The Cocktail Trading Co specialises in inventive, playful drinks. Their flagship branch opened in Brick Lane last year and they run another cosier space in Smithfield (under gin bar, Ask for Janice). They have penchant for quirky and witty presentation but they also know their classics.
Between Elliot Ball and his two co-founders Oliver Brading and Andy Milz they have an awful lot of bartending experience and they’re keen to share that with the industry. World’s Best Bars talks to Ball about unusual ingredients and why it’s important that the London bar scene doesn’t take itself too seriously.
What's special about the latest CTC bar? What sets it apart?
Mostly, it's ours. We loved our pop-ups, but there's only so much you can invest and do with a space you may not have for long. Brick Lane is going to be ours for a good long time, so we can finally give the space some real love and invest in carrying out some of our more silly plans.
Tell us a bit about the development and training side of the business?
We're still assembling this (opening bars is pretty time-consuming!), but it stems from the simple fact that all of us have a lot of experience in training, including in a formal, curriculum-based sense. We want bartending and hospitality to be more recognised, and what better way than seeking independent qualifications? We're willing to pursue this well up the ladder, and put a doctrine of sorts in place. Something bartenders can hopefully aspire to.
Your cocktails are pretty inventive. What's the most unusual drink on the menu and how did you come up with it?
On the current menu, probably the Bag O' Chips. I'd love to provide an inspiring story, but actually it's quite funny - one of us submitted to press a ridiculous-sounding drink, and it went public. Then we had to find a way to make it work, which included creating a peach and tempranillo shrub, with 'roast potato syrup'. It was a pretty comical challenge, but somehow went so well we decided to put it on the menu. And the serve is pretty outlandish... literally a bag of chips. People sometimes ask for dips when their cocktail arrives.
Do you have a favourite drink on the menu?
Probably the above! It produces such a wild reaction from people - some genuinely exhibit fear and surprise. But the drink itself is actually genuinely great; the different kinds of acidity really mellow out the savoury notes, and the poitin works fabulously.
“Brick Lane is going to be ours for a good long time, so we can...”
What new bar trend are you most excited about?
It's debatable whether this is a trend, but London is not taking itself so seriously anymore. It's a trend to say things like 'what kind of bartender laughs at a customer for asking for a Woo Woo?' And absolutely right - there are a lot more people dropping the arrogance and just providing the best possible, most welcoming service. Spot on.
What, in your opinion, makes for a world class bar?
Once again, the above. We've all been to places with the best drinks and had a poor experience, and I've been to plenty of so-called trashy venues and just been bowled over by the fun element. World class venues make you enjoy them, no matter what. A good food or drinks program is great, but get it set and then focus on the service and experience.
Apart from your own, which bars do you rate highly?
Sovereign Loss in Brixton is a perfect example of the above. No one thing they do is the best in the world, but everything is very, very good, and everyone working there, from owners Chris and Jo, to all the staff, are heroically friendly people. I genuinely cherish every second I've spent in their hospitality, regardless of how I felt the next day. Catch it while you can, too - they're on the move in a few weeks.