Cocktails in the City celebrates its 10th birthday this year with an event 20/21 August at Bedford Square Gardens in London. We talk to founder Andrew Scutts about putting on a festival in a big city, weathering Covid, and the future of cocktails.
During the upheavals of 2020/1, for some businesses the difference between trading and bankruptcy was having a sympathetic landlord. According to Andrew Scutts, founder of Cocktails in the City: “the reason we could get back on our feet was with the help of Bedford Estates, they changed our payment structure.” The group that owns a large chunk of Bloomsbury saw the value in attracting people safely back to central London.
Scutts managed to put on an outdoor Cocktails in the City event in Bedford Square Gardens in September last year to raise money for the hospitality industry. This was followed up by three ‘Summer Series’ events this year in June, July and now this 20/21 August. Overall this summer’s activities will feature around 50 bars serving over over 7,000 visitors.
The ultimate cocktail festival
Running from 12 noon to 10pm this Friday and Saturday, it’s billed as ‘The Ultimate Cocktail Festival.’ Indeed, Scutts sees Cocktails in the City as offering all the fun of a music festival, dancing, music and partying, but without the drawbacks like crap drinks, camping, and dodgy toilets. “And you can get the tube home at the end of the night,” he said.
Scutts is clearly passionate about bars and drinks, and yet what he originally wanted to be was… a PE teacher! Yes, really. That was the plan following a degree in sports science at Birmingham University. And you can see, even via Zoom, that unlike some of us in the drinks industry, he still takes his fitness seriously.
Following a stint working at Mint Leaf in London, he planned to do his PGCE teacher training but he had to go home to Newcastle when his father became ill. So while he was there he got in touch with Blackwoods Gin who he knew from his time behind the bar and suggested that he become the firm’s North East rep.
A bar show with a difference
From there, all thoughts of the Adidas tracksuit and whistle were forgotten, as he moved back to London in 2003 to continue working in bars. It was at the mammoth Bar Show at Olympia that he had the idea for creating a small scale independent version.
The Boutique Bar Show was born in 2005. The ethos was that every brand had a stand the same size so “the liquid took centre stage, not marketing spend,” Scutts said. Brands such as Sipsmith, Chase and Maverick Drinks were involved from the start.
Why not put on an event for consumers?
It was a trade-only show but Scutts had a brainwave: he had a venue and he had dozens of bartenders in town, why not put on an event for customers? So Cocktails in the City was born where “bars and brands would stand shoulder to shoulder and speak directly to consumers,” Scutts said. The first one took place in the grandeur of the Manchester Town Hall in 2011, followed by an Edinburgh event. The first London one was in 2014.
According to Scutts, it proved a much better business model than the Boutique Bar Show (which he hasn’t put on for two years), and has run in different venues around the country ever since. This year, however, he is “playing it safe” and just putting events on in one venue, Bedford Square Gardens in London.
This Friday and Saturday’s event includes such famous bars as Callooh Callay, London Cocktail Club and the Blue Bar at the Berkeley Hotel. Scutts is particularly excited about a bar that hasn’t even opened yet called Boiler & Co, coming soon on Bankside, which will be working with Johnnie Walker on cocktails. This includes a delicious-sounding Rockstar Martini, a whisky-based riff on the Pornstar Martini, whose inventor Douglas Ankrah sadly died this week.
Finally, I asked Scutts how Covid has changed the hospitality trade. Apparently, it’s not all been negative in the way it has changed customer behaviour. People are now far more used to “booking ahead so operators know how many people will be coming through the business,” he said
It has also changed the theatre of cocktails with more action happening at the table rather than the bar, where cocktails are increasingly batched. Plus he thinks the “massive move to drinks at home” will continue. During the Pandemic, he launched his own range of batched cocktails so you can get the bar experience at home.
As good as these may be, it’s much more fun to go out. So, “fingers crossed for the weather,” Scutts said, though surely it wouldn’t be the ultimate cocktail festival without a classic Glastonbury downpour.
To buy tickets go here.