Located on the crossroads of Deansgate, Peter Street, and Quay Street, just around the corner from the Opera House, in Milton Hall, an elegant building named after the free-thinking Cromwellian poet, John Milton, famous for his 1667 poem "Paradise Lost" and whom lived and married in Manchester for part of his life.
"A mind not to be changed by place or time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven
of hell, a hell of heaven."
Many people we spoke to ahead of our first visit to The
Milton Club, whom had also not yet been there, shared similar pre-conceptions
of an RnB heavy, Circle Clubesque private members
club, boasting much of the pretence that such venues often
have. With this in mind, it's
fair to say that we probably didn't visit with the most open
of minds, however that soon changed once we were past the
professional but slightly surly bouncers, through the doors
and into the plush bar, located inside the impressive historic
Milton Hall, a former home to the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra.
"For so I created them free and free they must remain."
Despite being a private members club, membership is free,
on application, for over 25's; an early indication that
comparisons with the notorious former Barton Arcade members-only
Circle venue are so few and far between.
"What is dark within me, illumine"
Designed by Bernard Carroll (who was also responsible for Panacea, Fumo and London's Ping Pong), the impressive 35 metre long bar splits the 250 capacity room. Beautiful orange lampshades, hanging from the ceiling in a neat row, add a centre point to the dark room, creating an atmosphere that is anything but pretentious and screams more New York than Manchester. One side of the bar area is for standing and dancing, whilst the opposite roped-off side, is all seating and reserved for VIPs and pre-bookings. Plush private booths, hidden behind curtains, are also available to hire around the room, which makes it an intimate venue for special occassions.
"Shall be the copious matter of my song, henceforth, and never shall my harp thy praise"
At the end of of the bar sits a tiny stage - on which Gabrielle performed her classic hits "Dreams", "Rise", "Out Of Reach", "Sunshine" and "When A Woman", during our visit - and a DJ, who mixed the finest soul, funk and 90's RnB that we've heard in Manchester for a long time. Other performances announced at the time of writing include Soul II Soul's Caron Wheeler and model-turned-DJ Jakki Degg. The clientelle - a smartly dressed, good looking crowd - seemed to cover most age groups (over 25 at least) and varied from those dancing, to others just catching up for a chat over drinks - the music is played at a level which encourages both.
“And, when night darkens the streets, then wander forth the sons of Belial, flown with insolence and wine.”
The signature cocktails, £11.95 - £12.95, are worthy of note - one of which (the Cherries Baked Well) was that good, it slowed down our ususal review procedure of working our way through the menu, as repeat orders were placed on more than one occasion. An alcoholic liquid Bakewell Tart, made with Amaretto, Cherry Stag Bourbon and fresh cherries, it's one of the tastiest cocktails we've had in Europe this year (and we've had a fair few whilst setting up BestBarsEurope.com). Other stand-out drinks included the Something Something, a perfectly balanced mix of Botanist Gin, Chambord, lychee, blackberry and basil, and the two John Milton-inspired creations, Paradise Lost (Amaretto, Midori, cranberry juice, and Perrier Jouet Champagne) and the even better, Paradise Found (Absolut Vanilla vodka, cherry puree, caramel syrup and Perrier Jouet Champagne). All the cocktails were garnished with some of the freshest fruit we've encountered in bars in Manchester and our barman, Paul, was also more than comfortable going off menu and typied all the staff in being extremely friendly and welcoming.. He would no doubt make a great host for the cocktail masterclasses, which the venue offer. Talking about the friendly staff; we were later to see on the news that Gary Barlow had gatecrashed the wedding of the affable general manager, Alex, the following day.
"Oh goodness infinite, goodness immense"
In Paradise Lost, the 10,000 lined epic poem by the building's namesake, John Milton, he says "And, when night darkens the streets, then wander forth the sons of Belial, flown with insolence and wine." If they are ever in Manchester on a Friday or Saturday night, they can't do much better than flee to The Milton Club; especially if soul and funk is their bag.
~ ManchesterBars.com (May 2015)