Do you know any bars opened around here?

New to the Mancunian hospitality scene and suffering from London’s ultimate cocktail experience withdrawal symptoms, we first ventured into Speak in Code on October 18th solely looking for a place that would still serve great classics after midnight.  An almost hidden entrance on Jackson’s Row reveals a bare-brick-wall bar with a speakeasy vibe. The usual suspects: Smoked Old Fashioned and Boulevardier, brought together with the SIC Menu: their cocktails, in roman numerals not names, invite the reader to look further than the sound of a drink.

Eight months down the line, this not-so-secret-anymore destination bar has shaken together art, mixology, and sustainability. We met Nathan Larkin, the concept creator behind Speak in Code, to find out more about the whys and the hows of the project, his collaboration with breweries and local artists and plans for the future.

From seaweed salted coconut jelly to raisin pearls garnishes, where do you get your inspiration from?

I cannot switch off, I never had a mentor or influencer to guide me a certain way. I always look for new and unusual ways, and tend to be adaptable so as to not stick to one style. I still believe in the theatre of cocktails so I like to add things like edible garnishes or paint glasses to keep it light hearted, and maximise products. And if I ever need a second opinion, I would speak to a chef.

Creativity is not the only thing that shines through at Speak in Code. Nathan puts great accent on building a sense of community, and on the relationships with local businesses and hospitality professionals around the word: from the brewery that crafts their lager to Krystan Grace’s art in a glass, conversations with Allotment’s Head Chef, Matt Nutter, newly relocated on Lloyd Street or Nightjar’s takeover. Has the latter made us feel homesick? It has indeed.

You are opening a new bar but you can only start with 5 ingredients. What would that be?

Salt, sugar, rum, citric acid, and herbs. A whole greenhouse! Rum is my go-to spirit.

If you were to have one last drink, what would that be, and where would that be?

A good single malt somewhere with clear skies, either surrounded by nature, or by the ocean.

Where does Speak in Code stand between a Soul project with a creative focus on sustainability and veganism, and a hospitality business aiming to sell a night out? Everything here is plant based, from their chocolate truffles, Espresso and Banana ‘Nice cream’, Reece’s Pieces, gummy bears, dandelion flower honey, chai spiced pana cotta. Far away from serving crowd-pleasers, the team and their cryptic twenty creations have managed to gather regulars open to the new experiences and bold twists on the classics. When it comes to sustainability, the team goes as far as one can imagine, using carrot skins soaked in coconut water, later on deep fried and salt dusted, to garnish their number iv. But wait till you hear what’s inside!

The most outrageous drink between these walls?

When I heard of a Champagne Pina Colada that gained popularity through Daniel Schofield, then of Coupette, I had the idea to make a plant based sparkling colada which was both vegetal and herbal, with the addition of carrot, coconut and turmeric cordial, green Chartreuse and Cava – garnished with the fried coconut infused carrot skins of the carrot used to make our Carrot Dog from the food menu.

Nathan started his career bartending career with Hard Rock Café, making a mark on their menu with his Jimmy Hendricks and working his way up to Global trainer before joining Manchester’s European Bartender School as Head Instructor. This is where he met Joke, the highest scoring student he had over the course of 18 months, who followed him in a new project in Lake District before returning to Manchester. A fairly small team behind Speak in Code: Nathan, Connan, Joke and Afreen showed us what we were hoping to see, that great hospitality is all about people. Rather than running away from temporary roles or globe-trotters, Nathan shared a thought-provoking advice on recruitment and employee engagement.

What’s one thing that you learnt, that you will use for the rest of your career?

If you can only give me six months, I will take it, and I will make sure that they are the best six months for both of us. Everybody serves a purpose, we have a flat hierarchy, and each and every one of us knows his place within the team. We base our work on honesty and transparency, I keep my team updated with everything we do.

Flair bartending? There is a common misconception when it comes to the art of flair that it does somehow involve juggling. To teach us something, Nathan walked us through the importance of entertaining the guests on the other side of the bar and showed us a trick he uses, which is now ours to keep.

Teach me Something!

We all work with a little bit of style these days, but ‘flair’ bartending is deeper than that. If you can hold a conversation with your guest, make them laugh, make drinks quickly and efficiently, serve theatrical cocktails, or even do tricks and manipulate movements with your bar objects that engage your guests’ interests, then these things all add to the guest experience. Some would like to be left alone for sure, but the majority of my positive experiences behind the bar have been when guests are engaged in our activities, conversation and drink making techniques. Flair is one unexplored avenue for a lot of us out there and if we break it down, and have fun with it, then it may open a few more avenues for more bartenders out there – no juggling needed!

In less than one year from their opening, Speak in Code has already been nominated for the Bar of the Year (Manchester Food and Drink Festival 2019). The team does not seem to stop here, with exciting collaborations and expansion plans in the pipeline. Hungry for more? Make your way to 7 Jacksons Road for a Gin paired with Ginseng, Chinese Cinnamon, Rosemary & Grapefruit oil and homemade Rhubarb Bitters.