The Cocktail Lovers Issue 37

ISSUE 37

NOW AVAILABLE

Celebrating the innovation, creativity and resilience of UK bars during lockdown with KI NO BI GIN – Part 1

ByThe Cocktail Lovers

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It’s been a year like no other for everyone, not least the hospitality industry as it faced lockdowns, ever-changing restrictions and ongoing uncertainty. Such adversity, though, has seen countless bars demonstrating characteristic innovation, creativity and resilience as they’ve found ways to support their customers, the community and each other.

It’s an attitude well worth celebrating and one that resonates deeply with the values of KI NO BI GIN, which is why it’s joining with us to salute some amazing bars.

Here, in the first of a two part series, we hear from the people behind five UK venues who share their stories of lockdown and the ideas it inspired.

CBRB, Manchester

Turning a ramen restaurant and bar into an intimate market for small traders

CBRB Market Manchester

Tom De Santis and Ben Gretton, CBRB owners.

When lockdown hit

We were gutted. It’s one thing to have your business suffer when it’s your own fault, but when it’s entirely out of your control…you get the picture.

The idea

We just wanted our space to be used and we’d already said that while it was closed our team were free to use it for whatever they wanted. So when we saw them starting up their own small business ventures in lockdown we knew our venue and location could be put to good use. Also, we’d heard of other spaces in the city centre charging pretty ridiculous rates for small traders to use their dead space, so we wanted to offer ours for free.

We already had connections to all the traders involved, so we just did a bit of social media hype and organised the space. From idea to opening took two weeks, which was to give the traders time to get everything in place and stock sorted.

We also had our ramen kits to shift so we just used the bar counter as a stall. Other than that we just tried to ensure the traders and products on offer tied in with the kinds of things the CBRB audience is into; plants, pictures, vintage clothing, candles….it’s the Northern Quarter innit!

The feedback

Really positive on all fronts. The traders all turned over good profits and everyone that walked through the door seemed pleased to just be in the space again, let alone be able to buy some cool things.

What we learned

That any idea is worth a pop. And that the best ideas are often the simplest. Also, don’t keep chasing money and falling victim to worry. Always be thinking of ways to keep your business afloat, but never compromise your responsibility to the industry or your local community. Such as our meals partnership, where other venues could sell our food rather than close and we’d deliver it. Dead simple idea that gave our business extra revenue and allowed other businesses to stay open.

Can’t wait to…

See people using our space to enjoy themselves. That’s our reason for existing. Without people in our restaurant – it’s not a restaurant at all. Also, the place being clean would be a positive! We’ve got a bit slack to be honest. The glasswasher has been full for ages…

CBRB, 101-103 Oldham Street, Manchester, M4 1LW.

cbrbmcr.com

Little Mercies, London

Beautiful bottled cocktails delivered on demand

Alan Sherwood, Little Mercies owner and bartender.

When lockdown hit

Luckily our team never gave any indication that they would do anything other than pull together and work out how to deal with anything that came our way. I know that’s not been the case for everyone, but the way we work, and how close we are as a team really made it feel like we’d get through anything.

The idea

Most of the drinks we’d been serving in the bar were batched ahead of time, so they could be simply diluted and chilled. So it was just two steps to get from there to bottling them for delivery. 

The biggest issues were finding bottles we liked at a decent price and getting the right kind of license for the new service. We quickly settled on a nice design for the bottles and packaging. However, we had assumed the licensing authority would do what the planning authority did and allow people with a license to shift their offering without having to apply for changes. So for the first week of lockdown we worked on that basis, only then finding out that wasn’t going to be the case. So we stopped selling online and teamed up with a local restaurant who did have an off license and we sold our cocktails through them. When we got our off license approved we started sending bottles throughout the UK.

The feedback

The response has been overwhelmingly positive on almost all fronts. There are obvious winners in terms of style of drink and what people enjoy, such as our Bellini and Old Fashioned twists which have been constant top performers.

What we learned

I suppose the obvious thing is that people really enjoy cocktails, regardless of the setting, and it doesnt have to be at the bar. At the end of the day we just make drinks, it’s not rocket science, we aren’t changing the world and none of us are rock stars or Nobel prize winners. But that doesnt mean we can’t put a smile on peoples faces, even from a distance.

Can’t wait to…

Have the team back together. It will be amazing as it’s been too long and too distanced. And to see our guests again, we are in a wonderful position where we know so many of them personally and they have been so patent and so supportive.

Little Mercies, 20 Broadway Parade, London, N8 9DE.

littlemercies.co.uk

Couch, Birmingham

Home cocktails and comfy clothes to enjoy them in

Katie Rouse, owner and director.

When lockdown hit

It has been quite a tough year. We opened our doors in November 2019 so we’d only been operating for four months before the the pandemic. We opened between each lockdown, but as a small venue of 20 covers and the two metre distancing regulation we were only able to seat up to nine people. Thankfully we had garden space but this needed a large investment to make it a safe public space. We’re a small team of four, with two of us being directors, so myself and Jacob needed to display a positive attitude so it didn’t affect our team’s hope for the bar to get back to normal. But in all honesty, at points this was very hard.

The idea

We all sat down (over a drink or four) and listed off as many ideas as we possibly could. Some were used and others were too expensive to put into action in an uncertain period. 

