How to order like a bartender
by Jess Carter
27 February 2019
We’ve been quizzing teams at some of our local watering holes (both well-known staples and less obvious joints) about the favourite sips they’re serving up right now. We feel a bar crawl coming on…
Let’s start in Bath, shall we? Sub 13 is a mainstay of the local cocktail scene here, founded 15 years ago by two mates who wanted to bring the quality cocktails you’d find in London to Bath turf. It’s grown to be known as an inclusive kind of bar – as welcoming to parties as seasoned liquor buffs.
So, about those drinks. Last year the Pornstar Martini overtook the bar’s renowned Mojito in the popularity stakes for the first time, we’re told. Not your thing? Bar manager Ramsey Keir has a zesty sounding recommendation for this spring that should do the trick: the GC Collins – grapefruit gin and The King’s Ginger liqueur shaken with fresh lemon juice, vanilla syrup and rhubarb bitters. It’s topped with soda in a tall glass, and finished with a stick of rhubarb. Keen.
You need not look far for your next drink: neighbouring Circo moved to George Street three years ago from the other end of the city centre, where it forged a name as one of Bath’s go-to indie watering holes. The stylish and chilled-out bar is home to a welltrained, creative team, who really understand their booze. This place introduced a specialist rum bar in 2017, reflecting the growing uptake of this tropical spirit, and the collection of bottles has been made good use of by the crew.
“It allows us to create interesting and unique drinks,” says manager Julia Maltby. “The current staff favourite is the Bananarama – a blend of Cargo Cult Banana and Plantation Pineapple rums. A customer favorite, though, is our Bouquet Martini, a mix of French vermouth, jasmine and rose gin and elderflower and rose liqueurs.”
Among the grand Georgian townhouses that line picturesque Great Pulteney Street is Bar 15, found within boutique hotel No.15 Great Pulteney. This chic bar is full of curious touches – the cocktail menu takes the form of a deck of cards, for instance – but despite such attention to style, substance is very much a priority. “We focus on purity of flavour,” says bar manager Ian Harman. “Every cocktail uses high-end ingredients to produce amazing flavours, and is made to enhance and display them in exciting and daring variations.”
The Persephone’s Pomegranate (Williams Elegant Gin, elderflower liqueur, pomegranate juice, lemon and soda) is one of the most-loved concoctions here, but there’s a newbie on the block – or should we say deck? – that we have our eye on: the Pisco and Fig Sour, with 1615 Pisco, Bristol Syrup Co Demerara, Briottet fig liqueur, duck egg white and plum bitters.
Let’s head over to Bristol now, starting right up the top of Whiteladies Road, at Kinkajou. Housed in the basement space that used to be occupied by the famous Hausbar, this relatively recent addition to the local cocktail scene aims to continue the boozy endeavours of its predecessor, with expertly mixed drinks, a selection of fine spirits and great service. The name? It’s a raccoon-like animal – also known as the honeybear – whose curiosity, social character and nocturnal nature made it a great mascot, the team felt, for their underground, late-night bar. The space was refurbished last year to create a setting that’s refined, relaxing and nods to the kinkajou’s native rainforest home.
So, to the drinks: the menu currently lists over 100 cocktails, but the most popular of late has proved to be their signature, Honeybear. This sees Cachaca infused with peanut butter and mixed with pineapple and honey.
Follow Whiteladies Road down to the Clifton Triangle, and you’ll come into the vicinity of New York-inspired, speakeasy-style joint Hyde and Co. This place was born 10 years ago now (yes, really) but is still considered one of the city’s best bars, and has become known for its thoughtfully designed concept menus, which read like a story; the current version is entitled Midnight in Paris, and follows a private detective on a Film Noir-style journey.
“Our best seller is the King Louie,” says manager and recent winner of Imbibe’s Bartender of the Year award, Dan Bovey. “It’s a twist on the classic Jungle Bird cocktail (rum, lime, pineapple and Campari), and is made with Trois Riviéres Agricole Rhum and passion fruit. “At this time of year, my own drink of choice has to be a classic Irish Coffee. We make ours with Redbreast Lustau – a sherried Irish whiskey – and pair it with Cast Iron by Extract Coffee, then finish with a layer of cream. It’s rich and indulgent.”
Down Park Street, towards town, is Hyde and Co’s sister bar, The Milk Thistle. The phrase ‘hidden in plain sight’ springs to mind here: it’s in a big building right on the main road with a large black door – yet you can so easily walk past without noticing.
