SB meets… Brian Calleja, The Bloomsbury Club Bar, London

9th February, 2017 by Annie Hayes

House-made bitters, experimental bar equipment and the rise of Golden Age cocktails: The Bloomsbury Club Bar’s Brian Calleja takes to the hot seat.

Brian Calleja, bar manager, The Bloomsbury Club Bar, London

As BlackTail’s first-ever guest residency in London gets underway, we pin down Brian Calleja, bar manager at The Bloomsbury Club Bar, to discuss the venue’s Club Residencies Project.

Why did you approach BlackTail?
They are inspired by the same time period as us. That is the kind of bar that can help us out for experience, for motivation, for the staff as well – they’re all excited to meet them and to see what they do. These days bartenders are sharing what they know, and they enjoy sharing as well.

How does the Club Residencies Project benefit The Bloomsbury Club Bar?
I believe that in our industry you never stop learning. I’m going to see some things behind the bar that Jesse does, perhaps he will see a little of what we are doing – it’s about sharing experiences. It also helps in regards to being known. Don’t get me wrong, the bar is doing very well and people are getting to know us even more day by day, but a bar like theirs is known around the world. People are coming to see them, but they’re coming to see us as well. We believe if they have a great experience, they’re going to come back. At the moment the plan is to keep building the team stronger – and our wish is to be among the best.

What are the similarities between The Bloomsbury Club Bar and BlackTail?
We are inspired by the Bloomsbury Set in the 1920s. BlackTail is inspired by the same years, but in Cuban style – so it’s nice to see what other countries did at that time. We are more in to gin and whiskies, they are more into rum. Even though it was 1920s there was so much going on – you keep searching and searching, it never stops.

Which bar have you set your sights on to join the Club Residencies Project next?
We’re looking at every part of the world, let’s say that! We are trying to work something from Australia but nothing is confirmed, we don’t even know which bar yet. [The project] is all about different destinations and different experiences as well. That’s something that I love about London – it’s international, cosmopolitan, you can get ideas from everyone. Something that I always say to the guys here is that when you get small ideas from everywhere, you build up something big.

What are the challenges in building a successful bar in 2017?
The main challenge is equipment, and money as well – if you don’t have money, you dont have the equipment. These days it’s like a kitchen as well, a laboratory. The more equipment you have, the more things you can do. You can still create drinks without equipment, but the more you have the more you can experiment with techniques. Until [the BlackTail residency], we didn’t have a Sous Vide  machine. Not all the bars have equipment like this – you have to have space for it, you have to have money – it’s not nice to say, but it is that way.

You also have to have the right team. This is about the team giving their passion, you know, many people these days look for money, which is very important. But as I always say to my guys passion doesn’t get the money. Passion gets the quality – when you get the quality, then you can look for the money. That’s the most important thing.

Media is also very important. I think it’s great, and it works a lot. I’ve been in bars which are very good abroad, and you don’t see them in the top 50 [best bars]. They win competitons, but they don’t [make the list]. When I ask the question about media and marketing, they don’t have it. The bar manager or bartender or head bartender can be known, but his bar would not be known as him. The media is all about the place, and that brings customers in. People come and people go – many people in London go back home and open their own bars.

Which cocktail trends will shine this year?
Style-wise… Many people are going to the Golden Age cocktails – 1920s or 18th century, with a twist. The thing I love the most here is that there is a story behind every cocktail we make. In most of the great bars these days every menu has a story behind the cocktails, which is a beautiful thing.

What’s your favourite tipple?
I love Old Fashioneds – could be rum, could be whisky – saying that it depends on the day as well. Our Leonard Woolf is something else. It’s made with homemade ginger syrup, Bourbon and orange bitters.

What is next for The Bloomsbury Club Bar?
At the moment were starting to do house-made bitters and home-made vermouths, which I am waiting to taste. We’re starting to mix rums as well… This is something I saw in BlackTail and Dead Rabbit. In fact when I started here, I bought Dead Rabbit’s book, but I had no idea who they were, I just found it on amazon. I bought it and the week after, they won World’s Best Bar!


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