Words by: Sam Sidgwick (ABV Media)
Photography by: ABV Media
Three years ago, the small seaside city of Brighton had it's annual hospitality industry party cranked up a notch with something that would be looked forward to by the hard-working bar staff from miles around – It was dubbed ‘The Brighton Bar Awards’.
After lots of frowning and scratching heads over whether or not this would be a success, what actually followed was an overwhelming confidence in exactly why it is such a privilege to be a part of the magnificent and unique bar scene on the South Coast. So when the hangovers had been cured after the small experimental first year in 2014, the organisers, ABV Media, had to contemplate if it was worth doing it again and at the drop of a hipster flat cap hat, they agreed. Three years on, this task of orchestrating the ultimate celebration in shaking & stirring talent had been getting bigger and bigger and, on a quiet Sunday evening in September, this year was no exception!
Not only did bartenders, bar managers, drinks reps, brand ambassadors, baristas and master chefs all come to celebrate Brighton's crème-de-la-crème of the bar industry getting rewarded for all their hard work over the last 365 days, but the general public also came to cheer for the people on the other side of their favourite bar. Held at The Old Market Theatre on the border of Brighton and Hove, there were 20 categories to vote in, each with a highly sought-after prize kindly donated by some of the bartender's favourite drinks brands. "This event is massively instrumental to bartenders all over Sussex, we're lucky to have such a dedicated team of organisers behind it and it's so great to see someone in the crowd the previous year, then up on stage winning an award the next and then presenting it the following year - it's a real inspiration!" says Myles Cunliffe, founder of The Brighton Bartenders Association facebook group (BNBA) and Imbibe Personality Of The Year Award winner. Not ones to say 'no' to a bit of light comedy, the BNBA included such prizes as 'Best Banter' and 'Best Toilets' and even The Difford's Guide proudly sponsored the 'Know-It-All' Award.
But among the more amusing categories, there was a very creative selection of well-deserved accolades, such as 'The Matthew Clark Best Restaurant Bar Award', which was scooped up by The Salt Room, there was 'The AB InBev Best Hotel Bar Award' taken by My Hotel's 'Merkaba' and 'The FEW Spirits Best Pub Award', which had some stiff competition but was pipped-to-the-post by the newly-developed William The Fourth pub on Church Street. 'The Aberlour Whisky Godfather Award' for longstanding achievement in the Brighton bar scene was finally earned by Mattia Casadei and 'The Mezcal Gin Best Bar Manager Award' was very rightly handed to The Salt Room's Matt Ottley for not only his amazing new menu in the Brighton establishment, but also his work with the new development by Tower Bridge in London opening October 9th.
Best Female Bartender (Left to right); Jo Smith (Best Female Bartender 2015), Elaine Larkin (winner, Best Female Bartender 2017), James Saunders (drinks rep. for Bacardi Brown-Forman - award sponsors), Sam Sidgwick (event host/organiser)
Best Male Bartender (Left to right); James Saunders (as above), Julien Billet (winner, Best Male Bartender 2017), Jake Goldstein (Best Male Bartender 2016)
Celebrations and commiserations filled the air but as the prize table started to get emptier, however, the crowd's anticipation grew and all eyes were on the last few awards. Amongst them was 'The Jensen's Gin Best Bar Award' and of course, the final two awards for the evening; the 'Jack Daniels Best Male Bartender and Best Female Bartender'! After Bar Valentino manager and cocktail comp veteran Elaine Larkin had triumphantly swept up Best Female Bartender, it was time for the last award of the night! The Best Male Bartender Award was apparently, after the votes had been counted, the closest out of all the categories between the three nominees, which were; Roadhouse Flair contestant Josh Heard, The Salt Room's Julien Billet and the evening's most nominated individual; Anton Atkins of Hotel Du Vin. But, by a hair's breadth, this year's engraved bottle of JD Single Barrel was awarded to Julien Billet, confirming The Salt Room's third award and reputation as one of the country's best places to eat & drink. UK Jack Daniels Ambassador, Cam Dawson says "I'm proud to be involved with such a popular event - the turnout is always impressive and it's nice to see my adoptive hometown get recognised for it's achievements in the bar industry."
Best Bar Award (Left to right); Toby Scott (bartender at last year's winner, The Plotting Parlour), Zoe Cunliffe (Boss lady of The Mixology Group and co-founder of the Brighton Bartenders Association facebook group), Megan Stimpson (bartender at Marwoods), Harry Petrakas (co-general manager at Marwoods), Faye Timperley (Bartender at Marwoods), Simon McHugh (Bartender at Marwoods), Rafal Tetich (Co-General Manager at Marwoods)
The most successful watering hole of the night, however, this year had to be Marwoods(a quirky cafe hidden away in Brighton's iconic South Lanes.) They not only picked up The Best Bar Award, but also three others including Ganda Media's 'Best Use Of Design Award' and 'Best New Bar' sponsored by Elijah Craig. Marwoods has, in the last year, been invested in by local long-term bartenders Harry Petrakas and Rafal Tetich to give this venue an incredible new lease of life. Taking the hilariously creative 'jumble sale' style decor of the cafe with it's incredible quality coffee and gently advancing it into the cocktail world. This has meant the Seaside town's already massively diverse range of saloons, has just got weirder!
Not just an amazing night but an amazing year for Brighton and, thanks to the skills, passion and motivation behind the bars of this city, The Brighton Bar Awards looks set to become one of the biggest, most successful, topical, unashamed and down-right rock & roll Bar Award ceremonies in the entire United Kingdom. Credit to event organisers ABV Media and also main sponsors Pernod Ricard, Matthew Clark and AB Inbev. See you there next year!