Words by: Ian Cameron
I ended up in Bristol by accident but I've found a unique bartending community. I have to say it was not somewhere I'd always wanted to go, but I got a job offer with Harvey Nichols and took a stab in the dark. That was three years ago. There's a real close-knit community, everyone's really supportive of each other. I've been bartending for ten years but I never felt this when I was in Manchester and Nottingham. It seems to be a real sense of wanting to push Bristol as a city before ourselves and our bars and it's really special and enjoyable.
Other cities could learn a thing or two from Bristol bartenders. There are a lot of young guys here, stumbling into the business as we've all done, but keen to learn and crucially not being too geeky about things, keeping things simple and focusing on the personality behind it all. There's just a different vibe and attitude - our cocktails sometimes have silly names and we even give objects names too: the kettle's called Madam Boilsby, for example. A lot of bartenders gravitate to London: I'm actually from London but there's plenty to keep me interested down here. Bristol has helped me focus on what's important and I think I only really became a good bartender when I came here.
I've definitely changed in this job over the years. I used to be a nightmare when I was younger. Compared to the younger guys today I was awful, always pushing stuff too far, being a bit too clever, seeking approval. It was probably a lack of confidence and insecurity. Then as you get older you rein it in. As I've become more confident in what I do I've realised you don't need to scream and shout about it. I'd like to think I've helped made cocktails accessible.
I'm sometimes known as 'Flairhurst' - it happened on the way to the Chase distillery, when I dropped a bottle and somehow managed to catch it. It's not a name I'm particularly fond of, but then again I can't stand arrogance when it comes to making drinks. There is a performance aspect to bartending but I think it's better to try to put people at ease than wow them with your knowledge. We're here to help people have a good time.
I work five days a week, sometimes six. I get up about 11-12, then I tend to pace around, thinking about the day ahead. I might watch a bit of TV then generally start at 2pm. I do emails, then start looking at the bar and get down to the prep- we're all quite hands-on there. Weekdays we'll finish around 1am, depending on how busy we are, though weekends it can be about 5am before we sit down with a beer.
I'm happy to keep working in this business, but I can't do these late nights forever. It's no bad thing that people can be driven and career-focused in their 20s, but now that I'm in my 30s and engaged I'm starting to see things differently. The main thing is not seeing my family as much as I'd like to. Everything else I can cope with. I don't ever not want to be around this industry though I've not had the courage to open my own place yet, though in the next ten years I would like to have some security.
In general the foodie movement has had a positive effect on people's appreciation of cocktails, but the mainstream media still sometimes shows it has little appreciation of what we do. I've never been so angry about the recent article in The Sun about cocktail culture. What an ill-researched, ill-conceived and inappropriate piece of journalism. It was horrific accident what happened to that girl, but an incredibly reactionary response.
I have a recurring dream where I can't find any equipment or ingredients in a bar. I've had it for about five years: I can't remember the drinks they ordered, and that wakes me up in a cold sweat. Apart from that life's pretty good - though if I could wave a magic wand, I'd get people to calm down, take life less seriously. I do have a life outside bars and I think it's important not to live and breathe bartending and cocktails. To relax I eat food and drink wine - in fact anything but a cocktail.