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Guilty By Association Reviewed

David Blake is done with the games, he wants a straight up bar

Written by . Published on June 18th 2014.

Guilty By Association Reviewed

LAST WEEK I was hoodwinked.

Twitter murmurs unveiled a new ‘secret door’ in the Northern Quarter. It was a bar, and you had to find it. An unclear photo on their twitter @nqsecretdoor gave little away. I’d have to crawl the streets. Dig it out. How exciting.

#keepthesecret #hideandseek… It was all so achingly trendy. Generation Y 'digitally native' stuff.

Guilty By Association is the boxer with lined gloves, the doped horse, it should be a dead cert.

Having tracked it down I’ve no qualms about ruining the secret, because it’s an utterly crap one. The door leads through into the back of Dry Bar - one of NQ’s oldest and least charming bars - that’s it.

“So that’s it?” I ask the lone heavy manning the door by a Biffa bin at the back of Dry on smelly Spear Street.

“That’s it,” replies the heavy with a cheeky 'we’ve-had-you-son' grin.

“How shit,” says my companion. And there you have the world’s shortest ever review. Two words. Two syllables. Nail on the head.

Guilty By Association: not shitGuilty By Association: not crap

The modern punt at the secret, hush-hush, speakeasy bar is growing tiresome, opening new bars where the main draw is how hard they are to find in the first place. Down chimneys, up trees, in Scunthorpe. Why should going out require a Sherpa?

Somewhere in London there's a real bar where you need a password to access a phone booth inside a fried chicken shop that'll take you down into the action, there you'll find Batman and Ernst Stavro Blofeld having a shandy.

It’s enough to drive you to Timmy Taylors in the Crown & Anchor for the rest of your days.

So when Guilty By Association opened in Northern Quarter last weekend with no pretence, no parade, no secret location we wept with relief. It even had a sign outside. A small one, but a sign nonetheless.


Ok so the name of the bar is too long, but the new offering from restaurateur Steve Pilling of Damson and Mark Whyte of Liquorice bar is a straight-up subterranean bar opened sotto voce on Stevenson Square.

This is a square so reinvigorated by food and drink openings in the last couple of years that the bubbling heart of the city's creative and cultural centre is slowly creeping east, pulled by yet more openings Tariff Street way.

They’ve gone for the easy wins at Guilty. Metal, wood, leather, concrete, brick, pillars and scuffed industrial impedimenta. In an alcove, an AC/DC pinball machine flashes and rattles for attention by a ragtag foosball table. Car seats huddled around a huge polished wooden cable reel are novel and deceptively comfy.

The thing that strikes you though is how generous the space is. We count room for at least 100 bottoms, and standing space for another 100. This is good news for Stevenson Square. With room to breathe, a late licence and DJs in the offing, Guilty will be a welcome alternative to Hula across the way. The late-night Northern Quarter favourite has started to fall out of favour: busy, stuffy and overly fussy on entry – bring two male pals and you’re shafted sunshine.

Car seats, pinball, foosballCar seats, pinball, foosball

The bar staff at Guilty look as though they’ve been lifted from a Levis advert. All denim shirts, smiles and spunk. There’s the hip hirsute one, the sexy blonde girl, the cool black guy, the pony-tailed American surfer and the drinks nerd, all keen as a kipper to take your order. But then they would be - I’m one of only three customers in here.

Still, it’s an hour before England vs Italy kicks-off in the World Cup and the paint has barely dried on the walls. This place will pick-up, and pick-up quickly. There's at least seven bars within freekick distance, another once the guys from NQ success story, Kosmonaut, open their new bar-cum-diner PLY upstairs - sometime in July to August.

Guilty has a fantastic selection of beer. There's four on draught (when the pumps start working): Guilty's own Lager, Amstel, Warsteiner and an interesting looking Thwaites 13 Guns IPA (from £3.80 a pint). The fridges are choc full of hops, with punk Scottish brewsters Brew Dog and Sweden's new kid, Brutal Brewing, leading out front. A recommended Chicago-brewed Goose Island IPA takes podium, a San Francisco Anchor Steam Beer pulls up a close second.

Still, paying over £4 for a bottle never feels quite right.

What's good for the gander...What's good for the gander...

Cookie Monster & Rum SazeracCookie Monster & Rum Sazerac

On to the meat of the drinks menu we have 'The Associates', a list of thirteen bouncy new cocktails, alongside five 'Hardhitters', the tried and tested old-timers (all from £6.50).

A Cookie Monster Mess (£6.50) from 'The Associates' is a touch disappointing. Not in body, the combination of oreo infused bourbon, chocolate liqueur, syrup and espresso is sweet, cool and katana sharp. It's just so decidedly unmessy, and at core an Espresso Martini with a biscuit. Spade a spade.

A Rum Sazerac (£7.50) from the 'Hardhitters' though was a belter. This mix of Diplimatico rum, ginger liqueur, vanilla and bitters topped with an Absinthe spray will put hairs on your knuckles and kiss you to bed. A chair toppler.

