First there were the bog standard RTD cocktails, you know, the saddo cans that lurked menacingly from the chiller cabinet. More recently we’ve all witnessed how the same category has morphed, butterfly-like, into the most majestic of things, bar quality cocktails.
Now Jonny Shields, Jess Morgan and Lewis Philips are taking the cocktails at home game up another level with Canvas, a brand new drinks delivery service launching today.
What is it?
Good question. The short answer is it’s a curated sensory experience for you to fully immerse yourself in from the comfort of your home.
For the longer, more nuanced version, we spoke to Jonny Shields.
Okay Jonny, before we dig deeper, what is Canvas?
One thing that Canvas is not is another cocktail hamper where you simply open the box and that’s it. Our ethos is that there’s more to drinks than the liquid in your glass.
Got you. So who’s behind it?
There are three of us: myself, Jess Morgan and Lewis Philips. Jess and I worked together at Seedlip – me on Seedlip, Jess on its sister brand Æcorn. Before that she was at Dandelyan and Lyaness managing their floor service.
Lewis used to own a content agency which is where I met him – we worked on a project for Naked Grouse. After he sold that business he was looking for something new to get involved in. When Jess and I mentioned the concept behind Canvas to him, he immediately wanted to be part of it. The big element that he’s bringing to this is his eye for detail and his expertise in content and design.
Now let’s set the scene. How did the idea for Canvas come about?
It started from a chat Jess and I had last summer. We were discussing everything that was going on (or not going on) in the drinks industry which led to us talking about the growth of cocktail delivery services and how they are enjoyed at home.
And what was your conclusion?
Obviously the liquids are fantastic because they’ve been created by some incredible bars but for us, something was missing. Like I said before, we believe that great cocktails are more than the contents in the glass. Don’t get me wrong, obviously, the quality of the drinks are important but however good they are, when you’re drinking them at home, you’re missing out on other vital parts of the bar experience.
The lighting, the atmosphere, the ambience – that’s why bars spend so much time thinking about music, lighting, glassware etc – those are the things that distinguish their bars and bring the whole experience to life.
Agreed. So how does Canvas come in?
We’re looking to engage all of the senses and replicate an evening in your favourite bar but in your home.
Are you saying that Canvas can transform a run-of-the-mill living room or kitchen into something that equals an award-winning bar?
That’s our aim. We think of Canvas as the senses and the service missing from cocktails at home. Which is why we’ve taken into account the journey that you go on when you visit a bar, starting from the moment you arrive through to the time you leave. There’s a natural process that flows through the evening, like being greeted at the door, then being directed to your seat. Shortly after you’ll be offered a glass of water and possibly some snacks as you look through the drinks menu and take in the ambience. These are things that we’re focusing on.
Basically, by following a three-step process which take in three key words: ambience, explore and immerse.
It starts with you being seated in a bar environment that you’ve created in your home and you then spend the next two to three hours absorbed in an entire ritual that’s been curated for your enjoyment.
So as well as the cocktails and accompanying snacks, each box contains the extras that will add to the ambience, such as candles, room sprays and QR codes linking to handpicked soundtracks to enhance your evening. We’ll also include a link to a video of the bartender talking you through their cocktail creations and giving you ideas on how to make the most of the Canvas box.
Sounds great. What’s behind the name?
There are two parts to it. The first comes from the idea of giving the bartenders a blank canvas to create a bar without their usual constrictions of devising cocktails defined by the vision of the bar they’re working in, or the diktats of a cocktail competition. With us we ask, “if you had the chance to open your bar what would it smell like? What would the music be like? What would the concept be?” It gives them real freedom to be creative without having to follow a rigid brief. We see the bartenders as the creative directors of the concept and we bring their vision to life in the structure.
The second meaning behind the name is that this will be brought to life in people’s homes, so we want to treat their kitchens or living rooms as a canvas that we transform into a bar for the evening.
How often will the Canvas box change?
Every two months we’ll have a new bar from a different bartender which means an ever-changing roster of new concepts. It’ll be challenging but also great fun to team up with these bartenders, working out the mechanics of their bar and how it changes throughout the evening. It’s good for us and our guests.
And how can people buy one?
There’s a two month cycle. First they need to sign up to the guest list to book ‘their place at the bar’ and during the course of the first month, we’ll slowly tease out the upcoming theme, announcing the bartender, concept and bar. Reservations are open for 24 hours then expire so if you want that particular box, you have to get in quick! The limited time and numbers keep things exciting for our guests but also mean we can make up the boxes to order so we reduce waste. The boxes are then delivered during the second month when we start all over again.
It sounds like it’s all been very carefully considered. What’s been the hardest part of the whole process?
Ensuring that everything has been thoroughly thought through. We’re always talking about sweating the small stuff – attention to detail is so important to us. Everything has been carefully considered, from the thickness of the coasters to the quality of the foiling on the menus – these are the things that add to the quality of the overall experience.
Talk us through the box that you’re launching with?
It’s called Primavera and it’s created by Ed Proctor, a bar and restaurant manager we know and admire. It’s an aperitivo bar based on the time that Ed spent living and working in Barcelona. The name comes from the fact that Primavera means ‘spring’ in Catalan and Ed used to work at Spring restaurant in London. As for the box itself, without giving too much away, it includes aperitif drinks, bitter drinks and food pairings, plus some extra surprises so you’re totally immersed in Ed’s vision.
Why should people sign up to be on the guest list?
By working with bartenders on these bars we can give our guests something exclusive. Instead of trying to recreate a bar that already exists, why not experience something new and exciting, something specifically created for your home? Maybe they’ll go on to open as real bars – I’d love to see a bar that started as a Canvas bar going on to become a bricks and mortar space. By having something completely new that’s designed in this way is really unique.
(The cost of a Canvas box for two people is £75 + £5 pp. Delivered nationwide)
If your name’s not down…
The guest list to join Canvas is now live. Reservations for Primavera will open on 1st March. Visit canvas.bar for more details