I once said I’d never work at Socio Rehab, it’s not that I didn’t want to, I was genuinely concerned for my health. I like to party and enjoy the extra curricular activities that go with it but Socio always felt a bit too dangerous to be the venue I selected as my place of work. However, once upon a time when I’d been sacked from my umpteenth bar or restaurant job in Manchester, Socio was my beacon of hope. I was a regular for years but this, I suppose you could say, was my first experience of working from ‘home’ and let’s just say it was absolutely fucking mega.
Socio was the cornerstone of the Northern Quarter drinking scene around about the time the NQ was starting to bubble. The drinks were liquid excellence, boozy concoctions not seen anywhere else in the North served adorned with tangy sweets and licked with all manner of exotic liqueurs and syrups: where’s all my Wham Bar Sling, Rainbow Road and Cloud Monkey people? The beats were provided by Manchester’s premier house heads, the bar next door was the Zombie Apocalypse known as Keko Moku (say no more), the customers were hot and the bartenders were rogue. This place was the perfect melting pot for some of the greatest nights Manchester has ever known. Forget swinging from the chandeliers, it was more like surviving a trip to the cellar and back.
I remember speaking to my pal and fellow cosmopologist Max Venning about shifts at Socio while we were on the payroll and we mutually agreed that we got more excited for a bar shift at Socio than we did for any other night out. You never knew what was gonna happen. You’ve heard, and most likely said, the statement ‘the best nights are the ones that aren’t planned’, that has a lot of credibility to it sure, but Socio was a beautifully planned masterpiece of carnage every Friday and Saturday night.
Socio has a place in history for many of us that partied, played and worked there. We bring you a select sample of stories from a few of the lucky sods that were there.
Jonboy – The Space Cookies.
The Socio team was seven strong on a Friday night and we had all been briefed by the big boss and manager Sneesby that there was a private function on. The entire back area of Socio was to be reserved for their party, these were VIP’s and needed looking after.
The guest whose birthday party it was had some money, and a few hours before it all kicked off he excitedly arrived at Socio to deliver hundreds of pounds worth of Sushi in neat boxes with the instruction to put out when his soirée was in full flow.
After I’d stacked the last of many sushi boxes into one of the fridges, he handed over one final box he jokingly referred to as ‘dessert’ The package contained rows of beautiful chocolate chip cookies, he boasted that they contained sixteen grams of charas resin, otherwise referred to as hashish.
The party was filling up and everything was running smoothly. As standard cocktails and shots were in full flow and I noted the sushi boxes were now out in the reserved back area.
Something was a miss though and I recall being increasingly confused by some ‘in joke’ I wasn’t a part of between my fellow bartenders, Ossie and Baz, who were looking at me and chuckling like little children whenever I confronted them about this joke I was on the outside of.
Finally, Ossie came clean and in between more laughter revealed he’d had a cookie. In fact everyone on the bar had one except, of course, big boss Sneesby who was patrolling the area and like I had been was now suspicious something was going on.
I wasted no time and ate a cookie, and soon, like Baz, Kirby and Ossie, I was truly baked and in hysterics about pretty much nothing at all.
As much fun as I was having I was beginning to struggle, and I was having real problems remembering guests drink orders on the bar. At one point, I remember a big bear-like hand gripping my shoulder mid pour.
‘Have you had a cookie?’
Sneesby snarled at me, whose interrogation was in full flow now. We were all trying to straighten up, but this was easier said than done and the cookies were only growing stronger.
The rest of the night, like many at Socio, was a bit of a blur but I recall a few memorable moments.
Firstly, the guy whose party it had been came to us at the end of the night and thanked us for the best night of his life, leaving a generous tip. Hero!
Also at one point mid service not a single bartender was on the bar. We had all ,without any prior arrangement, made our way to local NQ eateries to buy whatever food we could. Kirby later confessed to eating at three takeaways that night.
Sneesby, who had kicked up a real fuss about his bar team’s behaviour and professionalism, had eventually succumbed to a cookie himself, and had gone from being a massive and terrifying figure of authority, to a giggling little kid like the rest of us. The Circle of Life.
Binners – The Cellar.
You asked for my favourite ever story at Socio, well here it is. It surprisingly is about the cellar circa 2007. It had been grim since I first got there. You had to put your feet in two buckets and slide through drain water to get to the office to cash up. Which was a nightmare if like me you happened to have got steaming and drop the till into said drain water at 2am. Anyway I digress. This cellar had seen some progress over the years but it was generally a dumping ground and full of crap with a secret bar in the basement (99) that was also full of crap!
Basically EHO (Environmental Health Officer) informed us they were coming to inspect and faced with the dilemma of having to make this hell hole respectable before the inspection. There was some serious lateral thinking and in the most real life Faulty Towers crossover of all time we simply built a wall. Leaving access to only 1/4 of the space which was in pretty good knick. That very afternoon a stud wall was going up, it was plaster boarded, painted, mock aged with dust and grime and disguised by some shelving and a load of stock.
In hindsight it might have been easier just to have a tidy round!
