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The Sip Club: Stretford's 'Secret Bar'

L'Oréal Blackett finds a hidden bar above an estate agent and right on her doorstep

Written by . Published on November 27th 2014.

The Sip Club: Stretford's 'Secret Bar'

THE PROBLEM with keeping your ear to the ground to learn of all the new happenings in the city centre, is that you’re likely to miss something quite brilliant manifesting itself closer to home in the suburbs.

"I wanted the Sip Club to feel like visiting your Great Aunt. She may be a little peculiar, sipping on her sherry in her armchair, but there's still a sense of ceremony and comfort."

This was the case with The Stretford Sip Club, a blossoming ‘living room with a license’ selling real ale and real coffee that, unbeknown to myself, had been fashioning itself as a ‘need to know’ bar venue for the last eight months - all within 100 yards of my doorstep.

Aumbry Head Chef and TV face Mary Ellen McTague is said to be a fan and it recently scooped CAMRA's (Campaign For Real Ale) Best Newcomer and Pub of the Season awards.

I first came across The Sip Club by looking up from my phone and spotted a few figures in an upstairs room having a merry old time.

Like most 'best kept secrets' in Manchester, The Sip Club is difficult to find. It's become the surbuban This'n'That café of yesteryear - heard of, but rarely seen.

Sit clubSit club

The three room bar and function space is surreptitiously located above a Trading Places estate agents, on the unassuming neighbourhood street, Barton Road. Nearby there's a Chinese chippy, a couple of newsagents, women heaving prams onto to buses and a few pitbull-wielding sorts that make you cross the road just in case. There's no neon signs, any signs really, and say I'm making excuses but you really would never know it was there.

"There were rumours that we were a swingers club," laughed Sip Club owner, Heather Garlick. "It must have been really awkward to find twee gingham table cloths and people having a nice sophisticated evening."

I meet Garlick on a late afternoon where she was taking advantage of the lull before The Sip Club's busy Wednesday evening to come.

The warm window glow of The Sip ClubThe warm window glow of The Sip Club

Dsc_1201Heather Garlick on the pull

Garlick is a young woman running this business solo, she comes across at times both assured and unassured. She plays with her hair as we chat and laughs when I suggest she may be the area's 'saving grace'.

"It was a New Year's resolution," she says chewing her hair.

"I had been travelling for a few years and was trying to make it as a travel writer. My father had wanted to set up a wine bar in his home town, so I made two resolutions: open up a bar in Stretford and buy my first pair of designer shoes - I've still not bought the shoes."

Dsc_1220Entrance to The Sip Club

Garlick set the wheels in motion for The Sip Club late last year and unlike most New Year's resolutions managed to maintain her resolve long after January. 

The Sip Club offers homespun supper clubs, gin tastings, live music and a home-from-home for people to have a natter. 

"The plan was always to plough everything back into the community. It had to be circular - we also had to include cask ale, that was integral," said Garlick. "It didn't have to be perfect, but everything had to be sourced from Greater Manchester - maybe Cheshire too."

It's all local at The Sip Club, from the cider to the crisps. She stocks bottles from the Moss Cider press, an organisation which takes donated apples to make cider in the former Stagecoach bus depot site on Bowes Street. There's also the farmer from Dunham Massey, phased out by a big supermarket, who makes his own cider and delivers to Garlick weekly. 

Dsc_1202Cask ale on offer at The Sip Club

What of the food? 

"We offer a Manchester platter in case people get hungry and need to soak up the alcohol," explained Garlick. "Houmous, chutney, cheese and pork pies."

She added: "Of course, I would love to expand to include a kitchen but I'd also have to go about finding a chef - I wouldn't know where to start. At present I offer homespun supper clubs: we've recently led a Palestinian one, a local Japenese lady is offering to host the next, then vegan, West Indian..."

Back barBack bar

The Sip Club is an idea you can get behind. Locally minded, relaxed and low on price and pretension - unlike some independents close by in Chorlton. 

