Inside the Secret Manchester Pub That Only Serves Bartenders

The Seven Oaks opens from midnight until 8 AM, catering exclusively to bar staff clocking off from their shifts. And with so many bartenders in one place, things can soon get rowdy.

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Mar 22 2017, 1:00pm

Welcome to Last Call, where we visit watering holes around the world to collect life advice from their trusty barkeepers, learning everything from how to get over a broken heart to what drink orders will get you laughed out of their bar. Today, we meet Phil Greenwood, landlord at The Seven Oaks—a Manchester pub that has become the go-to drinking destination for frazzled bar workers.

Situated between Manchester's trendy Northern Quarter and the footballers' playground of Deansgate, early evening customers at The Seven Oaks are mainly nearby office workers, lured by the pub's convenient city centre location and elegantly tiled exterior.

But come midnight, The Seven Oaks turns into a very different kind of drinking den. From 12 PM until well into the morning, landlord Phil Greenwood only lets in fellow bar workers, many of whom are clocking off from a late shift.

These thirsty bartenders must enter via the pub's secret back door with proof of their bar employment, and no more than one guest per person. Such strict door policies have earned Greenwood, who runs the pub with his wife, a reputation as one of the city's most ruthless landlords. "People say I'm a bit of a gobby twat because I take no shit," he tells me over the phone ahead of our interview. In the same breath he also claims "others tell me I have a messiah complex, but if people tell you you're amazing enough times you're going to start believing it."

And for many of Manchester's bartenders, The Seven Oaks is indeed a godsend—somewhere to drink with like-minded company at an hour when the rest of the world is calling it a night. From mixologists at high-end cocktail bars to Wetherspoons staffers, if you work in a bar in Manchester, you'll probably have downed a few here.

The Seven Oaks pub in Manchester's city centre. All photos by Akash Khadka.

Greenwood says the pub's popularity is also due to the fact that working conditions for Manchester's bartenders are getting worse. Tips are measly and hours are longer, with many bars now staying open until 4 AM. At the end of a grueling shift, staff across the board want nothing more than to get wasted—and The Seven Oaks can provide that.

When I meet Greenwood on a Wednesday afternoon, I find him fresh-faced and energetic, so am surprised to hear that he hasn't been to sleep yet. After finishing work at 8 AM, he went straight to his 4-year-old son's school, where volunteers reading to the class.

As we sit down for a coffee, I ask Greenwood what it's like to serve a bar full of bartenders and exactly how strict The Seven Oaks' door policy can get.

MUNCHIES: Hi Phil. When did you start bartending?
Phil Greenwood: My mum was a landlady so I worked for her growing up. I was a cellar man, I worked in the kitchens, waiting on tables—all the slavery jobs your mum gives you and pays you pittance for. My little one is growing up in a pub now and I'm glad as it makes you really confident. But in the mornings, that's closing time for us. So if I'm taking him to school, it's straight out the back door so he doesn't see anything.

How long have you worked at The Seven Oaks?
Ten years. I pretty much started all this and we're the only place of this kind in Manchester. Before here, I worked in a bar on Deansgate Locks. It was full of people who want cheap, sugary shots. Once I had to kick two people out for having sex against the bar. I walked up to the DJ booth and said to the DJ, "Cut the music for a second," and I went on the mic and said, "You guys shagging against the bar, the door staff are on the way to you now." Everyone gave them a round of applause. But it was the syrup that was really awful, I'd come home covered in it every night.

The Seven Oaks bartender Phil Greenwood.

How do you juggle working until 8 in the morning with family life?
I like it. Invariably once a week, I'll stay up for 24 but I just don't really need that much sleep.

Do you drink on the job?
I used to. When I first started here I was single, I was 23, and I probably drank more on shift than I should have. For the first five years, I was probably drinking 100 pints a week and I was a 20-stone bloke. I drank a lot, went to Burger King a lot, went to Wetherspoons a lot. You don't realise when you're that big how big you are—you lie to yourself.

Now I might have four or five beers on a Saturday night. I'm 33 now, it's different. I prefer to go hiking with the missus. I've grown up.

What's it like working with your wife?
We have a laugh—she's flirty and I'm ridiculously flirty. We can be a bit disgusting with each other when it's quiet, but we get flirty with the customers too. The nice thing is neither of us are bothered. We had a lad in the other week, it was his 21st birthday and he asked me for a kiss. I said, "Ask the wife." She said yes and I just walked over and snogged him. A lot of people's partners couldn't deal with that, but for us it's just shits and giggles.

The pub's secret side door used after midnight.

Do the customers ever get the wrong idea?
Most people don't but when you make the mistake of flirting with someone who then doesn't understand the boundaries, it can get a bit difficult. For some people it's like a red rag to a bull. I had this one woman and she said, "Your wife'll never find out," and I had to tell her, "You think that's really the issue here? I'm happily married." And it got to the point where she was downstairs making up stories. I made sure not to go down because obviously that can look incriminating and so in the end, I had to get one of the customers to ask her to leave. But of course she came back and apologised. When there's only one pub like this in the city they don't really have any choice but to do that!

Do you get any other kind of trouble?
On the odd occasion, but we usually deal with it in house. When it's been excessive or people have made things dangerous for the other customers by fighting, I find the most effective thing to do is ring up their work. But most of the trouble is at the back door, when people want to come in and they're not allowed. One to two times a year, we have a window put through. I'm actually less polite to the people I know though because I'm trying to bang it into their heads that they can't come in without their membership card—I have to be strict.

Are bartenders fussy about their drinks?
Every once in awhile, we get the odd person who says, "Do you do cocktails?" and I say, "Fuck off, do I look like someone who has time to do cocktails?" I do the door, I do the bar, I collect the glasses. But really what everyone wants is the cheapest way to get drunk in the shortest amount of time. So, I sell a lot of 2-for-£5 bottles. And now all the retro drinks are coming back—you've got your Hooch, Reef, Smirnoff Ice, WKD, Aftershock, Sourz. Personally, I think they're awful.

And do you draft your staff from the late-night customers?
Always. I already know what they're like.

All photos by Akash Khadka.