With the second Manchester’s Bars Awards and a new platform under their belts, the team behind Northern Hospitality are looking beyond Manchester’s thriving Facebook following of bartenders to build Cottonopolis’ bar community
Scroll through one of the many Facebook groups for UK bartenders, and you’re likely to encounter everything from cocktail comp announcements and tips on spotting fake notes, to scathing memes and (surprisingly fruitful) posts crowd-sourcing obscure varieties of moss.
These groups, often dedicated to specific cities, have become important resources for bartenders to pick up shifts, work with brands and ultimately connect with other people in the industry.
The Manchester’s Bars Facebook group ticks all of these boxes. It was founded in 2011, back when Facebook was used less for news and more for ‘liking’ pages such as ‘The Cold Side of the Pillow’ and ‘When I was Your Age, Pluto was a Planet’. But unlike those devastatingly cringe-worthy hits of nostalgia, the Manchester’s Bars group has flourished over the past eight years. It now boasts nearly 14,000 members and has become a crucial part of the city’s bartending community.
In fact, the group’s community has grown so much that its administrators – Joey Butcher, Adam Binnersley, Gethin Jones, Craig MacDonald, Emma Greathead, Tony Hogan and Nate Booker – decided to take the concept a step further. At the end of last year, Booker, one of the group’s original founders and a go-to figure in the Manchester bar community, spearheaded the launch of the Northern Hospitality website.
New platform, new perception
‘We set up Northern Hospitality as a separate website as a way of slowing down content, because on Facebook it accumulates so quickly,’ Booker tells Imbibe. (We’re meeting the morning after the second annual Manchester’s Bars Awards, so we’re feeling a bit slow ourselves.)
The website, he explains, builds on the core functions of the Facebook group – minus the memes and the #banter. It’s got a calendar of events, a list of competitions and a section for job posts. It also features a directory of brand reps, ambassadors and suppliers – and considering Booker’s work as the brand development manager for spirits distributor Mangrove, this emphasis on connecting bartenders and brands makes sense.
Although Northern Hospitality clearly takes a more curated approach than its Facebook counterpart, Booker realises that the conversational element of the latter is an important part of its appeal. As such, the new website is certainly not meant to displace the Facebook group – the site actually features a running list of ‘bar-focused Facebook communities’, so bartenders can connect with others in their area through social media.
It is, however, meant to present the northern bar scene with professional opportunities that the Facebook group cannot.
Indeed, Booker’s vision for the website is in line with the idea that bartending is a lifelong career offering a variety of professional paths, from working brand-side, to educating, to running a business, to writing, to all of the above. ‘The public perception of bartending as a temporary job is changing,’ he says. With this in mind, he plans to use Northern Hospitality as a platform for editorial-style content – some written by bartenders to share their opinions and expertise, and some featured from brands (with profits used to keep the Northern Hospitality running).
‘We want to be able to pay people for their time,’ he says. ‘We don’t want to own their voices, but we want bartenders to be able to use the website as a platform to share their ideas professionally.’
Benchmarking success in the north
Perhaps the most significant way Northern Hospitality has already bolstered the northern bar community is through the aforementioned annual Manchester’s Bars Awards, which highlight the city’s best bartenders, venues and drinks at a sufficiently boozy awards ceremony and after-party.
‘In Manchester and the north, we don’t really compare ourselves to London very much. Things like the awards help us use other northern bars as a benchmark for success,’ Booker says.
The awards are distinctly egalitarian: they’re open to the trade for voting and for attending on a first-come, first-served basis, and publicised on both the Facebook group and the Northern Hospitality site. This year, the evening of the awards saw a line of eager industry folk queuing up at the door of dive bar Bunny Jackson’s like it was an exclusive nightclub or a Whole Foods giving away free kombucha. The sense of excitement was palpable.
The awards presentation itself was buzzy, raucous fun, and highly interactive (a kind way of saying ‘people were shouting themselves hoarse’). It was also more than a little tongue-in-cheek: ‘They’re meant to be a little self-deprecating,’ says Booker. ‘Part of the beauty of this city and our industry is that we don’t take ourselves too seriously.’
But, listening to Booker wax poetic about Manchester’s abundance of standout bars, it’s clear that the awards serve an important purpose, however light-hearted they may be – and it’s a purpose that is entirely in line with his vision for Northern Hospitality moving forward.
‘There are so many bars that are doing amazing things, like CBRB [Cocktail, Beer, Ramen + Bun, winner of the Best New Bar award]. They don’t always get the recognition they deserve, and this is our opportunity to change that.’