To the casual observer, The Washhouse in Shudehill is just a pokey laundrette, complete with coin-operated washing machines, faded lino flooring and despondent clientele. But the typical laundry room shop front is exactly that, a front – and anyone looking a little closer might notice a few cracks in the façade.
The opening hours, for one, are not those of a typical laundrette – and the groups of well-dressed people disappearing inside certainly aren’t the typical laundrette crowd. Not to mention the massive washing machine-shaped door on the back wall.
It is through that not at all suspicious-looking door that revellers will find the modern-day speakeasy where, nestled in leather-clad booths, steeped in the lowest of low lighting, they can live out their prohibition-era fantasies.
Cocktails, ranging from the classic to the experimental, as well as spirits, beers and champagne are all served at table, to a soundtrack of dirty deep house.
Of course, one does not simply just walk through the washing machine-shaped door, there’s no entry without a reservation, and reservations must be made over the phone. So how do you book a table at a bar that doesn’t exist?
The first step is finding the phone number, which is listed on their website along with a list of services including duvet washing and shirt pressing, that they are obligated to say they do not actually offer. (The owners were ultimately forced to add the disclaimer after customers kept turning up with bags of dirty washing, and one woman, who must be great fun at parties, went so far as to make a complaint to Trading Standards.)
Once inside, pay absolutely no attention to the man pretending to wait for his spin cycle to end, head for the 1970’s phone and tell the operator that you want to wash some dirty clothes.
And with that, you’ll be free to head through the door, like Lucy stepping through the wardrobe into a leather-bound Narnia.
After two hours of Mad Men-style decadence, you’ll find yourself back outside the dingy launderette, probably in the rain, wondering if it all really happened. It definitely did happen, just don’t go around telling everyone, it’s supposed to be a secret after all.
Find The Washhouse at 19 Shudehill, Manchester, M4 2AF.
Also published on Medium.