Stretford has been feeling buzzy as a result. Before The Sip Club emerged, it was only local pubs and the crumbling Stretford Mall responsible for the community's social life. As we recently reported, in recent years the area has faded to grayscale. 

I wondered whether it had always been the plan to keep a lid on The Sip Club.

"No I just didn't have a marketing budget," Garlick laughs. "The plan was to sell real ale in Stretford - it had to be here. I wouldn't have done it in Chorlton."

While it may not have been the intention, the no-marketing marketing plan seems to be working in the Sip Club's favour. Through word-of-mouth and social media alone, locals have begun to learn about The Sip Club. And people seem to enjoy the mystery. 

Garlick says proudly: "People say it's just like their own living room. It's great to see by the end of the evening people not sitting at the same tables they started on. Stretford is a really interesting community, a community that talks to each other.

"I wanted The Sip Club to feel like visiting your Great Aunt. She may be a little peculiar, sipping on her sherry in her armchair, but there's still a sense of ceremony and comfort."

Dsc_1218Like your Great Aunt's house?

Before meeting Heather, I stopped by The Sip Club on a Sunday afternoon to get a feel for the place. I grabbed a coffee (beans by Manchester's Coffee Circle) and people watched. There was a 'Made In M32' craft fair going on behind me, and Heather Garlick was working the room. It was full. I wondered how she was coping with it all.

"I'm taking a bouncer's course," she laughed nervously. "The Robin Hood pub has been closed for a week and I have had the odd character wonder in. It has kept me up at night, but I can't let fear stop me."

Enthused by The Sip Club, I asked Heather Garlick about future plans, hinting that a Sunday lunch offering would pull in some more punters. Not that she's currently looking for more, she's swamped. 

"People ask whether I'd be sad if more bars opened like this in Stretford. Not at all. I'd happily welcome more. I could probably go travelling again."

The Sip Club 64A Barton Road (above Trading Places), Stretford, Manchester M32 8DP.

See Facebook and Twitter for more details on events.

Follow @ LOreal_B on Twitter

POTS_-_Stretford_Sip_ClubHeather Garlick and The CAMRA award













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

Alanna FairallNovember 25th 2014.

It's ace and swung it for us on the decision to move to Stretford or not. Well done Heather!

4 Responses: Reply To This...
rinkydinkNovember 26th 2014.

You moved house to Stretford for this?

AnonymousNovember 26th 2014.

I sense a negative vibe there Rinkydink. Let's face it you would if you were unsure of moving to Manchester or not, Fumo would have swung it for you.

Alanna FairallNovember 26th 2014.

Rick and Susan sum it up perfectly

rinkydinkNovember 26th 2014.

Thanks Alanna. I understand that it's a nice place - I just personally wouldn't have based a decision to move somewhere on the existence of a bar. Each to their own I guess...

Yvonne BarryNovember 25th 2014.

Great spot. Heather is doing fantastic work.

Susan FergusonNovember 25th 2014.

I have lived in Stretford all my life, all 50 years of it in one post code M32. I used to think I would love to move to the country, a nice cosy village with its own little pub. Not any more. Stretford has a new buzz about it and a great sense of community. We love The Sip Club and we all love Heather. See you tomorrow as usual for a half of whatever you recommend x

AnonymousNovember 25th 2014.

Stretford is a shithole. Just because it's round the corner from Chorlton doesn't make it hip.

7 Responses: Reply To This...
Rick MilneNovember 25th 2014.

To the last post - Stretford is far from being a shithole. Perhaps you've never actually seen what a real shithole is like? Stretford offers young professionals an affordable option for housing with great links to Town, Trafford Centre, M60. it's still cheaper than its neighbours Sale, Urmston and Chorlton and attracts lots of educated first time buyers who can't afford to live in other South Manchester suburbs. Ok it doesn't have the Chorlton bar/restaurant scene but it has to start somewhere and this new bar sounds like a great idea. I'm now a family man of 35 and live in Urmston but I spent many happy, safe years in Stretford in my late twenties desperate for somewhere like this - good luck to heather and I'll be sure to drop in next time I'm passing and I'm sure many who live nearby will do the same. Good luck

crisbyNovember 25th 2014.

