February 2015, around the same time I arrived fashionably late to the party that was the iconic television drama Mad Men, I arrived early to this bar. Very early.
After aimlessly circling a building in pursuit of this exciting new establishment I’d been reading about, some more googling led me to realise I was about 3 months early. Shivering on the corner of a damp Hilton Street, closer examination of the tantilising piece on Manchester Confidential saw me realise my error
…Pen and Pencil looks set to launch this May.
Never has a less sensational, more factually dry statement been pulled out as a quote. I do this to remind ‘last year me’ to learn to read properly (should anyone do ‘a me’ and not note my opening paragraph, don’t wait until this May to go – it’s open. Now).
There were a couple of traits about this brand new bar (again, please note it’s not new now and is definitely open) that caught my (lazy) eye – and both harp back to New York. In fact, the Stevenson Square area, through upto Hilton and Tariff Streets, respectively, is indeed becoming its very own little New York. Bars such as Noho (explicitly) and Kosmonaut (implicitly) take their lead from the NQ’s brother from another mother, and Pen and Pencil follows (sharp) suit.
The original Pen and Pencil, I read, was on what was referred to as Steak Row, in New York – one of a number of bars/restaurants such as Editorial and Front Page, so called because of its patronage of newspaper and ad men.
I don’t know whether Manchester’s own ‘hacks’ are following suit with our very own Pen and Pencil (in my media heyday, back in the good old 2000s, it was always, and sadly, the dizzy heights of the Press Club – influence? a working man’s club, circa sometime way in the past) but it’s in the ad-men, and their spawned Mad Men, where the bar places its roots.
None more so in the drinks and their aesthetically pleasing host menu.
Accompanying each section is a pleasing, retro, vintage, nostalgic, basically OLD, inspired ad from the past, which have the ability to make even the most mundane of orders (no offence pint of Heineken please drinkers), feel stylish.
To quote the most excellent series character Roger Sterling (sorry Mr Draper, your schtick can get a little old and whiney sometimes)…
You don’t know how to drink. Your whole generation drink for the wrong reasons.
My generation, we drink because it’s good, because it feels better than unbuttoning your collar, because we deserve it.
We drink because it’s what men do.
Now I don’t know about you, and leaving aside the gender specificity of Mr Sterling’s statement, I’m definitely a kick-back to his generation. And so, Pen and Pencil offers me plenty of options in order to reap what I deserve. And none more so from the cocktail list…
Here we find a couple of lovely little nods to Mad Men – the Thyme and Life (a play on the famous building in which Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Price resides for part of the series, (and where I once saw Boy George – imagine), being one. The John Bruno is actually named after the original proprietor of its NY namesake. This girl can… (use Google).
It’s not a theme bar and not dissimilar to other New York inspired bars and restaurants in the area, and I mean this positively and most sincerely folks (I’ve gone all Huey Green – god I’m old fashioned – he’s the maternal granddad of the late, tragic Peaches Geldof, people of this century).
They do a fine Malbec, table service at quiet periods and also food of which I have not tried.
I’m yet to be too affronted by a bar in the Northern Quarter, granted (although, Cottonopolis, perhaps you’re on the wrong side of town) but I like Pen and Pencil and haven’t yet fallen off the perching stools in the window, closely next to a big sloping gap.
Since that fateful, daft evening, back in February 2015, I’ve frequented (and actually found and got through the open door of Pen and Pencil) a fair bit and it will definitely remain in the category, alluded to below, by the great (albeit sometimes whiney) Don Draper…
I keep going to a lot of places and ending up somewhere I’ve already been…