The UK’s towns and cities have long had a love affair with bars. The more glamorous cousin of the humble pub, these drinking establishments have always provided a little sophistication to evenings, whether it’s with colourful aperol spritzes or short, sweet whisky cocktails. The new rules and regulations issued to contain the spread of coronavirus have meant that bars up and down the country have had to close, but many have chosen to adapt, and a new wave of cosmopolitan drinking is on the rise.
Sipping your perfectly stirred negroni may not be quite the same on your sofa as in a deep velvet banquette, but turn the lights down low and the jazz up high and who’s to know. From bottled margaritas to flamingo-clad men delivering gin and tonics, here are ten of the most compelling ways bars have kept the drinks flowing.
Lab 22, Cardiff
When Lab 22’s bar manager Alex Mills, and owner, Pajtim Tana Hasa, came up with the idea to bottle their cocktails a few months ago, they had no idea how useful it would prove. Lab Bottling Company initially used the venture to send gifts and favours out to connections around the UK. But with the onset of the virus, the team decided to launch the initiative publicly. Their first run (with free delivery) went out this week, with old fashioneds, chai-spiced negronis, pecan maple sazeracs and green tea grasshoppers all forming part of the drinks list.
“It's nice to have delicious booze in these odd times,” said Matthew Jones, a Lab 22 bartender, “but it's more than that too. It's (appropriately distanced) human contact that hopefully will remind anyone struggling with the weight of the situation, that they aren't alone.”
“People chose to spend their free time with us, drinking in our venues, when they could have done it at home alone. So now it’s time to give back in any way we can. It's the least we can do.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, London
Quarantinis and ayurvedic juices
Craft spirit producer and mixologist, Willy Borrell, has always been a fan of drinking in unexpected places. His Camden bar, Ladies & Gents, is housed in a (now converted) underground Victorian loo, and his previous pop-ups have included a rum bar in a canal boat. Faced with the lockdown, he decided to keep his staff in work by having them deliver “Quarantini” cocktails by bike and electric car to the local area. The venture proved so successful, they were contacted by Deliveroo, and have now joined the platform. Alongside the boozy drinks, there are ayurvedic juices available: “We understood that not everyone wanted a cocktail and hoped these juices would lift people’s spirits.”
The Whisky Club, Birmingham
Whisky tasting sessions
Whisky lover, Amy Seton set up this bar, lounge and ‘hideaway’ back in 2011, as a place to spread her love of the amber spirit. Unwilling to let down the now extensive network of Birmingham whisky lovers, she set up a takeaway service, allowing locals to buy minis, ‘potluck’ flight boxes, and even bring in their own bottles to be filled with whisky cocktails. Since the lockdown however, the bar has postponed takeaways to work on launching their own ‘Click & Collect’ and delivery services, both due to start Tuesday. Tasting packs, beer selections and bottled cocktails will all be available.
Pickering's Gin, Edinburgh
A G&T survival kit
Believe it or not, this is Edinburgh’s first exclusive gin distillery in more than 150 years. Pickering’s is based off of a 1947 recipe, found on a scrap of brown paper left to founder Marcus Pickering, by his late father’s friend. The handwritten, original Bombay gin recipe is available online as both a modern adaption and in its unadulterated form, but with the closure of the distillery bar, the team has gone one step further by offering “G&T Survival Kits” to those no longer able to get their G&T fix onsite, and the team (including Marcus) have been delivering them to doorstops around Edinburgh in their fleet of Pickering's vehicles. Each one includes a bottle of gin, six tonic bottles and fresh fruit for garnishing. As of yesterday, the team started focusing on making hand sanitiser to donate to local frontline services, and so has switched its delivery method to Parcelforce.
Italian aperitifs and fine dining
Verdigris has always championed the seasonal ingredients Kent, and wider Britain, has to offer. This focus on freshness meant that when the news came in that it was highly likely that bars and restaurants would be closed down, the business suddenly had a glut of produce that risked going to waste. The solution was a huge delivery last Friday, of a ‘high-end dinner menu’. Manager Sam Spennacchi – a verified negroni lover – then went one step further and paired up with the bar team to mix up batches of his preferred Italian aperitif to go out with the food. After receiving a huge number of requests for more, the team are working on whipping up a more travel-friendly food and cocktail menu for delivery – hopefully negronis will still feature heavily.
Milroy’s of Spitalfields, London
At-home whisky tastings
Londoners with a craving for a bit of insider whisky knowledge, don’t worry. Milroy’s – a Soho-based bar and the city’s original whisky specialist – is planning to launch their own delivery service across the UK this Friday. The focus will be to make use of the bar’s expert whisky knowledge (and enviable rare bottle collection), with a series of 20 flights, both introductory and premium, being made available to order. In an effort to really bring the bar feel into your living room, they’ll also be doing ‘Tastings at Home’: four curated whisky flights paired with tasting videos from one of Milroy’s whisky experts.
Cocktail of the year
London’s only Agaveria (a bar that specialises in agave spirits), Hacha, has long sold a bottled version of its most famous cocktail: the Mirror Margarita, which just so happened to have won Cocktail of the Year at the Class Bar Awards this February. This makes sense, as the bar’s mission is to make high quality agave spirits – whose light has been hidden for years by the image of cheap tequila served in sticky clubs – more widely known. As well as ramping up production of its wonderfully boozy margarita and making delivery nationwide, the bar is also making bottled mini agave spirit flights. Launch for these is said to be coming ‘very soon’.
Three Sheets, Callooh Callay and The Proofing Room, London
Creative cocktails from the London crew
Unsurprisingly, a spate of London bars have swiftly managed to start their own cocktail delivery service – thirsty Londoners won’t be in short supply of pre-bottled negroni, cosmopolitans and martinis. Acclaimed Dalston bar, Three Sheets, is now selling a huge array of bottled colourful bottled cocktails across London – and has plans to go national within the next four days.
Callooh Callay, Shoreditch’s own Alice in Wonderland-themed cocktail bar, are delivering cocktails throughout the city every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Their ‘Builders Breakfast’ mix of rum, cognac, porter, lemon sherbet and tea syrup sounds particularly delicious. And The Proofing Room, a new basement cocktail bar from the team behind Soho bar, The Vault, will be launching their own ‘imaginative’ cocktail service this Friday. We’re told honey and elderflower highballs and ‘Figuettes’ (gin and fig liqueur) will be part of the offering.
The Keep, Wallingford, Oxfordshire
Gin and tonic toting flamingos
The Keep started life as a pop-up record store, but for the past four years has been a much-loved bar. And recently, they’ve also been a rather colourful delivery service. Keen to do their part to raise local spirits (and spirit levels), owners Sam Smith and Rob McGregor started delivering gin and tonics, wine and beer around their local town and the surrounding villages – dressed as flamingos. Why the lurid pink bird, you wonder? Last year, the bar released their own London dry gin, Albino Flamingo, so it was an obvious choice. Following Boris Johnson's announcement of a lockdown, the duo are going to take a short break to ‘better understand the scale of the issue’, but are determined to be back delivering in the next three weeks.
The Glass Jar, Margate
One of seaside town Margate’s most beloved bars is The Glass Jar, which overlooks the same seashore that Turner found so fascinating. While the premises are now closed following government advice, the team has started a delivery service to Margate, Broadstairs, Westgate and Cliftonville, ensuring locals can still watch the sunset with a glass in hand, or take a beer on their government-approved beach walk. So far only bottled drinks are available due to licensing laws, but delivery is free so who’s complaining.
Have you noticed your own local initiatives with small businesses doing innovative, creative and kind things to adapt? Share your stories below or email [email protected] with pictures.