“As a table service bar, we believe in easy-going, high quality service to complement our drinks,” says manager Alex Godfrey. “As we have just launched our new 2019 menu, Meet George, a guest favourite is yet to reveal itself; however, we have a suspicion that Oh! Sentimental One and Taking the Pisco will be popular choices. My own favourite? The Rebel Genius. This reimagined Negroni will take you to Italy on a summer’s day.”
Also in the city centre is steampunk-themed cocktail bar The Clockwork Rose, based around a concept that centres on the fictitious Captain Sebastian Commodore. It was opened in September 2017 by Christopher and Danielle Stutt, who are members of the local steampunk community.
“Each cocktail on our menu is created to represent a different story from the life of the Captain, including the time he foiled a plot to poison the Queen (Pharmaceutical Stimulant) and the time that he took on board a mysterious passenger known only as the Hitchhiker (Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster),” Chris explains.
Guests seem to love the Picnic Society here – a combination of crème de cassis, lemon juice, cranberry juice, aquafaba, and homemade strawberry and basil-infused gin. But, right now, Chris is all about his Après-Ski concoction, a simple hot chocolate with Green Chartreuse and cream: “It has a distinctive herbal and minty flavour, and is the perfect drink for the cold winter evenings.”
Okay then, beer lovers: your turn. Tucked away at the end of Bristol’s Broad Street is a unique little bar that specialises in Belgian and UK craft brews, The Strawberry Thief. It’s owned by Mike Harris, who saw a gap in the market back in 2016, after a trip abroad.
“New York was an epiphany for me. I had seen the booming beer culture in Europe, then saw it through fresh eyes with the American focus on high-end hospitality, and realised there was a gap here,” he says. “There was quality beer being served, but without the service or focus on quality glassware and surroundings.”
When it comes to what to drink here, general manager Jacob Evans has your back.
“Brugse Zot Blonde has been a firm favourite since we added it to our core draught line up last year. It’s got four different malts, which give it a distinctive big body and sweet malt character, and the unique yeast adds notes of banana and plum. The glassware is equally impressive, with the pint glasses looking like chalices – which often leads to a ripple effect around the bar once one is ordered.
“However, the Straffe Hendrik Quadrupel is my current go-to beer for a boozy warmer. Its a rich and intense beer with subtle dried fruits in the background of a complex dark ale. At 11% ABV it’s not one to quaff, but it’s great to sip your way through in a warm, candlelit bar…”
With a CV that lists several well-known Bristol bars, past and present (including Hyde and Co and Milk Thistle), Akos Rabi is a real hospitality pro, having studied hotel management before working in high-end restaurants in the US. He eventually opened cocktail bar Loose Cannon at the harbourside in June 2018. It’s not just well mixed concoctions and decent beers you’ll find here, though; it’s also a space for local artists to display their work, and musicians and DJs to perform. As well as all the classics, these guys like to offer a selection of drinks that’s a bit more off the wall.
“Our menu is quite different from the chains around us; we have a few interesting drinks and some crazy garnishes,” says Akos.
“Our signature menu is all designed and created by us, and every ingredient is prepared in house. Unicorn Tears is our best-seller. And Sugar Tax is my personal recommendation. It’s a twist on an Aperol Spritz – with Irn Bru!”
Somewhere you might not head to automatically in search of a decent cocktail is Prince Street Social. Nevertheless, it mixes up some real good ’uns. It was opened three years ago and, as the name suggests, is designed to be as social a venue as possible – the large tables and layout of the space making it great for big groups as well as quiet after-work drinks. (If you love a deal, check out the list of drinks on the two-for-one offer.)
“The team love to experiment and try new cocktails,” says manager Dulcie Carey. “Our special for February and March is the Mermaid Spritz, made with blue curacao, triple sec and Prosecco. It’s already proven a favourite for our regulars, as the zesty flavours of the blue drink catch you by surprise! A definite must for anyone who loves a touch of fairytale magic.”
Another joint that may not already be on your regular hit list – unless you’re a lucky local, of course – is To the Moon. This friendly bar is secreted away off the main drag of Old Market. Hunt it down, though, and you’ll find a mean range of local beers, quality spirits and cocktails. With the soul of a real community hangout and bags of creative Bristol character, it sees local DJs, musicians, artists and all kinds of performers making use of the space at regular events every Friday and Saturday. But what to sip on while you get entertained?
“The Espresso Martini is always popular,” says co-owner Chris, “and we have a couple of twists, such as one with coconut rum, which is very easy to drink! My personal current favourite would be New Bristol Brewery’s The Joy of Sesh; we aim to support local breweries as much as possible, and there are some great options.”