Above: In action with Seeper
At 10am on the top floor of the pop-up events space Carousel, west London, a man is conducting a magic trick.
Simon Evans is used to this, of course, being a magician and performance director, most recently for Secret Cinema, London’s revered immersive theatre-cinema experience nights. But today he is not performing to a theatre audience. Here are 12 international bartenders, each one celebrated for being the best in their field.
“Ladies and gentlemen… a trick with a pen!” exclaims Evans as he retrieves the missing pen lid from under his elbow.
You might be thinking: ‘How does this relate to mixology?’
Simon Evans acting up at The Glasshouse Project
Well this is The Glasshouse Project, a new initiative from Bombay Sapphire, set up ‘to try and help inspire the world’s best bartenders with new and exciting thinking and ideas.’ Evans’ display – designed to show the relationship between performer and audience – is one of the talks and workshops that this small team of drinks experts have come to take part in. A day earlier, Dr. Rachel Edwards-Stuart discussed the science of food. Day three will see a talk from food designer Jacobo Sarzi.
“To do what I’m doing now I need to perform. I need to be different to the person I am with my parents at home. You can exaggerate. You can create from scratch. There are all sorts of different possibilities!” offers Evans.
Food designer Jacopi Sarzi
After this the group splits into four, whereupon each is invited to take part in an immersive theatre experience: some sit at a bar with two snearing VIPs (actors); another group is invited to talk to strangers as if watching a performance; upstairs, the bartenders become ‘interns’ in an advertising meeting; outside, groups are taken off in a car and taken on an adventure.
Re-grouping downstairs an hour later, there is a general consensus that everybody has learnt a great deal.
“I’ve learnt that sometimes you have to cross boundaries – we are acting,” says one bartender. “I like that you can let people open up if they want to – and sometimes that role can be reversed, too,” says another. “I think nudging someone to get out of their comfort zone is incredibly valuable,” agrees someone else.
Afterwards I ask two bartenders how they found it. “It was so cool – we don’t have immersive theatre in the States,” smiles Megan Daniel from San Francisco’s Whitechapel Bar. “I think this is something I want to do more of, to learn from,” says Philip Bischoff from Singapore’s Manhattan Bar.
Time out for the The Glasshouse Project attendees
After lunch the theme changes. Evan Grant, founder of the arts and technology collective Seeper, begins to screen videos of the events, installations and technology-based projects that he has worked on – from projections of moving images onto castle walls, to fantasy lands themed around films.
“I’m interested in how you can enhance what you do using these ideas,” says Grant, then taking the team through what he calls ‘future gazing’ technology, showing examples of virtual and augmented reality. There are pictures of surfaces transformed into touch screens, robots creating cocktails, liquids moving in all directions. Next Grant’s colleague pours a liquid drink from a cardboard cut-out shaped like a bottle into another one shaped like a glass.
“I like to think you guys could bring some booze stuff to life with these – perhaps the life and story of a juniper berry on a touch screen table,” exclaims Grant to the bartenders, now engrossed in watching Grant’s demonstration using a camera and a speaker to show the sound frequency of distilled water (at which point whirring cell-like images begin to bubble about on the screen).
Philip Bischoff from Manhattan Bar, Singapore
“Could you do that with gin?” someone shouts. “I don’t see why not!” answers Grant.
After some brief group work, in which everyone is asked to come up with ideas for drinks pop-ups illustrating what they have just seen, again there is general rumbling among the groups that “this was really cool.”
“I like the idea of having a Gin Martini and visualising that with technology at a bar, or maybe having digitally designed coasters with information on them. I like the idea of using visual cues to create our own drinks,” expresses Marcis Dzelzainis, partner bartender for The Glasshouse Project.
Marcis Dzelzainis, partner bartender for The Glasshouse Project
And with that, I leave the room, wondering what ideas this might soon spark off in some of the world’s best bars.
Words by Victoria Stewart
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