Antwerp Mansion, Manchester; Friday 19th July, 2019
It’s Friday night, it’s Jackie’s night, and it’s going to be a pink gin night. For just three nights only, the haunted Gothic horror that is Antwerp Mansion has been transformed to become Manchester’s hottest and trendiest new bar.
Once a private residence for the super-rich industrialists of the Victorian age, nearly two centuries later this abandoned super-mansion on the outskirts of the city is taking on yet another new guise.
There’s a bouncer at street level checking names on the list; a VIP usher escorts guests into the building and up the stairs into the private room.
Stood behind the bar are Cal and Immy. These two are so trendy it hurts. Bar staff always are, they’re the gatekeepers and guardians of a decent night out. They’ll make the magic happen, the success of the evening is literally in their hands.
A complimentary shot of peach schnapps opens up proceedings. There seems to be a laid-back disco vibe, a hazy mood of expectant curio-intrigue. A little venture into swinging jazz adds to the mystery of it all.
Antwerp Mansion is a total wreck of a building, and this bar definitely looks like it might be two centuries old. Having said that though, there are probably some venues in the city centre that have spent hundreds of thousands trying to achieve this kind of distressed look and got nowhere near it: Antwerp Mansion has been rocking it for decades, you can smell it in the air.
A few latecomers toddle in and start squealing in delight when given a shot and a free drink: who are these drinkers? Are they just drinkers in a bar, or are they the audience here for a play? What actually is an audience?
Cal and Immy do their usual behind-bar things. Cleaning, leaning, collecting empties. Conversation soon turns to the maddest and baddest things that either of them have ever seen. As you might expect, these two have seen things.
In just under an hour of half acted performance and half just standard bar-room japes, a world of titillating staff secrets is spun – the world of a night out as seen from the eyes of the only people in the room who are sensible enough to actually confirm when everyone else is being stupid.
Cal and Immy’s professional world is one of actual shit-and-puke cocktails, one where sweat drips from the ceiling and piss dribbles around your feet. They notice these things, while the rest of us either don’t or, worse still, are responsible for generating them.
Everyone is having fun, but Cal and Immy need to stay sober and remain professional, all they can do is dish out the jagers and keep smiling.
Barred is a bit of an unusual night out. It’s a place we’ve all been to, even though we’ve not actually physically drunk in this bar before, but we know what it’s like. It’s a night out, this isn’t out out, it’s just out.
But amusingly, it’s not our night, it’s one for those on the other side, and this time, when they can’t be arsed anymore, they just sling us out, we are no longer drinkers nor audience. After what they’ve had to put up with, it’s likely we’ll never be allowed back in there again.