“People always ask us: ‘Why have you done this for 14 years?” Hannah Sharman-Cox begins. “And the answer is, we don’t know!” Hannah and Siobhan Payne are behind London Cocktail Week, an event held between 12 and 22 October, that this year will engage 200 bars in the city.
Đọc bài viết bằng Tiếng Việt
“There’s such a comedown afterwards, too,” Siobhan adds. “It ends, and you’re like, what should I do now?”
At least, right now they appear relaxed. “Our cycle of preparation is annual, so the summer is a really stressful time,” she adds. Now, with a few days to go, she says that all that preparation means they can finally chill a bit.
London Cocktail Week 2023
The two best friends have brought their boundless energy to each annual cocktail festival, which is regarded as the global leader in events of this kind. “We’ve done it again and again. And each time we’ve set out to make it better. It’s not in our nature to be lazy,” Hannah explains.
They’ve stripped London Cocktail Week back this year too, which has helped, from 350 to 200 bars, and added lots of innovative programs that go far beyond the traditional masterclass.
“The thing is, we feel the kind of people we have in this industry simply don’t learn very well that way – being lectured to. That’s why we’re all in this industry! So, we asked ourselves what other ways we could pass on knowledge and arrived at a series of experiences such as a chance to go behind the scenes at The Connaught Bar.”
“Managing people? Boring! Running a business? Boring!”
Stepping back from the event has helped empower their creative side. “Managing people? Boring! Running a business? Boring!” Hannah exclaims. So, they took their commitment down to two days a week. “And the accumulated bandwidth has given us a London Cocktail Week that has been much more mindfully put together.” It’s directly helping to increase revenue too.
“Our people are so loyal,” Hannah adds proudly. “We have hundreds and hundreds of people that come every year. And there are thousands and thousands of guests.” But, besides the foot traffic, they’ve organized many other initiatives to help empower cocktail bars in the English capital that include but also go beyond bar takeover and masterclasses. For example, this year, participating bars sell wristbands themselves for the event and keep all of the revenue.
Then there’s the Bartender Exchange Program that includes pre-shift tours of prestigious participating bars “that include everything from five-star hotel bars, to specialist bars, MICHELIN-starred restaurant bars and some of London’s best neighborhood bars.
Their Seat At The Bar Program gives bartenders the chance to get up close and personal with participating bars, places like The Savoy, Soma and Swift, and have tastings and talks with the teams. And there’s the Pick Your Battles Program where bartenders get to learn the basics of hand-picked ice.
And their Connoisseurs Collection, which is a curated program of one-of-a-kind luxury experiences, like a special evening of omakase at The Aubrey, and Lyan X – A Decade of HMS, a five-cocktail 3-hour experience that sees the five Lyan bars plus their one restaurant united for two nights in the Sea Containers hotel.
“They’re all new for this year,” Siobhan smiles contentedly.
Doing this for 14 years has given them unparalleled insights into how the industry has evolved. “Every year, all of the bars send in a photo and information on the cocktail that best represents them. It’s fascinating to see,” Siobhan says.
“Right now mezcal is mega,” Hannah nods. “Tequilas, maybe spurred on by celebrities, are as big. There’s tons and tons of bitter drinks, lots of amaros, and lots of aperitivo-style drinks.”
“And, I would say that there’s lots of Asian flavors and techniques entering the industry,” Siobhan adds.
It’s not all benefits though. “I love that we get to go to bars and they know us, and they’ll want us to try this and that. But, to be honest, I like to go to Soho House. They don’t care who you are. They don’t try and overdeliver. I can have a Martini at the bar in peace!”
“There’s White City House that’s a five-minute walk from both of our houses so we go there a lot too,” Hannah adds.
The Soon-To-Launch Pinnacle Guide
But besides benefiting London Cocktail Week 2023, the increase in free time and all that accumulated industry knowledge has helped Hannah and Siobhan pursue other projects, like their soon-to-launch, long-time-in-the-making Pinnacle Guide. The guide will employ a MICHELIN-style recognition system, awarding bars one, two or three pins.
“Since we announced it, we’ve been in the consultancy phase – talking to our contacts to ensure that the system we use works and is the right system,” Hannah tells us. “It’s an opt-in system, where bars wishing to participate go through an in-depth enrollment process. Once they’ve done that, we send anonymous inspectors. And that allows us to understand the operations through the application, for example what are the bar’s hiring practices? And, through the inspection, to understand the drinks, the design, and even the music they play.”
“It should exist alongside other awards bodies like the 50 Best, so a bar could, for example, be #8 in the world and have two pins,” Siobhan adds.
Applications open in November, and, they say, in a limited number of countries at first. And they should make the first announcement early next year “and there’ll probably be announcements seasonally, every three months, for some rolling good news.”
But, what, we finally want to know, constitutes good bar music. “For me, a little tipsy at the end of the night, it has to be some Billy Joel!” Hannah decides.