3 June 2021 by Deanna Thomas

The hardworking men and women who work hospitality’s front line, serving drinks to the public don’t get as much recognition as chefs. Yet there’s a new breed of liquid creatives coming through the ranks who are helping to turn Manchester into an amazing drinking destination.

Take award-winning bartender Joe Schofield who, with his brother Daniel, recently took over part of the former Grapes pub to open Schofield's Bar in Sunlight House (pictured above). This was swiftly followed by a second ‘European Drinkery’, ATOMECA on Deansgate Square in partnership with wine expert James Brandwood.

We grabbed a moment to sit down with Joe over a couple of drinks to ask him to tell us more.

So, you’ve opened two new bars in a very short time in Manchester. How did that all come about?

When we were looking for venues for Schofield’s, we just kept viewing other premises just in case Sunlight House never came into fruition - which can always happen. When we came to visit Deansgate Square we fell in love with the aspirations. It is very much more like a five-star hotel than a traditional development; the attention to detail, great design, concierge service etc. We had this sort of natural synergy. Then they showed us this beautiful little corner unit that just sits on the river, so it was an opportunity for us to open ATOMECA with a beautiful terrace. We’re just really excited about it.

Your two places aren’t that far from each other, both easily walkable down Deansgate. How different are they?

ATOMECA offers a huge focus on wine. James, our managing partner, is a wine expert.

It’s more of an on-the-corner drinkery, so coffee during the day through to an extensive wine list and European style mixed drinks that you get on your holidays in Italy or France. We’ve tried to make sure there’s something on the list that will be familiar to most people. 

This is something a little bit different to Schofield’s. What they’ve done at Deansgate Square has literally altered the skyline of the city and it’s an amazing thing for us to be part of something to this scale. We’re open to the public and happy to welcome everybody and anybody.

How did the name ATOMECA come about?

We wanted to have a name that was quite fun and bold, and also quite short and unique. The word atom in there represents the size of the space and it’s quite disruptive and explosive which I think is a little bit about what we want to achieve as a brand. There’s quite a lot of history with the atom in Manchester as well and that was all about experimentation, so we thought it was a nice fit for us.

How’s Schofield’s bar going? It can’t have been an easy thing to open in lockdown?

It’s certainly the world’s worst time to open a bar. We just had to be quite adaptable and flexible. You hear the word ‘pivot’ a lot and that’s what we had to do starting with a takeaway of Schofield’s bar provisions. That went to Schofield’s bar terrace and now finally we were able to open Schofield’s bar after a long, long journey. It’s been received really well by the local population in Manchester which has been really humbling for us to be honest.

Are there many people around who appreciate the craft of cocktail making?

Yeah, to be honest. There are a lot of really discerning drinkers in Manchester. The number of drinks we’ve been serving for the last few weeks at Schofield’s bar has been astonishing in terms of old classic cocktails. At the moment I’m arguably making more martinis than I was ever doing working at the Savoy.

Is that your best seller?

One of our best sellers is a Cognac Sazerac which is not essentially an approachable drink – although it’s absolutely delicious, it’s one of those that can take some time to appreciate.

I think there’s a lot of people who really appreciate food and beverage in Manchester. Seeing the drinks we’ve been creating at Schofield’s bar over the last few weeks really cemented that to us.

Are you more about the classics or are you always trying to create something new? 

I’ve always been passionate about classic cocktails, as has my brother. I was very fortunate to spend time working at The Savoy which is where many of the classic cocktails were created. We’ve got a few drinks on the menu at Schofield’s and ATOMECA that are very much our own interpretations of classic cocktails – for example, you’ve got the orange grove negroni with different textures of orange but still built inside the DNA of a traditional negroni. 

Does ATOMECA serve food?

We offer European small plates to share alongside drinks. There’s no kitchen so we’re serving simple food like white anchovies, great charcuterie, great cheese.

What’s your poison?

I’m a big fan of a martini at the right time and place. Love a negroni – all the classic cocktails really. But after a log day on the coffee machine, it’s sometimes simply a beer for me. It’s always been important to us to take just as much care and focus in other drinks. Coffee is of big importance to us. Wine is of huge importance. But why can’t a good cocktail bar also serve great quality draft beer and Guinness? For myself, my brother and James it’s about having a wide spectrum of drinks for customers to enjoy.

If you weren’t drinking in one of your own places, where would you drink in Manchester?

I love Erst in Ancoats, The Jane Eyre also and for me, Hawksmoor. We’ve also got some amazing pubs in Manchester; Peveril of the Peak, The Briton’s Protection, Edinburgh Castle.

ATOMECA, Deansgate Square, Manchester

Schofield's Bar, Sunlight House, 3 Little Quay Street, Manchester, M3 3JZ