Cloud 23, Manchester

Mark Ludmon visits Hilton’s new-look bar 23 floors up above Manchester city centre

With its luxurious interior and fantastic views, Cloud 23 has been well established as one of Manchester’s leading destination bars. Located on the 23rd floor of Hilton Manchester Deansgate in the Beetham Tower, it has been refurbished to give it a more contemporary look and increase capacity by 100 to 300 alongside an inventive new cocktail menu.

With the bar’s full-height windows – and dizzying portholes in the floor looking down 22 storeys – the redesign by HBA London plays with the idea of “touching the clouds”. It also took inspiration from the song Elephant Stone by Manchester’s Stone Roses, which opens, “Burst into heaven, kissing the cotton clouds”.

The original bold, linear interior has been softened with curves, sinuous shapes, lighter colours and textured fabrics. Nine-hundred metres of rippling cream-coloured cloth hangs from above, while floor-to-ceiling antiqued mirror panels amplify the dream-like effect. The overall effect is “a fluid, sensual and glamorous destination that seems to flow through the clouds”, explains senior designer Lloyd Chapman. “Throughout Cloud 23, the shapes are layered, and features are multi-faceted so that they catch and radiate natural light during the day and shimmer under sultry lighting at night.”

Round to the right, the champagne lounge has a new lighter colour palette based on sparkling wine, with curved cream-coloured banquettes and a golden bubble-like glass-bead wallcovering. In the centre is a leather-lined drinks well and cabinet branded to reflect the bar’s three-year partnership with Pommery Champagne. Further round, through a floor-to-ceiling glass doorway, is another space which, in the daytime, is the executive lounge for hotel guests but, from 9pm, becomes a 100-capacity extension to the lounge, with cream-coloured armchairs, banquettes and tables (pictured).

Even the toilets fit the concept, with angled mirrors to reflect the images of clouds screen-printed onto the tiles, with sunset hues in the ladies’ and stormy tones in the men’s. The windows in both are covered in a translucent graphic of a diving board that appears to project over the Manchester skyline. In a humorous twist, cloud-themed songs play when guests sit down in the cubicles.

On the other side of the main bar is the new-look VIP Lounge with richer colours and curved panels overhead to emulate a cloud formation. Long cascades of golden beads form a chandelier while angular bronzed mirrors reflect the city views. The VIP Lounge, which has its own drinks cabinet, is to be developed with Ron Zacapa as part of Cloud 23’s continuing partnership with Diageo’s Reserve Brands. Each space is named after cloud-dwelling Greek gods, from the VIP Lounge, called Zeus 23, to the main Apollo 23 bar.

The new cocktail menu has been developed by general manager John McLaughlin and head bartender Matthew Soares with consultant Julian de Feral of Gorgeous Group. “The idea behind the list was about looking down from Cloud 23 into Manchester, with light fluffy drinks that become heavier in texture and flavour as you go down the list,” John explains.

They were also inspired by Manchester’s industrial heritage, with drinks such as Dalton’s Atomic Experiment, named after 19th-century Manchester physicist John Dalton. This combines Cuervo Tradicional tequila, Belvedere Pink Grapefruit vodka, berry puree, honey and lime, topped with an apple, elderflower and pinot grigio foam – made using nitrous oxide which Dalton used in his development of atomic theory.
The best-selling cocktail is Here’s To Baby, named after the world’s first working computer unveiled at Manchester University in 1948. It uses Ketel One vodka infused with vanilla, shaken with Galliano L’Autentico and a spiced peach and rosemary puree, topped up with champagne.

Washday Blues evokes backyards of washing, made up of Tanqueray gin, blue curaçao, honey, Tio Pepe sherry, lemon and Dr Adam Elmegirab’s Dandelion & Burdock Bitters, topped up with soda and served with popping candy to sound like raindrops. “The idea behind the cocktails is to make a real sensory experience with a strong visual element,” John explains.

Originally a late-night destination, Cloud 23 is now open from 11am and, with the new look, is more suited to the afternoon teas that were introduced two years ago. The bar has also added sharing boards and small plates offering British-inspired dishes under David Gale, executive chef in the hotel’s restaurant. While not a members’ club, the venue has 23 private members whose benefits include a locker by reception where they can keep bottles of spirits and, every month, find a small gift.

“Cloud 23 is such a unique, iconic location and we wanted it to retain quite an exclusive feel,” John adds. “Service is very important, and we want people to feel this is more of an occasion rather than just somewhere to drink.”

Cloud 23, Hilton Manchester Deansgate, 303 Deansgate, Manchester M3 4LQ Tel: 0161 870 1670

Originally published in the January 2013 edition of Bar magazine.

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