Words by: Ian Cameron
Originally from Dijon, France, Charles Vexenat, made his name on the London bartending scene, notably at The Lonsdale, where he was named Mixologist of the Year at Tales of the Cocktail 2008. He's also worked at LAB, Che and Hix, guest-tended at PDT, and consulted on the development of a variety of new products. After 12 years of travelling, he's made the Balearic island of Ibiza his home, and just opened the absinthe-led Bar 1805.
How are you finding life in Ibiza?
I've been here a year now. I'd been travelling so much that I was looking for a lifestyle with no stress and sunshine. People here take time to do things, there's no stress, and you've got your car and motorbike so you don't need to take public transport. I'm learning a new language, and getting better and better - I understand pretty much everything now and can talk to people. It's very exciting, like when I arrived in the UK and didn't speak English.
Everyone knows about the Ibiza clubbing scene, but what are the bars like?
The biggest clubs can fit 10,000 people - like Pascha or Amnesia - and that's happening every day for 4-5 months, really intense. The other side of life here is all-day-long cafes, bistros and bars which are all over the island. When I arrived, I saw some really good potential for opening a business - something that doesn't exist. Most of the bars here serve the same thing, Woo Woos, Sex on the Beach, very basic and very badly done. I wanted to create something more visual and interesting, though still simple and affordable that appeals to consumers not bartenders.
I remember you talking about creating an anise-influenced bar in London a few years ago.
When I did the Lonsdale menu it had a great impact and I got great exposure, and in the back of my mind I wanted to do the same thing with a vintage French project, to do the research like I did for the Lonsdale, so yeah, Bar 1805 is a bit of that. I was always intrigued by absinthe when I was a young bartender. We always drank pastis and Ricard when I was a kid so the flavours were there for a long time. Then I started doing consultancy for Pernod Absinthe two years ago and clarified in my mind its history and how it's made.
Describe Bar 1805's approach to drinks.
I wanted the cocktail to be very visual, no need for history here. The longer refreshing serves reflect the culture and climate. People don't want a Manhattan, Martini or any stirred drinks. The idea is that even though absinthe doesn't please everybody I try and show it works with as many different flavours as possible. It works with everything if it's mixed well, but you have got to be careful - more than one shot and you are going to over-power the drink.
Why's it only open 180.5 days?
We found this place in the old part of Ibiza town. It's got a lot of historical value, and there's a great cafe round the corner that's been open 30 years. The owner didn't want to reopen for the season so we rented it off him. When we close we'll take the concept back. The plan is to keep the concept going if it works, in a new guise, in a new place. The food is starting in May and that will bring people.
How have you changed as a bartender, with all your international exposure?
You have to do two things. Learn, by opening books and listening to mentors, and travel, to see what others are doing and how things are changing. I was quick to learn from different peers. It all happened suddenly: I met the right people, began visiting distilleries. I don't even know how many I have been to now, it could be 50. That gave me a lot of maturity. I used to be very picky and geeky about cocktails and history. Now I am more relaxed and making a living out of it, with less geekiness.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
It's nice to have a palate for drinks but the most important thing is customer service. That will gain you more maturity than being focused on what you make and being like a monkey in a cage.
What's the plan now?
The idea is I work in Ibiza for six months of the year and travel for brands and do education the rest of the time. I've got no plans to go back to the UK or France. I am a really happy person now.