The Carnival Band – We also threw a Sagatiba Cachaca sponsored beach party back in the day when they were chucking money around like muddlers. We filled the gaff with three tonne of sand (the remnants of which lasted long after the party) searching for more spectacle, I somehow managed to get a 20 piece Brazilian carnival band complete with dancers to March round the NQ unannounced on this otherwise quiet Sunday evening. Much to the distaste of the local residents and the EHO who quite promptly suggested we stop!
Massi – The Job
I was 21 years old and I’d been living in London for the past few years and this was my first time I was in Manchester. Cocktails? I only knew Italian ones at that time, Spritzes, Negroni, Sbagliato(s) and Americanos. I went to the Northern Grey-Jam to watch this new band called Arctic Monkeys and I ended up discovering where I wanted to be in my career. Cocktail bars. Only the cool ones, thanks.
Exactly 15 months after that day I was employed by Beau & Marie as the new foreign bartender in the place that would define my cocktail ambitions forever. That Paradise Lost called Socio Rehab.
To give you a picture, Socio (as everybody always called it) was THE shit. It was the dream work-place of every bartender in the city, that stinky arrogant wooden stick where only the real ones could handle it: the bar was just like a family, you’ll wear it for the rest of your life. Well believe it or not I still feel part of those walls even if I had to rip down all those porns mag that were papier mached in the toilets when it got refurbished. Yes, Socio had pictures of naked women in the men’ toilets and I (as many other millions) thought that was the coolest thing ever, everybody apart from Beau Myers, the crazy diamond behind the entire venture.
To me Socio was just like the Zeppelin, a short story of sex, drugs and rock & roll. Dead before it was even born, because as I’m sure you know, you live once and you wanna live good.
Coming from a 5 Star hotel (Cloud 23) professionally speaking Socio was exactly what I was looking for. It was a workplace where I could practice, study, fuck up a recepe to make it better and learning from the best in the business while doing it, but most of all it was about being part of a family.
I still remember that day (it was a Wednesday) when Tom (Tom Sneesby GM at that time) shouted to me and asked me to come with him to the back door. I immediately thought “Fuck! Did I do anything wrong with his girlfriend?” (A lovely girl called Emma). Also bare in mind Tom was 3 times my size and he could have crushed me like a little Italian fagioli. Well, Tom offered me a job that I could only have dreamed of and without even thinking I was in. I was a real bartender, I worked at Socio Rehab.
I felt like I was attending the Manchester University of Drinks, I would buy a book, try the recipes and make them mine. After a month I was in the busiest station (in the middle) with Jonboy, Sneesby, John & Cassandra on each shoulder, basically the best team I ever worked in my still-young-life.
The story never ended really and even if I had to leave looking for my future somewhere else, Socio Rehab will always be part of me, my memories and the rest of my life.
Mosey – The Bathtime
When I think back about the all-star crew manning that party boat of a bar and where they are now, it genuinely doesn’t surprise me that a big chunk of them are self-employed operating extremely successful businesses of their own – if anybody had heard half of the truth there’s no fucking way somebody else would have employed them.
Skimming my memories for a story that I don’t mind one, being immortalised by Dalsy (Leon) and two, I’m certain cannot be used against me in a court of law in the future, is a task in itself. One evening however, full of promise but with a signature Socio sticky ending, springs to mind.
2013, it’s a relatively slow weeknight, me and Leon were the only two on deck and the premise for this whole story is that I fucking stank. The reason for my stinking stink is a memory too far I’m afraid, it’s possible I was on a couch surfing spell and hadn’t had access to a shower, it’s also possible I hadn’t been home for a couple of days, a not uncommon side effect of employment at Socio. Unfortunately, my tenure at Socio Rehab has severely tainted my ability to fill out most forms that require my address between 2011 to 2015.
Below the glitz and glamour of Socio with its leather furnishing, iconic SMEG fridge, candy bars and glow-sticks was a labyrinth of a storage basement used by both Socio Rehab and our sister spot next door, the incredible “Keko Moku”. Early on in the shift I headed downstairs to pick up a couple of bottles for that night’s service and that’s when I spotted it. The catalyst of this tale. The Igloo.
“What’s an igloo doing in a basement?” you’ll be forgiven to ask. The Igloo in question was actually a large cooler with a 200 litre capacity, and we had two of them, brand spanking new, causing the synapses under my smelly head of hair to fire rapidly. I could fit in one of those Igloos. I snuck off around the corner to the local SPAR and grabbed a bottle of Lynx Africa shower gel (by far the most underrated scent of 2013).
Before I continue to the conclusion most of you have already jumped to, I really have to mention that fucking around with these Igloos was an absolute death sentence. To explain why I have to talk to you about Jon Kirby.
Kirby is an incredible fella who, as General Manager of Socio, had the impossible task of herding pissed cats on roller blades. When he did get us all together it was usually for a bollocking. And he could definitely give a bollocking. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got so many fond memories of the man and any success associated with Socio should also be attributed to this man. But when he was angry, he could dish it out like a dinner lady trying to get rid of yesterday’s custard.