Guilty By Association is the boxer with lined gloves, the doped horse, it should be a dead cert. A well-designed and generous space located in a flourishing and foot-heavy Northern Quarter square, backed by a proven team and manned by eager beavers serving fine drinks in a thirsty, thirsty city. A guilty pleasure.

All scored Confidential reviews are impartial and paid for by the magazine. 


Guilty booths


Guilty By Association, Stevenson Square, Northern Quarter, M1 1FB

Open seven nights a week from 4pm till late. @GuiltyBA1

Rating: 16/20 Straight-up, handsome and unforced NQ bar with room to breathe and solid backing.

(please read the scoring system in the box below, venues are rated against the best examples of their kind) 

Drinks: 4/5 Healthy choice, not overly complicated
Service: 4/5 Keen as a kipper
Ambience: 4/5 It'll pick up
Concept: 4/5 Spacious and unfussy

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.

Guilty at the barGuilty at the bar




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30 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousJune 18th 2014.

It looks like every other place in the Northern Quarter - a drinking den version of All Saints. How...creative.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Calum McGJune 18th 2014.

There are no sewing machines here and the cocktails are awesome. All Saints doesn't serve cocktails and you cannot buy clothes in this bar. I wouldn't advise you visiting it as you might have fun.

DanJune 19th 2014.

@Anon, a drinking den version of All Saints.. that really made me laugh.

AnonymousJune 18th 2014.

Typical Northern Quarter bar. My bartender had a coal-miner beard with a curled-up moustache and an Alchemist tattoo. Silly hipsters...

4 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousJune 19th 2014.

I'd say that the barman you had was more rugged than a hipster. Good cocktails though. Tell us about what you drank there?

mancadamJune 19th 2014.

"rugged" is about as hipster as you can get these days. i like the sound of this bar, it may not be "unique" but that's half the attraction to me. everything is so achingly contrived, try hard and "edgy" these days (the almost famous team being the worst offenders), so i agree with David - something straightforward and comfortable is a welcome addition.

AnonymousJune 19th 2014.

What do you mean by "Alchemist tattoo?"?

rinkydinkJune 19th 2014.

Coal-miner beard, curled up moustache and an Alchemist tatoo! Funniest comment I've seen on here for ages... haha

LukewarmdogJune 19th 2014.

It does remind me of several other places but as I like those other places that isn't a bad thing, look forward to popping in when I'm back in manchester.

AnonymousJune 19th 2014.

FFS you negative winge bags! If you have an issue with "typical" NQ bars, just don't go in them! In fact they'll be better places without you - it's not actually "like every other" NQ bar because it's not gimmicky; looks to me like just a good new addition to the bars in the NQ, and another plus point for Stevenson Square. Stop bloody moaning eh?

1 Response: Reply To This...
rinkydinkJune 19th 2014.

Calm down, dear

David BlakeJune 19th 2014.

Some bedtime reading: www.manchesterconfidential.co.uk/…/Surge-Of-New-Northern-Quarter-Bars-So-Whats-The-Problem-Manchester…

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousJune 19th 2014.

That's not a Sazerac.

David BlakeJune 19th 2014.

It's a Rum Sazerac Anon. Not cognac or whisky, rum.

Richard HJJune 19th 2014.

The sign outside this fine establishment is lifted in its entirety from the sleeve of a compilation called err... Guilty by Association. en.wikipedia.org/…/Guilt_by_Association_Vol._1…. Might as well just call it Led Zeppelin IV and go the whole hog.

DigsterJune 19th 2014.

I used to really enjoy reading the comments on here but I dread a review now. Within seconds of being published it will be full of negative comments about everything from the outside of the building, the look of the staff, the pictures of drinks, the prices etc. etc. etc. the list is endless. If you are that shallow minded that you are not going to try a place out and form your own opinion because the bartender has a beard is just ridiculous! These reviews and editorials are to give you an idea of whether you want to try it yourself. If you do go and it's terrible then by all means post your comments on here but surely not before.

4 Responses: Reply To This...
Jonathan SchofieldJune 19th 2014.

Digster you are a speaker of great truth and wisdom. I've just enjoyed a moment or two there deleting the insane ones.

DigsterJune 19th 2014.

My husband might disagree with you on that one but thank you for the comment.

AnonymousJune 20th 2014.

If a new place is reviewed by ManCon, it's the photos and the copy that they upload that allows me to make an informed decision as to whether I'd consider goin to that restaurant or not ie. if I don't like the photos or the review I the place I won't go. I NEVER think 'well it doesn't look good, but I'll go anyway.'

rinkydinkJune 20th 2014.

You don't have to visit Timber Wharf to comment on how useless Urban Splash are. You also don't need to visit every new NQ bar to comment on it or the Northern Quarter. I've enjoyed the NQ for the last 14 years or so but I know exactly what a new bar there will be like without going

Aidan SeniorJune 19th 2014.

turned up opening night ,all good even the bouncer was keen to be nice + great pinball

AnonymousJune 20th 2014.

Read this review and went last night, really enjoyed it. Good beer, happy door staff, keen bartenders and even a seat. Actually there's loads of seats, which is good news for old legs.

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