The English have been noted for not being alien to a drink every now and again. Having done this hotel gig for a few years now, I can confirm they almost always live up to their stereotype. Its very rare I need to have a difficult conversation with well mannered Americans after midnight in the bar reminding them its probably time for bed. The English, though…
Myself, I enjoy both sides of the bar. We serve good proper cocktails here at Skywells, which I learnt in my time working in posh bars as a student. Staying at another foreign run guesthouse in the Chinese countryside I watched a difficult customer complaining to the staff about her drink. The poor local guy behind the counter couldn’t understand a word she was saying, and thought he’d gone the extra mile for letting her, a lady, drink ice with her gin and tonic. (big no-no in traditional Chinese Medicine). The flustered Western owner tried to reason with madame – ‘what do you expect, we can’t exactly mix cocktails out here in a village can we!’
Well why the hell not!? I thought to myself…
Guests who stay with us are subject to our drinks list, which is largely of my design. We don’t do many cocktails (around 10) – but every one is good. I hope this is a refreshing change to the standard Chinese hotel experience which promises a list of 50 and no one seems to remember how to make any of them, who wrote the bar menu, what a cocktail is or knows when the bar will be open.
It is here that I must doff my hat to the schools where I learnt my craft, and whose influence must be keenly felt here in our pocket of Southern China…
The Waggon and Horses, Brighton – 2004/5
A proper pub, with beer which went squelch as it came out, and locals who turned up at 11am banging on the door for their breakfast. Run by the indestructable Sally and her Sailor husband, Drunken Dickie. I spent a lot of time staring at enormous hairy nostrils, the googly eyes of a proper drunk or two, and realising how important it was not to drink too much lest you end up being the one banging on the door. They did have a cracking whisky selection though, and I learnt the correct way to drink scotch (a little water to take off the burn so you can appreciate the depths of flavour) or the best way to drink whisky (however the hell you want it).
Drinks learned: lager, scrumpy and un-pronouncable Scottish Whiskies (very tricky to decipher being shouted at you by drunks over the juke box at 1am)
Rehab, Brighton Marina – 2006
A trendy high volume cocktail bar/club. Sort of place where Terry, Tracy, Tyrone, Tatiana and Trisha would go in their new white jeans, then into their Range Rover sport to Funky Buddha Lounge for cocaine and fighting. Very classy, expensive fittings for very trashy, cheap guests. Closed down a year or two after I left, coincidence!? I did learn from the inimitable Dom the difference between mixing, shaking, rimming, Boston Tins, Hawthorne strainers, why you double strain a martini but not a margarita, and never put carbonated drinks in a shaker. I remember the owner coming in one day and kicking off because the barman served him a Gin and Tonic with one lime wedge. I think he was fired. Serving 200 drinks a night does wonders for general bar skills though, and I owe them my thanks for learning the basics of my craft. It was also great working in a place with doormen who would happily throw anyone into the street who was looking for a fight with the barman. Oh – and gay night I got to wear a sailor’s outfit. Everyone needs a job like that once in their lives.
Drinks learned: Endless Mojitos and Strawberry Frozen Daquiris
Bar Valentinos, Brighton – 2006/7/8
Happy to report this was and still is a great place, full of lovely people where I really developed a love of cocktails. Sally, the young manager was trained by the previous guy who’d been there for decades – a sort of Pai Mei / Super Ninja in the world of cocktails. I’d like to think a little bit of that leaked into me. Every night we were encouraged to come up with our own creation at the end of the shift, and sell to the others why it should go on to the board. My passionfruit and Honey Rum Daquiri I seem to remember cutting the mustard. You had to ring a doorbell to get in, and the Italian owner’s bigger, Italianer brother Toni was waiting to see if you made the grade before embracing you firmly and sending you up. Opposite the pavilion gardens, in a tiny bar, we listened to swing and jazz and made cocktails for people in the drunken haze only people who’ve worked in bars will understand.
Drinks leaned: I remember making a lot of Hunny Bunny’s, Old Fashioneds and an apple concoctions involving cinamonn and apple puree
SKYWELLS BAR – 2017 …
We are our own little place in the countryside. We only really take care of guests who stay here, or the odd polite walk in. We’re not the sort of place where people are welcome to get drunk and noisy, but long aimless chats by the bar with nice drinks is a must. We’re in a hotel with people sleeping so no shouting, but you do have to put up with my music taste (very influence by my time in Valentinos, and thanks Rehab for teaching me what awful music is so we can avoid it! )
We serve a mean sour – you’ll find ginger whisky, gin & garden herbs, vodka (the lemon toby, named after the guest who co created it) and my favourite the Amaretto Sour.
50 ml spirit
1 egg white
25ml 1:1 sugar syrup
25ml fresh lemon juice
Shake in a boston strainer with a spring, and no ice – this really froths up the egg whites, like if you were making meringue. Then open, fill to the top with ice, re-shake and strain into a Coupe glass. Add 1 charred lemon slice, and a few drops of bitters to garnish.
We also take pride in proper Long Island Ice Teas (clue: its not just booze knocking around at the back of the shelf and coke) and espresso martinis, with proper espresso in them. Look out for the crema on top.
So… I’ll se you at the bar! We’re a family place, and people are sleeping. But you’re still welcome to get drunk, quietly – if you’ll agree to listen to me babbling on at you.