I don’t know what Jon had to go through to get these Igloos but he was incredibly protective of them. Out of everything we could fuck around with and perhaps accidentally break in that basement we were under strict, specific orders never to touch those Igloos, ever. There would be severe consequences if something happened to those particular coolers. DO NOT GO NEAR THEM.
To the moment in question… “click”… The first kettle had finished boiling and into the cooler it went.
I repeated this step a few more times, luckily for me the bar had got a little busier and Leon hadn’t had time to come and check on what I was up to. I added a couple of liters of cold water to balance out the temperature and it was bath o’clock, I think I even lit a candle, romantic. I stripped down, all the way down, and hopped in. My naked arse had barely touched the base of the cooler when a furious Leon finally had a moment to come and find me.
He came thundering down those rickety stairs “Mosey! MOSEY!??”, he turned a corner and spotted me. I’ll never forget the eye contact. The long, disbelieving, silent eye contact. I was having a bath in JON ‘FACKIN’’ KIRBY’S cooler. For a moment I thought he was going to hop in with me, he didn’t (an opportunity lost my friend), instead he turned around and walked back up the stairs without saying a word. It’s the quiet ones you’ve got to watch.
I felt bad, I gave myself a quick once over with my commandeered kitchen sponge and was feeling WAY cleaner, Leon would be in a bad mood for the rest of the night, but it was completely worth it. I had done it, I had done what no man would dare to even think, I had a bath in the basement of Socio Rehab in one of Jon Kirby’s sacred Igloo’s. Cleanliness is next to godliness and I felt pretty divine.
But no single person was bigger than Socio. Leon came back downstairs, it had either got a lot quieter at the bar or he had decided he had bigger, smugger fish to fry. He was accompanied by Tony Lovett, the bartender working at Keko Moku that night, a carton of orange juice, a carton of pineapple juice and a full bottle of grenadine, so much grenadine. Together they shattered my illusion of grandeur. Within seconds my squeaky clean, Serengeti scented skin was doused in the 3 sickly sweet and sticky cocktail ingredients. Leon and Tony had turned me into a giant Singapore Sling.
If you see that cooler still kicking around the Northern Quarter in Manchester, don’t fret. That grenadine didn’t just ruin a magical bath, it dyed the inside of the igloo pink and my completely rational fear of the fury of Jon Kirby compelled me to scrub it cleaner than when it came out of the factory. Jon, if this is the first you’re hearing about this, I’m sorry. I’m also pretty sure you don’t know where I live, if student loans haven’t found me, neither will you.
Leon – The Shutdown
It was a cold December night in Manchester, the wind was jarring yet the bars were pumping. It was not just any old winter’s evening however, it was Black Friday, the busiest night of the year. The sisters of Socio and Keko were slammed. Both bar teams were stacked full of talent. On our side of the back room the Dow’s 10 Year Old Tawney Port had replaced Jager as the bartender’s drink of choice, seasonal as fuck, and the Xmas drinks were dispensed at a rate of knots where as over on the dark side, Keko were churning Zombies at a furious pace, the atmosphere was electric, JB, as he regularly would, voiced his appreciation of the music ‘banging tunes tonight’ he said, as a standard he was dealing in stone cold facts.
I was behind the stick at Socio doing the hard yards while Johnboy rode point like master equestrian, other bartenders were involved (sorry boys the memory doth not serve). The time was ticking on and Socio was calming down, the main rush had subsided with revellers heading on to Sankeys, the WHP or whatever destination these dreamers would float along to. The smiles were abundant as we congratulated ourselves with a sly glance and an eyebrow raise, the beats melted into our souls as Nikitas ran the wheels of steel like the Greek God of music he is. But all was not what it seemed, there was some sort of commotion on the other side of the valley.
People were spewing out of Keko like an Indie spill out from a student night at 5th Ave. But it was only 12:30am and we both closed at 2, what on earth was going on we thought?
As we dashed through to Keko to get a better understanding of the situation there was an enraged Biggsy, the manager at the time and an all round Manchester hall of famer, with his finger on the electric shutter. His eyes blazed nothing but fury doused in overproof rum. Delving further into the plot the understanding was that a customer had pissed Biggsy off and for him enough was enough. It was time to fuck it all off and get the enemy out. A rogue decision you may think, however when the tills were counted and the dust had settled both bars had made record takes. As usual Biggsy had the last laugh*
That Biggsy, always has something up his sleeve for Black Friday.
*Beau and Kirby may have disagreed
Well that’s about it for this edition of Socio Stories, thanks for reading and an even bigger thanks goes out to Beau Myers, no one rocked that place like El Patron, and JFK (John Fuckin Kirby) for making this a reality. To Marie for, kinda, putting up with it all and making the place survive as long as it did. To every slugger whoever made drinks there. To every DJ that ever spun tunes there. And to every one of you that ever popped in through those doors that’ll spank you on the way out, except for the twats, you lot can still fuck off.
Cheers and good night Sweet Prince, Leon and the Socio Rehab squad.