Eventually we chose six drinks from our menu, inspired by music, to include in our delivery service. We then adjusted the service based on customer demand. We started with large batches of six drinks served in bottles to drink at home. This went very well and we couldn’t believe the orders we were receiving. We added a new special serve every two weeks to give our customers something different to look forward to. Due to so many people being furloughed and jobs looking less secure, we adjusted our offering to four cocktails per serve to be more price-conscious and meet customer demand. 

Then we moved to a ‘Click and Collect Service’ during the second lockdown which allowed us to offer single serve cocktails. This was a considered move to be conscious of guest spending, meaning they could treat themselves to just a cocktail or two if they wished. 

Then just before Christmas we organised branded merchandise to keep our customers cosy at home over winter, including long sleeved cotton t-shirts and cotton joggers. These had our brand name and a design of a ‘couch potato’ drawn up by Alana Patchett who also designs our menu imagery.

The feedback

It’s been a very warming feeling to see people enjoying Couch cocktails at home, on their couch, wearing their couch comfies!

What we learned

Negatives can becomes positives. Our bar is designed to be a cosy setting like Cheers with Cocktails. Now we’ve added the garden seating area and it’s very exciting to increase maximum capacity to 38 people. 

Can’t wait to…

Welcome back our very supportive neighbourhood who have kept us afloat during the last year as get the bar open again.

1466 Pershore Road, Stirchley, Birmingham, B30 2NT.

couchbar.co.uk

Three Sheets, London

Reinventing a very cool bar as an equally cool café

Max Venning, owner.

When lockdown hit

We tried to keep as busy as possible and to make sure that we made the most of whatever opportunities there were. We’re lucky that we have a small tight knit team and everyone has taken the situation in their stride so far. 

The idea

We had originally also opened as a café during the day and bar in the evening back in 2016, but we stopped this in 2017 when we opened our second venue. So setting it back up again as a café was pretty simple. We wanted to have something operating to maintain customer engagement and to keep things happening at the site.

The challenge was to get the message out and try and create some buzz around it. We did a few sponsored ads for the local area, but the main draw has been a series of guest sandwiches from chefs which we have rotated on a weekly basis. We’ve had recipes from Ikoyi, Rochelles Canteen and many more – the generosity people have shown has been incredible. 

At the same time we’ve also been selling a range of our bottled cocktails which we are producing and selling through Shop Cuvée our online shop. These cocktails absolutely represent our bar, brand and style of drink. We believe they are the best way to drink cocktails at home. With the café we have maintained the same aesthetic, and partnered up with restaurants and chefs that we believe work with food in the right way. 

The feedback

It’s been great, our social media engagement has grown and it’s kept the site ticking over. People have been incredibly supportive. 

What we learned

We will look at keeping an element of the café, probably on Saturdays and Sundays. We also looked at our online customer engagement and we’ll make sure we’re more active there moving forward. And we’ll try to be more active with collaborations.

Can’t wait to…

Sit at the bar and have a Martini!

Three Sheets, 510b Kingsland Road, London, E8 4AE.

threesheets-bar.com

Penny Royal, Cardiff

Sharing knowledge with online training

Alexander Taylor, owner and operator.

When lockdown hit

To be honest, we probably felt the same as everyone. It’s been extremely difficult to remain motivated while being away from our chosen profession for so long. The biggest challenge for me as an employer was to find ways to keep the team busy, distracted from the circumstances and still as engaged with the industry as possible. 

The idea

Early in the third lockdown we started regular training days as a team to continue to give our weeks some form of structure, chosing Tuesdays and Thursdays as the best days. Then we reached out on social media to see which brand representatives were also looking to keep engaged with their accounts and our calendar filled up remarkably quickly.

This gave me the idea that staff from other venues in the area could also benefit from being involved as well. Then it was a case of organising stock, bottling and safely delivering to people prior to the online training sessions each week. Our first training was a week after my post on social media with the fantastic Jamie Baxter donating his own time unaffiliated to any brand.

The feedback

We had between 10 and 15 people for each session across three or four venues. And so far it’s run for eight fantastic weeks – while we’re also working on a new menu for our bar reopening!

What we learned

After three years of being overworked running my own bar, I had no idea that I couldn’t cope with an empty schedule!

Can’t wait to…

Speak to guests and serve them drinks again.

Pennyroyal, 22 High Street, Cardiff, CF10 1PT.

pennyroyal.co

As a small token of appreciation to these bars, KI NO BI GIN is sending each of them a unique gift all the way from its home in Japan. As a premium spirit dedicated to innovation and craftsmanship it hopes this gift will go a small way to supporting their re-openings. Included will be a Kasumi Japanese forged pairing knife, Usagi cobbler shaker, Yarai mixing glass, Stepped Jigger, Wilkinson Julep strainer, ice stamp and three KI NO BI GIN expressions.

We’ll be celebrating more inspirational UK bars with KI NO BI GIN next week.

In the meantime keep supporting your local bars.

The Cocktail Lovers

The Cocktail Lovers

The Cocktail Lovers are Mr G and Ms S, a man and a woman who share a passion for cocktails. (We also happen to be married, so we’re cocktail lovers in more ways than one…)

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