The life of a bartender is not always thought of as a vocation, an earnest calling that cannot be denied. Yet it’s a job that gets its hooks into you, I know plenty of people who walked away from so-called ‘proper jobs’ with bags of qualifications who find hospitality irresistible. I can count mathematical geniuses, Porsche engineers and criminal psychologists among my bartending peers. They all said bartending is a lot more fun. I have to agree.
I came to the world of bars from a much more familiar path. As the joke goes…
“I’m an actor. “
“Really which bar do you work in?
Yes, I came from the world of theatre, TV and film. Admittedly I had a varied CV as a young man ranging from working as a demolition man to Shakespeare at the National Theatre but when I decided I wanted a new direction I turned to my good friend and cocktail legend Dick Bradsell.
I’d only ever known Dick from the other side of the bar (he made me my first ever Whisky Sour way back in time) and we became great friends before we ever worked together as bartenders.
Dick was just about to open one of the nightspots that led the way in London’s cocktail scene, the Atlantic Bar & Grill, and I was going to work with him at Dick’s Bar.
I had some bartending experience under my belt but even I was astonished when one night three weeks after opening Dick pulled me aside and told me “Spike you’re going into the main bar at the Atlantic as the assistant bar manager, you’ll learn everything you need to know as you go”. That was it, sink or swim. And I swam, and loved it and was lucky enough to cut my teeth working at one of the greatest bars in London. Thank you Dick.
He influenced us all in many ways and his legacy will endure through all of the cocktails he has created, after all he has more twentieth century classic cocktails to his name than anyone in history,
From his cocktail repertoire I have a few favourites; for effervescent simplicity I always loved the Carol Channing and then there’s the Bramble and in later days the Pink Chihuahua. The latter two are both structured as classic ‘sours’ and are straightforward and delicious. Like a lot of Dick’s drinks they are quite formal in terms of balance but the simplicity and memorability of his drinks is one of the key’s to his success. Dick was inspired by his childhood on the Isle of Wight and
going blackberry picking and according to an interview on Difford’s Guide he very much wanted to design a ‘British cocktail’. The fit between the idea, the ingredients and a simple, tasty drink is impeccable.
Working with Dick at The Atlantic inspired me to pursue a career in the world of cocktails and bars and I have never looked back. Well maybe once or twice and wondered what if, but then I think of the incredible friends in this industry I have, of the places I have opened around the world and the opportunities that still abound and I have no doubts.
Dick was an inspiration for me and although we remained friends for life it’s sad that we never got to work together again after the Atlantic. It wasn’t mastering a classic cocktail or meeting a game changing guest that made the difference to me, it was realising that hospitality was a world of relationships and experiences beyond anything you will ever find sat behind a desk in an office.
It led to my own businesses and from there to World Class and a sense of achievement and pride in being part of the team that has built that program for this industry. It would never have happened for me if I hadn’t made that choice to step behind the bar, and serve.