I love a bar that feels a bit secret. You feel as though you’ve stumbled onto something that’s just for you, and that feeling is even better when the bar is a bit unusual. New bar, The Vanguard is a perfect example of this.
The bar is above 1000 Trades in the Jewellery Quarter, and it really does feel hidden. Go into 1000 Trades, and go into the door immediately on your left. Go up two flights of stairs (ignore the spare chairs for downstairs and follow a large honey bee that points the way). At the top, you’ll find yourself in an attic space with one of the best looking back bars I’ve ever seen. Expect wood floors, exposed brick, rustic tables…and that bar.
Owner Sam Boulton has been rattling around the bar scene for a while, tweaking the cocktail menus of many a bar behind the scenes, working with everyone from commercial chains, Michelin starred venues and indie bars. All that experience has been poured into the Vanguard, and it’s clear this place is truly Sam’s baby. The benches were made by Sam and his dad, and the back bar is stocked from his personal collection.
Cocktails are big money, there’s no denying it. As more and more latch on to offering cocktails, and you can order a Bramble or an Espresso Martini just about anywhere in the city, many places have responded by pushing their cocktail game into weird and wonderful places. Whether it’s scientific kit at the Alchemist, cocktails infused with Chlorophyll at the Botanist, or dry ice billowing drinks at Aluna, the cocktail world is awash with gimmicks.
Not so at the Vanguard. Sam has instead focused on creating a modern menu that focuses on delivering cocktails that taste great, in a timely manner. And that’s it. No bar flair, no wild creations, just good quality drinks without standing at the bar for forty minutes. Instead, Sam’s team aim to have your drink in front of you within two minutes. In Sam’s own words, it’s a no bullshit approach, which is music to my ears. There’s not a bar napkin or a plastic straw in sight, meaning your cocktail produces no single use waste.
The vibe is very relaxed, and I’m sure you could sit at the bar for a while and talk to Sam while he worked, or hog a table for hours with friends and try out the menu. I suggest the former, and ask Sam to teach you about mead.
As well as cocktails, The Vanguard specialises in mead. Mead is made with fermented honey, and comes in a staggering amount of varieties, with as many finishes as you can imagine. Currently, Mead is pretty unregulated, so there are some truly naff ones out there, but at the Vanguard, you can enjoy a wide selection of high quality versions. Some you drink like wine, others come bottled like beer.
I found all the varieties we tried delicious. The deep honey flavour is obvious, making this a sweet, comforting drink.
The cocktail menu lists flavours instead of ingredients, encouraging to make a selection based on tastes you like, rather than automatically being drawn to a familiar favourite spirit.
I had a Mead Ferment, which has all the mead sweetness, and made me feel like I ought to be drinking this while cosy in front of a fire. The serve is pleasingly simple, but still pretty, with attractive glassware.
The Vanguard is a unique venue and one I will definitely be heading back to. Go, try the mead, enjoy a cocktail and relax.
The Vanguard is currently open Wednesday to Sunday. They don’t serve beers or wine, but you are welcome to bring up a beer from 1000 Trades downstairs, and equally you can take your cocktail down to 1000 Trades.
I was a guest of the Vanguard and samples and the cocktail were complementary. I was not obliged to write a blog post. All words, images and opinions are my own.