From influences to Industry Nights, we catch up Jon Calabrese at The Hoxton Pony to find out how the bar has evolved since its doors opened seven years ago.
What are your proudest moments in your seven years at The Hoxton Pony?
When the tsunami hit Japan, which was obviously a great tragedy, we held an event called Help Japan where we raised a substantial amount for The Red Cross. Being able to take something my brother and I have built and developed from scratch and use it to support something as special as that was a great feeling. Winning Best New Bar and Best Bar in London were two proud moments as well.
What kind of crowd do you attract and has it changed over the years?
We used to get a much more local audience going back some years whereas now we get a real eclectic mix – whether they come from Essex, France, West, North or South London, Manchester, or Liverpool. There are some great faces, great people and I hope it remains that way.
What’s your best-selling cocktail?
The menu is a bit of an evolving beast because we change it to fit with the seasons. The Santiago Swizzle with a mix of cachaca, pineapple, ginger beer and passion fruit is a very popular drink which will be coming in with our summer menu very soon.
Your father is a well respected figure in the global bar scene, how if at all has he influenced your love for the drinks industry?
He mostly influenced the way me and my brother value customer experience. Hospitality is about people choosing how to spend their social and free time and how to spend their hard earned disposable income, so it’s about creating the best experience for them and tailoring their drink and the service to their needs. My father always used to describe the bar as his theatre, the same way an actor would come on stage and perform a bartender has to be ready to come out onto the bar and perform. It doesn’t matter if you have to wait 15-20 minutes for your drink if the bartender acknowledges you and is engaging with the people in front of them.
As well as the upstairs bar, the Hoxton Pony is renowned for its nightclub downstairs. Have you had any favourite DJs perform there?
We’ve had a real good blend of people from all different walks of life and genres playing here. Some of the most noteworthy are Calvin Harris and Mark Ronson. We’ve also had some great special guests like Paloma Faith come and do a DJ set, we’ve had Ed Sheeran sing here before he really blew up. Professor Green’s a good friend of mine and he called me up when he was shooting the Remedy video and asked if he could do an impromptu performance and shoot it for Remedy? So then his DJ IQ came and played a set and Professor Green performed it. We’ve had The Subways play here live as well. We’ve had even more on the underground side like Him_self_Her and The Mechanism recently.
You’ve recently set up a regular series of Industry Nights, what’s the idea behind them?
My bartender and bar manager were just chucking ideas around and all three of us felt there’s not really anything that celebrates the hospitality industry and the hard workers that are involved in it. Hospitality is a great career choice and aspiration but it’s hard work. The guys are constantly working late hours, it’s very physically demanding and tiring and there’s a lot of prep that goes into it. I feel like there needs to be something given back. We wanted to do something for the unsung heroes of the hospitality industry and reward them with coming down to have a good night.
What can people expect to see on Industry Nights?
40% discounts on items at the bar. We are aiming for every event to be a collaboration with a drinks brand – whether that be a unheard of new, interesting product or something established, renowned and loved, with some specials via that brand. We are also working with people we know within the industry, interesting characters or people who are celebrated or known to do special guest hosting. So for example my father, Salvatore is going to do special guest bar tending with Peter Dorelli on Tuesday 28th April. If there’s any aspiring DJs working in the hospitality industry, we’re giving them the opportunity to come down and practice and play and bring their friends. We’ve got a mini ping pong table that if you can beat my bar manager who’s a bit of an expert on the mini table, you get a free drink and we’ve also got something called Guess the Poison. £1 of the shot purchase goes into a kitty – we’ve had four industry nights now and that kitty is growing and if you can guess the ten ingredients, you win the pot.
Can anyone come along?
It’s for anyone, even people who are interested in the industry or working in associated industries, although it’s primarily geared towards people who work in hospitality – we give out wristbands. If you want to come down prior to the event and ask for a wristband, we’ll take an email address and give you a wristband. Anyone’s welcome to get involved – we want to celebrate the hard workers of hospitality. It’s a great career prospect and there’s so many arms in the hospitality industry whether it be working with brands, working at venues o revents, working on branding etc. If you have even a bit of an interest in knowing more about the industry, it’s an opportunity for people to come and ask questions and find out more.
If you could sum up your Hoxton Pony adventure in one sentence what would you say?
Work isn’t much like work if it doesn’t feel like it.
The next industry night with Salvatore Calabrese and Peter Dorelli will be on Tuesday 28th April. For updates follow The Hoxton Pony Facebook page here
The Hoxton Pony, 104-108 Curtain Road, London EC2A 3AH. thehoxtonpony.com
Interview by Natalie Walsh