After announcing the super sexy Clubhouse partnerships with the coolest bars in New York, London, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, we honestly thought that Mark Murphy, Manager of Global Clubhouse Food & Beverage and the team at Virgin Atlantic had surpassed themselves on the cocktail front. Wrong. On Wednesday they only went and launched the world’s first Virtual Reality menu, or as they call it ‘IDA’ (aka immersive digital adventure).
It’s an adventure alright and we made sure we were first to immerse ourselves in it. Having had a whiff of its inception, it was all we could do to hold ourselves back until the launch. It was definitely worth the wait. As we’ve come to expect from all of the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse initiatives this is a class act – one which we’re sure other airlines will be kicking themselves that they hadn’t thought of first.
Never mind the pleasantries, if you’re reading this what you’ll want to know is, how does it all work? First off, you have to be seated at the bar – whether like us, you’re relaxing at Heathrow, or in one of the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses at JFK, Newark, LAX, San Francisco or Washington Dulles. Whichever Clubhouse you’re flying from, in order to get the full VR effect you have to be seated at the bar (no problem there).
Our EO Manhattan being made in Heathrow while Dev prepares it in New York
Next, you take your pick from the drinks in the VR section of the menu. Not a hardship there either, the selection takes in a signature drink from all of the partner bars – nine in all – including the Concrete Sazerac from World’s Best Bar Dandelyan in London; the delicious Rum & Cola from BlackTail, New York City; a fabulous sounding Fennel From Farm to Glass from the Walker Inn in Los Angeles; an impeccable Suit & Tie from Columbia Room, Washington DC and a Classic Daiquiri from the team at Necker Island in British Virgin Island. We opted for the EO Manhattan from Employees Only in New York and the Dead Reckoning from Smuggler’s Cove in San Francisco, then donned our headsets, popped on our headphones then watched as the magic happened.
Okay, we’re not daft, we knew our bodies were in Heathrow – the opener of the film showing a vignette of the bar team in Heathrow confirmed that, but just for a few minutes our minds were transported across the pond. There, large as life on our screen was Dev Johnson behind the bar at Employees Only talking us through the EO Manhattan he was preparing. In true Dev style, the drink comes with the expertly judged free pour, cheeky bants and the feel that you’re in a busy bar. Just as he reaches out with the drink, we take off our headset and there it is, ice cold, freshly prepared and winking at us to dive in. Brilliant. Better still, it tastes fantastic.
Joining in the party at Smuggler’s Cove
Next we’re having a nosey around the tiki paradise that is Smuggler’s Cove – looking up at the ceiling with its myriad bottles, fishing nets and pirate paraphernalia, around at the Rumbustion Society enjoying their drinks at the bar and then back at Martin Cate as he divulges the recipe for the Dead Reckoning which he makes in front of us. The next thing we know, we’ve got our tiki mug in hand and we’re tasting all of the ingredients Martin has just added to the sunshine-filled concoction. We defy you not to smile as you take the headset off – you really do feel like you’ve been there, right in the middle of the party.
Watching us as our heads go from left to right, up and down as we peer in every nook and cranny of the two bars is Mark Murphy. He and videographer Craig Sawyer have been working on the project for the last nine months. “It started off the back of Five Up which we launched at the Virgin Clubhouse in Heathrow last year,” he says. “We couldn’t have done it without Bacardí who have partnered up with us on the initiative. We wanted to engage with passengers rather than just go through the motions of a marketing activity.” They’ve done that alright. The VR experience gives you the illusion of travelling before you actually fly. “In an environment where you’re looking for distractions, to be taken away from the hustle and bustle of the airport, it’s there to provide a welcome escape and feeds into our ambition to always do the best we can for the customer experience.”
Do the drinks deliver? You bet your booty they do. “Turning around to any of these bars and saying we’re going to roll out your signature drinks consistently in airports around the world, there must be a level of nervousness, so we take that challenge and react to do it. The bars wouldn’t be involved if they thought we couldn’t deliver and we do that through the Bar Basics training that we rolled out globally with Bacardí four years ago.”
You can try the Virgin Clubhouse VR Experience at Virgin Clubhouses at Heathrow, JFK and Newark, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, featuring signature drinks from Dandelyan and White Lyan in London; BlackTail and Employees Only, New York; Smuggler’s Cove, San Francisco; The Walker Inn, Los Angeles and Columbia Room, Washington DC and Necker Island.