My nan and grandad used to have these awesome cocktail parties when I was young. By the time I was 11 I was helping out at them, serving drinks to guests. This is where it all started for me, my relationship with drinks and my love for cocktails. In fact, if any of you ever get the chance to go to the Dishoom Babu House, you can sneak a peek at the picture of me with the other childhood portraits on the wall at one of those very parties – I know you’ll agree I totally nailed the tie.
My first real bar role was working for a guy called Tim Blake, in a little bar in Bury St. Edmunds called “Benson Blakes”. It was a busy little neighborhood bar, the perfect place for a budding bartender to learn his trade. Tim, having come from the London bar scene inspired me to pursue bartending. His endless patience and innovative approach to drinks prepared me, and influenced me to pursue bartending further, with a move to the Big Smoke.
Mr Blake is still a very close friend of mine and he has a gorgeous little boutique bar and distillery, aptly named “Stillery” in Bury St Edmunds, https://www.stillery.co.uk. If you are ever there I really recommend one of the gin experiences and then a night out in the bar!
I was looking for work soon after I had moved to London, when I went to an event called ‘The Bar Show’ (now Imbibe). I had a couple of drinks and tried to meet as many people as I could. I overheard someone speaking, who seemed very popular with the crowd. He was promoting the opening of his new bar, that evening. I headed down early and there were already crowds of people down the street, and the bar was packed to the point no one could move. The gent I’d seen earlier and two other bartenders were smashing out hundreds of cocktails, but were in some serious trouble.
I, (possibly with a little Dutch courage) walked onto the bar, asked where the ice machine was and ran to stock all the ice wells. Then I asked where the beer was and did the same – refreshed stations, cleaned and polished glassware and worked until the early morning.
As I was cleaning the floors, the owner turned to me and said (quite rightly):
“who the hell are you?”
“Looking for a job,” I replied.
“You can start as a bar back tomorrow.”
I started the next day. As a barback, with the promise that once I knew all the specs I could become a bartender. By my second week, I knew every spec. I rocked up early one day and asked if I could do the test.
I stepped on the bar and was asked to recite the spec for a gimlet. Once I had repeated it correctly I was then asked to make it; so I grabbed my tin,
“Stop, sorry dude. One chance only – you failed this time, try again tomorrow. You can bar back tonight.”
My jaw hit the floor, what had I done wrong?
“Watch the other guys, you’ll pick it up.”
I spent all night watching the others. Every time, they grabbed their glassware first, iced it, and then started building the drinks.
Day two… “Ok dude, Gimlet.”
I grabbed my glass, iced it, then put the tin down. I was on a roll! Then I picked up my gin.
“Stop, sorry dude. Failed this time, try again tomorrow. You can be bar back again tonight.”
This continued… my pour wasn’t clean, I wasn’t using two hands, I used ingredients in the wrong order – you name it, the list goes on. Eventually, I was doing every recipe in the right order, multiple drinks at speed and, finally, made bartender. My training had continued for months and continued long after I made bartender.
I continued to work as a bartender for years, pushing myself to learn more drinks, meet people in the industry and explore different styles of bar and bartending. After I had worked my way up to head bartender of the Waldorf Astoria, I decided I would like to explore management. That’s when I popped into Dishoom Covent Garden just after its opening.
I opened the Chowpatty beach pop-up bar for the summer, which was an incredible experience. Soon after, I became the Dishoom Daru Walla (Drinks Guy). I’ve spent more than a decade studying every day, working every shift and reading anything I could get my hands on, from books about cocktails, to history and medical books, and everything in between, there’s never been a day when I haven’t been driven and passionate for the job I love so dearly. And to think, it all began at my nan’s cocktail parties all those years ago.
And now I want to pass this on to you.
If you’re still reading this, thank you! I'm going to do my absolute best to keep you entertained. I will be bringing you regular blogs, teaching drinks, keeping you up to date with what I’m up to, product and bar reviews and anything else drinks and bar wise you folks might want to hear about, so do let me know!