Well aware of this complaint the bar have sought an unusual resolution: customers are allowed to order food to be delivered or bring in their own fare for consumption.

This is shown by the Despicable Me Minion toys from a McDonalds Happy Meal that take pride of place above the bar, alongside other trinkets left by happy patrons.

Backing up the home-from-home atmosphere is the amount of photos waiting to go on the bar walls taken during its first birthday at the end of August.

Childhood classics make up the rest of the cocktail menu, with the gin-based Lemon Sherbet that tastes like a grown-up version of the hard-boiled sweet.

And even Andi’s favourite ice cream makes an appearance on the menu.

The Screwball is based on the chewing gum-bottomed treat, but it is so much more complex than that.

Served with raspberries and blackberries, the drink unveils its deeper Stolichnaya vodka base once you have eaten one of the berries.

It certainly won’t be winning any fans with the oenophiles (that’s wine-lovers to you and me) with only three types of red or white wine and only two selections of rose, but at least it covers the main palates.

Lager fans will be more intrigued, with four draught on offer including the curious Stella Black, alongside a couple of cask ales and ciders – but don’t expect anything too remarkable.

However with the attention that’s gone into the cocktail menu, we found ourselves having no choice but to ‘sit long, talk lots, laugh often’. And that is nothing to complain about.

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