Maybe Stretford is the next Chorlton, just as Chorlton was once the next Didsbury?

RevaulxNovember 26th 2014.

Rick is spot on. I lived just off Barton Road for nearly 8 years when I was in in my 20s. It's true that one of Stretty's key virtues is the ease with which one can get out of it. People will no longer want to if Heather has her way.

AnonymousNovember 26th 2014.

Does a being a vegetarian and having lesbian neighbours make Chorlton hip?

Ass-hatNovember 26th 2014.

Anonymous: Your rudeness doesn't make you hip. You sound small minded, ignorant and petty.

DRNNovember 26th 2014.

Is Chorlton hip? It was full of crime when I did some research. Give me Prestwich over Chorlton anyday.

AnonymousNovember 26th 2014.

Prestwich and surrounding areas are fantastic places to live. I live near Crumpsall and find it affordable and convenient for the city centre.

Nigel WoodcockNovember 25th 2014.

Excellent article, thanks. Heather has done a fantastic job to get just the right feel for the place. She has done so much for the local community and I am campaigning for her to get a knighthood.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
rinkydinkNovember 26th 2014.

For opening a bar?

Sir Dog and DuckNovember 26th 2014.

I got one

AnonymousNovember 27th 2014.

Urmston has a new bar and bottle shop too ran by an American chap. It's a good addition to the steam house pub which recently won an award for its micro brewery. The Urmston Bookshop and the vintage shop next door are also brilliant additions to the highstreet. It would be great if Manchester's suburbs could all rival Didsbury with its fantastic independent offering.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
CatBeeNovember 27th 2014.

Love Prairie Schooner in Urmston. Great ales and a really relaxed atmosphere plus no annoying music interrupting conversation. Love it in there as there really has been no where to drink apart from SteamHouse pub. But praying Urmston and Flixton doesn't become full of pretentious smug people like some other suburbs I won't mention. Probably no danger of that!

AnonymousFebruary 28th 2015.

Only one road in and one road out of Urmston. I always think Urmston is a bit like Norfolk,best avoided. Something a bit Wicker man about Urmston. Even the name sounds like someone with a lisp.

AnonymousNovember 27th 2014.

Why the need to compare/slag off suburbs of Mcr. We all live in Mcr because we love it. This is an article about a nice looking bar in Stretford.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Paul WildFebruary 28th 2015.

This is true. Prestwich has a horrible centre but there is a terrific bar there called Cuckoo. However for green spaces,Prestwich is in another league and has the lowest crime rate in Greater Manchester apart from Ramsbottom. So all places have their attributes and issues. Monton Green is a nice place and not very well known. Didsbury is too high street chain in the village. Chorlton is like Hebden Bridge without the scenery. Watch out for places around Rochdale going through a renaissance. Milnrow and New Hey are now on the Metrolink. Lovely scenery and great stone architecture. The beauty of the new independent Manchester,Milnrow and Chorlton in the same conurbation and connected by a transport system. Saddleworth too is stunning and easily accessible by train. This is the selling point for the new Mayor. Scenery like Scotland and trendy suburbs like Camden Town. This is something London cannot boast. New Hey in particular cannot be far off being the next Hebden Bridge.

Jen BergerNovember 27th 2014.

When Heather's brother told me about her idea for the Sip Club I naively though it would never work. I'm so pleased I've been proven wrong. Go Heather!

AnonymousDecember 16th 2014.

What a weird final comment by the owner. Sound like she'd rather go bust or sell up so she can go travelling? Must be getting fed up with it already.

AnonymousFebruary 4th 2015.

Dear Heather, please will you clone yourself and open another Sip Club in Sale please? We are crying out for a place like this!!! Congratulations, looks like a lovely place and I will definitely drop in next time I'm passing..

AnonymousFebruary 28th 2015.

Stretford also has Longford Park, a great place for some fresh air and exercise with a lovely cafe and bakery.

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