Words by: Ian Cameron
Jayke Mangion is the owner of Entrée restaurant and Bentley bar in Clapham, south London. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, he is now firmly ensconced in SW11.
South London might not be the coolest place in the capital , but I always wanted to run a neighbourhood joint, and to avoid the pretentiousness of the West End. When I first came to London I bumped into [Rising Star Leisure's] Steve Kelly, and we launched a whole bunch of bars in south west London, so this area is what I knew and why I stayed here. It's not glamorous or cutting edge but there's no shame in that. We make and serve drinks exactly like five star hotels, but do it for £7.50.
There have been occasions when I thought I should work in a high-profile bar, or in the West End at least, but I've often found that fame for many bartenders is often fleeting. I only ever entered one cocktail competition, I came second or third and was beaten by Erik Lorincz - I think it was his first cocktail competition. It shows how different the paths are that we've taken. He's totally focused on cocktails and is as good as it gets, but I've never had the absolute passion to focus purely on bartending, I prefer the fundamentals of what it takes to run a business.
Before the whole 'speakeasy' thing got tacky I always liked that look, so before I opened Entrée I emailed Sasha Petraske [of Milk & Honey, New York]. I said that I loved his bars, and asked him for his take. I ended up going to see him in New York and hanging out in all his places. He had a true passion for what he did, and I learned a ruthless attention to detail.
Originally, I wanted this place to be wet-led. I hired big-name bartenders based on where they had worked, but they weren't right for a neighbourhood bar - they didn't want to wipe the tables. Now, I have two bartenders who are relative nobodies - I don't mean that disrespectfully, rather that they enjoy working and living locally. Not that you can't achieve in a place like this - one former bartender went on to work in PDT.
I miss the innocence of bartending, just turning up, serving, packing up and then going for a beer after work. I'll step in and make a Negroni or a Martini if I need to but I'm on the door, on the floor, and that's just a small part of the bigger picture. As the owner, it never ends, there's constant pressure and sleepless nights. When you don't have a marketing department, or HR, you have to do it yourself, and it means finishing at 4 or 5am rather than 1 or 2am.
I lived in Tokyo between 2002-3, in Rappongi, the most westernised part of Tokyo. The bar scene in Tokyo really gave me an insight into how premium bar service can be - hand-cut ice, was standard already back then - and how dedicated they are to cocktail culture. There's so much we still don't know about Japanese drinking culture. Funnily enough, a lot of the best cocktail bars, the most exclusive ones, didn't allow Westerners in. I don't know if it's opened up now.
Before I worked in bars I was an advertising manager for a national paper in Melbourne. I enjoyed the interaction with people but hated the fact I was calling them for a sale. And then I bartended for a mate after his bar-back didn't turn up. One night was all it took and I wondered if I could apply what I'd learned in business. My first jobs were in five star hotels on the Barrier Reef, and that gave me an insight of the foundations you need to succeed, having a close eye on profit margins and targets - those hotels guys are ruthless.
Survival in this business is an end in itself. This site used to be a 'gourmet' kebab shop and when we opened it felt like someone grabbed me by the throat practically every day as they thought I was the previous owner and owed them money. Today, it's tougher than it's ever been and you can't take your eye off the margins. I met my business partner Gerry through his son, who was a bartender for me, and if Gerry wasn't involved I would have gone bust. I'm always anxious about keeping customers interested, so we do discounts early week - the Groupon mentality means people don't want to pay full price anymore. People walking off with our vintage glassware doesn't help.
It's great having my brother Dean on the same street, especially if I'm short of five-pound notes, haha. He works at Dime just down the road. He's got a 2am licence, whereas mine's 12.30am, so we send some customers his way. We both see ourselves back in Australia some day so maybe we'll work together at some point but who knows?