Hyper-local bars: ‘A solution to the over-abundance of choice’
Provenance may be hot at the moment but a new wave of leading bars are pushing hyper-locality, concentrating on products made only a stone’s throw away from them. By Tyler Wetherall.
*This feature was originally published in the January 2018 issue of The Spirits Business
Almost every bottle you see lined up on the back bar of The Hide in Bermondsey, London, has been sourced from within the M25. This is less surprising for the 70 bottles of gin, for example, or the 12 craft beers on draught, but what about the amaro? Well that has been sourced from the Asterley Bros in Forest Hill. And what’s in the Negroni if not Campari? That would be Rosehip Cup liqueur, a bittersweet British alternative from Highgate-based Sacred Spirits. Even the honey in the cocktails comes from Bermondsey Street Bees, a 30-second walk from the bar.
The Hide is the second bar under the ‘Drink London’ banner brought to the city by veteran bartender Paul Mathew and his team at Blood and Sand. The first, The Arbitrager, opened in 2015 in response to the explosion of craft breweries in the city. “Four years ago, we were seeing so many interesting things coming onto the market in London, and we wanted to do something to feature them. Why not champion everything under this banner, ‘Drink London’?” says Mathew. “Since then it’s become even easier.”
The Hide, which opened in 2007, was due a revamp, and Mathew felt that enough London-based distillers had joined the mix that he could extend the concept to a cocktail bar. As such, The Hide re-launched with its new London-centric menu in October. Both bars proudly display a large map on the wall marking the provenance of almost every product stocked. For a long time now, the ‘local’ label has offered a guiding principle for discerning consumers to pick bottles out of the masses available. A local spirit comes with a story and a sense of personal connection to a place, which a bartender can communicate when selling drinks. Bars such as The Hide and The Arbitrager, however, are what one might call ‘hyper-local’ venues, taking that thinking a step further.
They follow in the same vein as some ‘single-focus’ venues that have appeared in London – such as whisky specialist Black Rock or Notting Hill’s GinTonica – except here the niche is provenance.
Paris’s Le Syndicat
HOTBED OF CRAFT SPIRITS
This wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago, but with the number of distilleries in the UK growing by 135% since 2010, the range of spirits available is staggering.
Ever since 2009, when Sipsmith successfully challenged the law limiting smallbatch distilling in London, the capital has become a hotbed for craft spirits.
“When we opened The Hide we wanted to showcase the best of world spirits, [and] we wanted to be part of the education of spirits in London,” Mathew says. “But now the consumer is well educated. Everyone has to drill down to a degree where they can process the thousands of things available.” A hyperlocal menu offered a solution to the overabundance of choice.
It has also presented an interesting challenge for the bar team to create a diversity and complexity of flavour without using goto brands from further afield. “We have some really tasty drinks on the menu that we wouldn’t have devised if we hadn’t limited ourselves to London,” Mathew adds.
London isn’t the only city that has seen a hyperlocal venue emerge from a booming bar scene. In Paris, tucked away behind a heavily postered facade on the 10th arrondissement, is Le Syndicat, co-owned by Sullivan Doh, of Sherry Butt fame, and Romain Le Mouëllic. Its full name, Le Syndicat – Organisation de Défense des Spiritueux Français, translates to the suitably patriotic, The Union – Organisation for the Defence of French Spirits.
The fact that France exports 98% of Cognac while French bars import the vast majority of their spirits motivated Doh and Le Mouëllic to create a venue in which drinkers could reconnect with their French roots.
“We wanted to find French products with quality and lots of stories to tell,” Le Mouëllic says. “When we opened it was the beginning of a feeling in France that to cope with modernisation – how everybody is feeling a bit lost and everything is going so fast – people wanted to go back to their roots. French spirits are part of the history of this country; they tell you a little bit about who you are.”
London’s The Hide
The bar stocks a range of Cognacs, absinthes, and gentian-based bitters, and offers tasting menus for a masterclass in French products. Each bottle acts as a conduit for a piece of cultural history, and it’s these stories and the drinker’s connection to them that Le Mouëllic sees as the strength of the concept. With its hiphop soundtrack and gritty-meets-golden design, this isn’t the jingoistic endeavour it might seem – instead, it gives forgotten French spirits a place in a fast-evolving modern cocktail scene.
Over in Oslo, Himkok has its own take. The bar was originally conceived as a micro-distillery, but in light of Norway’s intense off premises sales regulation, it evolved into a multi-purpose bar, distillery, farmer’s market and restaurant. Up to 80% of spirits are produced on site, and most of the cocktail ingredients are sourced from within Norway. The most renowned bar in the country, it has helped forge a distinctly Norwegian cocktail culture, rooted in local traditions and produce. While the motivation behind distilling on-site was to garner better control of house spirits, a happy by-product was reducing waste, and sustainability has become one of the bar’s benchmarks.
A reduced carbon footprint is certainly one of the benefits of thinking hyper-local. At The Hide and The Arbitrager, the team buys 25 litre jerry cans direct from the distillers, cutting back on the number of bottles they go through each shift (although third-party suppliers often place restrictions on buying in bulk like this). The proximity to source also allows for bespoke collaborations, fostering a sense of real local community, which in this globalised world can be scarce.
According to Le Syndicat’s Le Mouëllic, there’s no reason why hyperlocal bars won’t start appearing in other cocktail hubs around the globe. “London is usually ahead of the trend,” he claims. “I wouldn’t be surprised if [bars like this] opened in Italy or Germany next.”