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Bartender Portraits

Nightjar – London

Rosita at Nightjar London

Rosita Cocktail

If you hear the name Nightjar, it sounds slightly mysterious and enchanting and you have the feeling that it must be exclusive. Well yes it is but if you are early with booking or if you come late at night as a walk up you might get lucky. I recommend doing the first one and get yourself a reservation for the music session as you are in for a treat if you do. Before I came to Nightjar the first time as a guest I did a two days’ course around 1 ½ years ago. I tagged along with a few friends and there were some other bartenders from around the world there. Marian Beke and Luca Cinalli, the two bar masters were training us. All in all, an interesting two days if not slightly overpriced. Ice carving and other basics but also drinks compositions from their crazy menu. It was fun that’s for sure but I would opt for a much smaller class if I would go back. The ingredients, the ideas and the presentation are really something else in this place. Things you have never heard of, presentation of a drink like a dish in a Michelin star place. You can really impress a date at Nightjar. I came twice as a guest that weekend and I return just a couple of weeks back with my brother to show him the place. You find Nightjar in Shoreditch. A friendly bouncer stands in front of a dark brown door. The only thing that points to Nightjar is that small placard with the bird on it. Then you know you are at the right place. Sometimes there is a queue later at night because the problem is, once you are inside you don’t really want to leave.

Sazerac at Nightjar London


Is it because of the drinks, the music? You are about to find out. The bar has this speakeasy feel to it. You walk down a flight of stairs and you are entering the room that offer some 80+ seats if I remember well. Nightjar has a seating only policy which is a good thing I think as people are dancing when the music starts to play. No smoking and no picture taking of the room itself. I got told off even though it didn’t say. You are allowed to photograph your cocktail which you will as it looks very pretty. The cocktail menu is extensive and a lot of drinks are ordered throughout the evening therefore groups tend to order punches which makes it easier for the bartenders. They are not having a relaxed night though. It is full on. Two bartenders serving the whole room is quite something. That’s why most of the time the few seats in front of the bar stay empty. Not only because it would distract the staff but also because it lets you see better how they work. Especially if Marian and Luca are working the speed is high. There is another helper with easier drinks and other stuff and there are some hosts that take care of you. They are ever so friendly and try to accommodate your wish. At least that’s how I felt it. We had quite some drinks during the evening and it would take long to name them all but the best one I had during that evening was a composition called Rosita with Excellia Reposado Tequila, Shiso Sauvignon Blanc, Nettle Tea, Pepper Tokaji, Campari and Tobacco. You hardly find a drink that has just 2-3 ingredients. I liked the drink a lot. Not too sweet, a slight bitterness, nicely balanced. These many ingredients, at least for me, seem difficult to manage.

Nightjar London

The bar

When I compose a drink I have the aspiration that you smell or taste a slight touch of all the ingredients in it. They play with each other, the support each other, together they make the cocktail what it is. Most of the drinks at Nightjar, for my taste, are far too sweet. Ingredients are lost, you look for this one taste that you see on the menu but you just don’t find it on your palate. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to taste every single one very strong. As said before, they work with each other but at Nightjar I could sometimes not make out the type of alcohol that was used if I would not have known it. It might be because I tend to drink classic cocktails and the sweet tooth is less for me, it might well be. Tastes are different in the end but I drink a lot of cocktails around the world and think that I can judge at least a little bit. Not every bar can do every drink. It is impossible. I would have liked if a bar like Nightjar says that they only do their drinks from the menu. Why not? I can be there concept. Nobody would judge. Might be because they find themselves in the top10 over the last couple of years that they think they have to offer classic cocktails too. I would understand if they say, we don’t do it. Because if they serve it to you, it should be spot on as No 3 in the world. I finished off the evening with a Manhattan and a Sazerac. The Sazerac was solid and very nicely presented but the Manhattan was almost undrinkable. It was the sweetest Manhattan I ever had. I have to admit that I was slightly disappointed. The evening though turned out to be so much fun.

Inca Cocktail at Nightjar London

Inca Cocktail

Met funny and interesting people on the table next to us and spent the evening with them. The live music was splendid. You can really have fun at this place. This is why, even though the drinks might not be to my liking, I enjoy coming back here. It will be interesting to see how this place develops over the next years. I have been told that Marian is leaving Nightjar and Luca is opening a second place of the Nightjar owners called Oriole. Crazy cocktail creations I have seen so I am curious how this place turned out. Opening is 20th November 2015. It might be that Nightjar gets a bit more quiet.

