Based in Manchester’s Spinningfield's’s, the city’s newest quarter built up around the financial and business district, sits a veritable Aladdin's’s cave of bubbling potions, interesting extracts and more home brews than your local CAMRA representative's shed.
Don’t expect a grimy shed though – all of this is set in the white, light, slightly opulent surroundings of Alchemist; Manchester’s finest molecular mixology bar; a place that sets out to fuse drinks/flavours/ingredients in an exceptionally different way.
Catching up with Head Barman Felix, we chatted about the whys and wherefores and more importantly the passion he and his team have for tantalizing the taste buds of Manchester.
Felix, how did you start bartending/managing? Has it always been an intentional career decision?
I started as a student in Liverpool and just enjoyed the physical aspect of learning, I found it a very natural process of learning – rather than the way I was being taught in University. After uni I started working as a barback in Bar and Grill in Liverpool and have just worked my way up from there, learning on the job so to speak. I’ve worked at Est Est Est and Gustos, before moving to Bacchanalia in Manchester. I’ve been at Alchemist since the beginning, helping to set up and grow the team.
Having been here from the beginning, you must have had a big hand in the development.
As Living Ventures is a big company, we have a development team. However I helped to develop everything with them, including some of the drinks – which have now been put on the menus at some of the other sites too. Obviously I have been here to support and develop the team and the way we work together – seeing how they have come on makes me really proud.
Alchemist is about mixing unusual drinks – how do you get this across to the customer?
Alchemist is about theatre, we like to put on a little show, but we also want to make sure the customer gets the drink they want. We’ll always chat to the customer and listen to what they like and make recommendations based on that – it’s not about the drink you like, you’ve got to find the right drink for them and their situation – the personal touch. We get a lot of training and it's not just the usual stuff, the last one was about the history of cocktails and certain ingredients. Not only is this information great for explaining to the customer, but it makes us understand our drinks more too.
What’s your desert island drink – if you had one bottle that magically refilled itself?
A very hard question to answer, you’ve stumped me! I think, but it’s very hard to decide, that it would have to be a Diplomatico Blanco – an aged white, Venezuelan rum.
What’s been the best thing about working at Alchemist and what’s the biggest challenge?
The best thing has to be the way it’s grown – to see the place from the beginning, how it’s developed from not that busy to being a go to destination. It’s great to see how the team has developed and how to we are with the customers, as they’re the most important thing at the end of the day. The challenge is keeping the customer at the centre – we get very busy and it’s about giving customers a great experience, a good bunch of theatre, whilst not ignoring the other customers at the same time – it’s a bit of a balance!
Alchemist is known for breaking the mould in Manchester – I noticed you’ve got barrel aged cocktails, not something that you usually see on bar menus outside of London.
They’ve become quite popular with our regulars, we have quite a few and we age them in house. We’ve developed the Negroni, which we make with Austrian rum and pear brandy which is then aged for 15 weeks. We use port and sherry barrels as they impart a lovely flavour to the barrel aged cocktails. We’ll create a new one every few months and we always have a few on the go. I’m quite lucky that I get to create them and dictate what goes in, so there’s a lot of playing about with ingredients and flavours.
What’s the best part of your job?
Apart from working with the customers, it’s the variety and creativity of the job. No day is the same. Plus as we have worked hard to make this a successful bar, we get are allowed to say what goes to a certain extent, so that’s quite a refreshing change.
We’re looking at some other sites across the North West, so watch this space!