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Dusk Til Pawn Reviewed

Niamh Spence tests out Dusk Till Pawn’s cocktail menu and goes in search of air guitar

Written by . Published on December 23rd 2013.

Dusk Til Pawn Reviewed

WHEN a bar promises me free air guitar with every drink before I’ve even stepped inside I’m expecting big things. Not quite Mick Jagger strutting along the bar but big things all the same. 

“Well how hot do you want it? Cos I can make it really fucking hot!”

The little brother of NoHo, Dusk Til Pawn opened earlier this year. An old school ‘speakeasy’ the bar still boasts its namesake Pawn Shop exterior. This reportedly still fools many who burst in and are greeted by a bemused barman rather than someone about to offer them cash for their reasonably good nick jewellery.

Speakeasy bars are becoming dime a dozen and almost any bar with a juke box and a whisky cocktail on the menu can earn the title but Dusk Til Pawn truly does the  Prohibition era name proud with its clever and fooling shop front.

Air Guitar with every drink - a false promise?Air Guitar with every drink - a false promise?

Once inside Dusk Til Pawn is small, dark and fairly straightforward; one room, bar to the right and toilets at the end. No fuss and no frills except for a cheeky ‘Every exit is an entrance somewhere else’ print on the wall and a jukebox in a corner.

The place is clearly all about the drinking.

Dtp1The long barIt’s a Saturday night and the place is full with no space for sitting except at the far end of the bar. It takes about ten minutes to be served by a barman who looks bored and uninterested. 

First up are Brass Balls (£6.50), the bar’s take on a whisky old-fashioned with marmalade and ginger, and Rolex In The Deep (£6.50), a creamy caramel cocktail that resembles something you’d find in Starbucks. The first is not for those who aren’t serious about their whisky, it’s strong and rather than mask the spirit the ginger makes it a sharper hit. A solid choice for £6.50. The latter was a fail however, too sickly and too sweet and unfortunately I couldn’t finish it. I think creamy milk drinks topped with cocoa powder are probably best left to coffee shops than on a cocktail menu.

Have You Got Brass Balls?Have You Got Brass Balls?

Before I can order a second round of drinks I’m barged out of the way by an eager customer proclaiming “Let me lay some man love on me mate!” as he reaches across the bar to hug one of the barmen. Sensing he’s just knocked someone half a foot smaller than him flying, he apologises and immediately pulls a stool over for me to perch on. His bromance partner barman also apologises. Service needs attention at Dusk Til Pawn.

Get It While It’s Hot (£6.50) looks like an exciting choice, I’ve never come across a jalapeno cocktail before. In fact I really only encounter jalapenos when I’m eating nachos so combining the spicy little things with alcohol seems like a novel idea. “Well how hot do you want it? Cos I can make it really fucking hot!” says the barman. On a scale of one to ten I go for a safe bet of a six, I’d rather not match his cockiness and order a ten and then spend the next ten minutes trying to flag him down for a pint of water.

My friend opts for Fools Gold (£6.50), a safer looking option of ginger rum with lime and lemongrass. The fact that he drinks it in five minutes flat means it’s a safe bet to say it’s good. So good in fact that I don’t get a look in. Not even a sip.

Fool's Gold And Get It While It's HotFool's Gold And Get It While It's Hot

After two cocktails it’s time for a bathroom break. Toilets are usually a good measure of bars, not necessarily for cleanliness but you can usually tell what kind of establishment you’re in by the standard of the toilets. Echoing, peeling paint and cracked tiles and you’re in an old pub.

Surly toilet attendant offering you a Chupa Chups lollipop and demanding thirty pence for offering you a hand towel and you’re in the Printworks, probably Tiger Tiger. Dusk Til Pawn for the record offers one sink and two cubicles, one for the boys and one for the girls. But in true Northern Quarter style these couldn’t just be any toilets, oh no, these are toilets encased in a speaker. Complete with exposed wire for a pull chain. Quirky.

In the NQ even a standard toilet isn't safeIn the NQ even a standard toilet isn't safe

Third and final round, and we’re upping our cocktail game. These cocktails come with nifty little extras in the form of champagne sorbet with the Pawn Star Martini (£6.50) and homemade custard with the Lay-Away (£6.50).

The pornstar martini is a cocktail menu favourite and everywhere has tried their own take on it and having tried a fair few I’d say this is my favourite. Fruity, strong and with a novel extra, it’s definitely one to try.

Lay-Away is sweet and sugary and reminiscent of traditional sweet shops with glass jars and an old creaking till operated by an old creaking shop owner. I love it but my friend finds it too sickly and can’t bring himself to try the custard on its own. Custard without cake seems odd, but it's an innovative touch.

Lay-Away And Pawn Star MartiniLay-Away And Pawn Star Martini

All in all, Dusk Til Pawn is fine enough even if it’s just for the speakeasy hiding behind a shop front novel idea. It’s a fun concept but after the fun wears off there's nothing left but another typical Northern Quarter bar.

I’d read before that Dusk Til Pawn offers ‘service with a smile’ but I’m guessing smiley barman was off on my Saturday excursion as all I got was apologetic barman and arrogant barman. And sadly no air guitar to be found.

You can follow Niamh Spence on Twitter.

Dusk Til Pawn can be found at Stevenson Square, Northern Quarter, Manchester, M1 1FB. 0161 236 5355


Rating: 12/20 (remember venues are rated against the best examples of their type - see yellow box below)

Concept: 3/5.
Drink: 4/5
Service: 2/5
Ambience: 3/5. Hip

PLEASE NOTE: Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing, 14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20, we get carried away

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AnonymousDecember 23rd 2013.

Ripped that sign off from the Ace Hotel in NYC??

Richard AthertonDecember 24th 2013.

Love this bar and frequent often believing that their cocktails are the most exciting and best value in town. None of that half a glass of ice to disguise the lack of alcohol. Like the review but would add that I like the barman's style as their not intrusive and suit the sophistication of the establishment and drink quality. Yet are quite chatty when egaged. If you want in your face and super smiley head to TGI's!

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousJanuary 2nd 2014.

Ice is a significant ingredient in cocktails, as the huge ball of ice in the Whisky cocktail above shows. Sorry that you don't know it all, afterall.

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