You’ve got an amazing pedigree in your career so far, but how did you first get into it?
By accident, the same way everyone else does! I was actually an auctioneer before, selling cars, and a nightclub opened up in my local town. I’d just turned 18, I started glass collecting, then started bar-backing. Kind of fell in love with what the guys were doing, and they started showing me how to bartend, and six months later the head bar role came up there, and I ended up landing that.
Then where did you move to?
I started working for Tony (Conigliario), and I was at the Zetter Townhouse for a couple of years. I absolutely loved my time there, and learned a different way of bartending there; how Tony looks at things and how his team works. Then after that, I disappeared back into Soho to run Milk + Honey. Again, they’ve got a fantastic training programme, and I learnt a more classical way of bartending. Then I picked back up with Tony at 69 Colebrooke Row.
Tony is a bit of a drinks titan. What would you say makes his style stand out from everyone else?
He has a completely different style! It’s a different way of thinking and looking at drinks. Working with those teams, creating those things, and just being in the Drinks Factory was an incredible experience.
What’s tempted you over to El Camion?
With El Camion, the big pull was actually Dick Bradsell. Tony was actually originally Dick’s protégé, so looking after a bar he’d helped set up was amazing. Also, one of my favourite bars I went to when I was 18 was Green & Reds, just off Brick Lane. That was a tequila bar, and it’s the first time I’d really gone into a bar that just looked after one thing very, very well. I fell in love with tequila, and you can see here, in the cabinets, we’ve got a huge range of tequila; we actually have three times that in storage. I want to get these cabinets opened up, and do a lot of drinks tasting at industry nights, members’ nights. Open up some rare tequilas!
How many have you got down here?
Of the rare and collectible varieties, I think we’ve actually got about 300 different kinds.
Everyone’s got a tequila story. What makes you love it so much?
I think it’s extremely versatile. One thing I love about it is the different styles you get with different regions. You have your own age statements on things. Blancos work really well in things that would contain vodka, gin or white rum. Then things that have been aged a bit longer like dark rums or cognacs work well with a reposado style. Smokey styles will work with a mezcal.
Let’s go back to Dick Bradsell, who we sadly lost earlier this year (2016). His legacy to the London bar scene has been phenomenal; how has it been to take over his old role?
I don’t think I could ever take the man’s shoes to tell you the truth! I was chatting to Tony about him, and he was saying it used to be the case that there weren’t trends in bartending, there was just Dick Bradsell. He was the trend. So, to step into his place isn’t something I could do, however I’m really looking forward to training the team here and pushing the bar as far as I can. We’ve got a new menu coming out just after the 5th of May (Cinco de Mayo), and we’re doing a bit of a homage to Dick. There’s a selection of his favourite drinks in there, some classics, and also some drinks that represent the path we want to take with the bar.
What makes the London cocktail scene different from anywhere else in the world?
I’d like to think London’s on top. With the bars, the selections, the bartenders over here…well, I think we’re competing with New York. It’s seemed to me that London and New York have always kind of battled it out. That said, I’ve recently been to Singapore, Belgium as well, and Paris. Paris is well-established, Singapore’s really getting there, and Belgium’s up and coming too. There’s all these little gems in cities that don’t hit the limelight and are just waiting to be discovered.
We’re seeing people like Tony Conigliario and Ryan Chetiyawardana (Mr Lyan) becoming recognisable names outside of the bar industry. How have things changed since you started?
I think it’s the dream of all bartenders that we’re seen on the same level as chefs. Whether that’ll ever happen, I don’t know. One day I’d like to get there, but in the meantime, we’re very supportive of each other. There’s a lot of respect that goes up to the bigger names within the industry; guys that inspire day in, day out, who help train, help share things. Back when I first started bartending, there weren’t many blogs out there, there weren’t many people sharing information. But everybody’s happy with now. You can be sitting on one side of the bar reading about how someone makes their drinks! It’s all about sharing things now, letting drinks travel, encouraging people to create their own version.
Wha. do you love about your job?
Everything, really! From day to day creating drinks, to training people, to just meeting people in the evening. Even though you work antisocial hours, it’s a really social job. You make new friends every day.
How do you come up with new ideas for drinks?
A lot of things either come from a story, or linking flavours together. People often think it’s about chucking in a bit of this, a bit of that, whatever tastes nice. But there’s a lot of work that actually goes into, I suppose in the same way that chefs create dishes.
What would you like your cocktail legacy to be?
I always wanted to own my own bar, which I think is every bartender’s dream. But right now, I really enjoy training people. Training someone very fresh is probably one of the most rewarding things. Training them up, then seeing them go off and do the thing that you love doing is wonderful.
Aside from El Camion of course, where do you drink in London?
69 Colebrooke Row. I know I used to work there, but for me, everything they do is brilliant. I really like Trailer Happiness, which is an underground tiki bar in Notting Hill…(thinks) hang on, who’s going to tell me off for not including them?! Happiness Forgets over in Hoxton Square; they have a really nice bar and their drinks are fantastic.
Tell us about your ethos when it comes to cocktails?
Well, at El Camion, I want us to have really good quality drinks going out at a high volume. In a party environment, I always believe drinking is about having fun, particularly drinking tequila. Putting out really good tequila drinks in a really nice atmosphere, and making Dick proud…that’s what I want to do.