I first went to The Alchemist for my 19th birthday. Not a typical place a student would go to celebrate, right?
I’m not going to lie: I was never what you’d call a “typical” student. I tended to avoid the student pubs and clubs everyone else went to (did anyone actually like them or were they just pretending to?) Whilst my friends were downing jagerbombs in dodgy clubs with sticky floors and 1p entry fees, I preferred to seek out cocktail bars and pay a bit extra for a nice drink I could actually enjoy.
So when it came to my 19th birthday I did some research in a bid to find some new bars in Manchester…. and I stumbled across a little known (at the time – come on, it was 2012!) bar called The Alchemist. Despite inviting all my friends, only one of them actually agreed to go (they were horrified at the prospect of having to spend £8 on a drink).
The first cocktail I tried at The Alchemist was a Bubblegum Daiquiri, complete with popping candy. After that I was sold, and wanted to try out the whole menu.
Luckily for me, one of my best friends in Manchester at the time was a bit older than me and had a full time job, so didn’t mind coming out for classy nights out to The Alchemist with me virtually every weekend!
In my third year I rented out a flat just across the river from Spinningfields so in effect, The Alchemist became my local.
I’d spend the majority of my Friday and Saturday nights there. The cocktail menu would change, but I’d always have my favourites. There was the Cheesecake Martini with the frothy foam; the Metropolitan Girl (complete with gold lips), and the Cereal Killer. You had to make sure to ask for it without cereal otherwise you got cheerios floating on top of your drink. And there was the Hansel and Gretel gingerbread flavoured shooters – sooo good!
The Alchemist was always busy, but not to the extent it is now. It wasn’t particularly mainstream – you knew about the place through word of mouth, and visited if you appreciated a good cocktail.
My friend and I would always turn up at around 11pm: it was still busy, but a prime time for getting a table. We always sat at the same table. So many conversations were discussed there… holidays, future plans… we even have footage of us practicing reading out Eurovision results on that table (for when we’re Eurovision superstars, obvs).
Whenever I had friends and family visiting, the first stop for a drink would always be The Alchemist. I have an amazing memory when it comes to outfits, and I remember nights out based on the clothes I was wearing.
There was one time I went to The Alchemist when I had a huge purple bruise on the back of my leg (probs a dance injury), so accessorized with matching purple Kurt Geigers. And one time, when I wore my six inch heels and got shameless stares at my height (at 5 foot 9, growing up, my tallness used to bother me, although I don’t mind it now).
When I graduated from University back in July 2014, if I couldn’t move to Scandinavia then I wanted to stay in Manchester. Unfortunately I was unable to find a job quick enough to keep my flat, so moved back to Nottingham. Six weeks later, I was lucky enough to find a really good marketing job in Leeds. No Manchester, but I had my own flat once again, and for the first proper time in my life I was a genuine “young professional” (I love that term).
Making friends through work and ballet led to lots of nights out in Leeds (and trial and error of places to go). Leeds was fun, but it’s no Manchester. There’s nowhere that’s comparable to what the Northern Quarter used to be, and there wasn’t much of a Spinningfields equivalent either.
Although most of my friends were guys in Leeds I tried relentlessly to get them to go for a drink at The Alchemist (and I was successful quite a few times!). The Alchemist in Trinity (they hadn’t opened the Greek Street bar at this point) was fun, but there wasn’t the same atmosphere as the originally Spinningfields bar. And you had to queue up to get inside! Still, at least it was like a little piece of Manchester in Leeds.
After a year of living in Leeds, I made a triumphant return back to Manchester (at the time I viewed it as a permanent move, but in actual fact it was only for six months).
Some of my friends were still in Manchester, whereas some had since left – but I’d still always go back to The Alchemist.
Whenever I’d go for food I always got the chicken in a basket (don’t think I’ll ever get over the cuteness of a chicken shaped basket, no matter how hard I try). Getting two for one drinks on a Friday night was pretty great – and I’d since moved on to drinking Screwballs, Candy Crushes and Tickle Me Pinks. I also experimented with a kale concoction, but it just wasn’t for me.
Going to The Alchemist now, compared to the first time I visited nearly five years ago is quite different – everyone loves it and wants to go and try out their cocktails. But it also means the place is always packed – it’s no longer a secret.
I’ve since moved back to Nottingham, and fortunately, The Alchemist is due to open up here pretty soon. On the one hand it’s great, because I know where I’ll be spending my Saturday nights… but on the other hand, I miss those times when it was just one bar, and you had to know about it to go. However it totally deserves its success – I’m just being selfish and wish I could have it to myself!
If you haven’t been to The Alchemist yet, then where have you been?! You need to go and visit ASAP and work through the menu (start with a Tickle Me Pink, or maybe a Screwball…).