Nightjar Homepage

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Rules – London

Rules in London

The bar

Rules rules I have to say. This place got recommended to me by a friend. I heard about Rules way back and I knew it is the oldest restaurant in town but I never heard of the cocktail place upstairs. Probably not many other visitors know about it either. So I had to check it out as my friend said the cocktails are ace. As I knew Rules is the oldest restaurant in town I expected the stylish old fashioned place and that’s really what I got when I walked up the little staircase to the first floor. This place is steeped by history. I went there for an aperitif early evening so not many people were there but I heard that the place gets busy at night, which I easily believe. When you come in you find the bar on the right hand side with only a few leather bar stools which are very comfortable and vintage. Just perfect to sip a cocktail on an early weekend evening. The rest of the interior is vintage too and very British. Lovely old back bar, old fonts for their Rules logo and baroque style carpet floor. Moreover dark wooden walls and towards the ceiling you find a old hunting landscape which are underlined with vintage paintings, hunting trophies and the rather heavy furniture coloured in dark red leather or fabric. Last but not least the bartender. No he was not vintage but very British indeed. Very well mannered, slightly sarcastic, a pinch of strictness and dressed very dapper. It makes the place what it is and it totally fits the scene. We were sitting at the bar and Michael served us. I knew what I wanted. Continue Reading

Lee Daniel Hobbs – The Walrus

“Bartender portraits” is a series that lets you see behind the bartender scene and get to know the masters behind your boozy creations. Hamburg calls me every year for a fair and I like to combine it with a weekend in this magnificent place in the north. Harbour meets with architecture, trashy Reeperbahn, alternative Schanzen area, excellent eateries, laid back people, a diversified party scene and last but not least a vibrant bar culture. Last year I met Henrik Hammer who produces my favourite gin at the fair and he told me about this new bar called The Walrus. I checked it out and ended up going back 3 times. This is when I met Lee Daniel Hobbs, one of the masterminds of The Walrus. His cocktail creations and creativity never disappoint. All in all one of my favourite bar in the world. So a year later it was time to come back and have a deeper talk.

Lee Daniel Hobbs at The Walrus in Hamburg Continue Reading

Thanos Prunarus – Baba Au Rum

“Bartender portraits” is a series that lets you see behind the bartender scene and get to know the masters behind your boozy creations. I had never been to Athens but wanted to go for a long time since it is packed with history. I have done some reading beforehand and surprisingly I realized that Athens has a very lively cocktail scene. Baba Au Rum made a name for itself since 2009 and therefore I decided to meet the man behind this little gem, Thanos Prunarus.

Thanos Prunarus from Baba au Rum in Athens Continue Reading

Artesian – London

Artesian in London

Where the magic happens

Artesian; surely everybody who is interested in cocktails has heard about this place. Their reputation precedes them. The unchallenged No 1 in the world over the last four years. Alex Kratena has built himself a memorial in the Langham Hotel just north of Oxford Circus. Probably more guests walk in and out of the hotel for the bar rather than the rooms. He is not often there as he travels so much but he can count on his excellent staff, first of all Simone Caporale, his No 2. No 2 though sounds not very positive and does not give him the credit he deserves. The last three times I was there, Simone was there too and what a host he was; knowledgeable, efficient and very funny. What more can you ask for? Ahh yes, he recognised us six months later and not because we didn’t behave well, because he is the epitome of an excellent host. You can debate about the interior of this place; after all it is a hotel bar of a 5 star hotel. Marble wherever you look. Expensive lighting, extravagant furniture, all in all slightly pompous. It very much suits the high heeled crowd. Very pleasant though that everybody is welcome and has an equal chance to get in. I give them a lot of credit for that. It makes the place even more interesting. Very international clientele. Continue Reading

Sven Riebel – Seven Swans & The Tiny Cup

“Bartender portraits” is a series that lets you see behind the bartender scene and get to know the masters behind your boozy creations. It was about a year ago when my good friend Armin who opened the Kinly at that time told me to visit another bar in Frankfurt that has just opened. So I made my way over to the Seven Swans & The Tiny Cup at Mainkai 4 and entered that little gem of a bar. It was an extraordinary evening that put a whole new meaning to Classic twists. Sven, the owner was taking care of us the whole night and we discussed drinks on his menu but he also offered his expertise in mixing something out of the ordinary. It became a memorable encounter. Sven, an epitome of an excellent host, is a person that you never quite grasp fully. He reflects, pauses, contemplates, jokes and then he gets serious again and that all in a very short amount of time. It makes you curious about him; slightly mysterious. A very clever fellow. Warm at heart but you don’t want to cross him. The right mix of host and owner, friend and bartender, connoisseur and booze buddy. He seems to always find the right path. So a year later I returned to Seven Swans & The Tiny Cup which just won best new bar to meet Sven Riebel the mastermind behind this tiny heaven.

Sven Riebel at Seven Swans & The Tiny Cup in Frankfurt Continue Reading

Zetter Townhouse – London

Cocktail Lounge at Zetter Townhouse London

Cocktail Lounge

I had a tight schedule while in London as I wanted to see so many bars. Obviously one has to shortlist in London as the choice is so vast. I wanted to go to Zetter Townhouse for a while since I heard good things about it. At first Tony Conigliaro has his fingers in it, which already says a lot. Tony used to work at the famous Roka restaurant and its Shochu Lounge and now opened his own bar; 69 Colebrooke Row, which is another must see in London. Secondly Zetter Townhouse has a very lovely interior. Full of details that sends you back in time. A log fire place, old wooden floors and carpets, paintings, photographs with magnificent frames, lamps, old chairs and sofas, curtains etc. Everything fits perfectly together. All in an old fashioned rose tone. Even the walls look like the designer used fabrics but its actually not, it is an interesting pattern that makes the wall look like a fabric. When you walk in through the white door you feel like you walk into somebody’s home or better an Earls country house. You instantly feel very comfortable and cosy with the warm lighting and colours. I chose to sit at the bar which is rather small. Continue Reading

Sven Almenning – Eau De Vie

 “Bartender portraits” is a series that lets you see behind the bartender scene and get to know the masters behind your boozy creations. My brother brought me the cocktail book from Eau De Vie as a birthday present when he returned from a business trip to Sydney. Actually he could only give me a pdf copy at first. A handsome gesture by the bar staff as my birthday was in a short while and the book was just about to print. When it came out it travelled the world in a container and 2-3 months later it arrived in Zurich. A fantastic book and it was clear to me that I had to visit the bar when I went to Sydney and moreover I was eager to meet the mastermind behind Eau De Vie.

Sven Almenning at Eau de Vie in Sydney Continue Reading

Delicatessen – Moscow

Delicatessen in Moscow

The bar

Moscow is a special place. If you read about my travels to Chainaya you know at least one reason why. But the city has much more to offer than just bars, but I would not know where to start. I could go on for hours. That the city offers a second top bar is just the icing on the cake. It was a big surprise when I read about two bars being in the top 50. Still though I was very curious seeing the second bar that found its way into the realm of the best of the best. I heard that this place is not only a bar but also a restaurant. At least when you read about it, it comes across like this. Inside though its a good mixture between bar and restaurant. The food, to start with, is excellent. Even if you are not a cocktail fan, go there to have a bite or two. Its well worth it. Chainaya and Delicatessen are not located too far from each other but then again distances take another dimension when it comes to Moscow. Things are just far and traffic can get crazy. Luckily Moscow has probably the best metro system in the world. In all my travels I have not come across a better one. First of all it is reliable. Secondly it is a museum. You could spend hours seeing the pillars, floors, sculptures and walls full of history. Continue Reading

Chainaya – Moscow

Chainaya in Moscow

Lovely bar setup

Many people prefer St. Petersburg over Moscow. Well I don’t. This for many reasons. One of them is the cocktails, what else? One might say, Moscow & Cocktails, really? Yeah really! Well there are not many places that serve world class cocktails but at least there are 2 bars that made it to the top 50. Well don’t get me wrong, sometimes I ask myself how a bar ends up being in the top 50 at all but in general one can admit if they end up in there somewhere they must at least do a few things right. In the case of Chainaya they do a lot of things right. You would also think when you add up Moscow, cocktails and price levels, one ends up paying 30-40 USD for a cocktails in a small exclusive place like this. Not at all. Drinks are all around 15 USD which is reasonable for the city and especially for the quality. When I read about it the first time I knew I had to visit. First of all I had to find it as I read its not so easy to locate. When I went the first time there was nothing on Google maps but I had the address which brought me at least to the vicinity of the bar. Being outside at the corner of the street there was only a Kebab store and I was trying to ask for the way. The guy just gave me some answer in Russian which did not help. I asked another person, all I got was a brief Russian answer that probably meant: “No idea”. Another person arrived at the side of the street in a mini cooper, got out, took his skateboard out of the trunk and wanted to walk away. I thought there is good chance he might speak some English. Continue Reading