Ally Martin is one of the talented faces behind the growing empire of Matt Whiley. Starting off life as a bartender in Edinburgh, he helped open the quirky Talented Mr Fox and can now be found tending the bar at Bethnal Green's Peg + Patriot. Ally is also one of the four finalists representing London in the UK Bacardi Legacy finals.
What are your hobbies and interests?
I love collecting pokemon cards. Not really, but I kind of wish I did. I like eating and drinking and I love to cook, my Sunday Roast is a sight to behold. I've started running quite a bit recently as well which has been surprisingly enjoyable. You get to see a lot of the city too, which is cool. I'm also pretty into football and play as much as I can and I love to snowboard.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Edinburgh. It's a really lovely place to grow up, big enough to be vibrant and exciting but small enough to be quaint and beautiful.
How did you start bartending?
I started bartending as a way to give myself beer money and a bit of focus while I was at the University in Edinburgh. The first job I had was washing glasses in Vodka Revolution which was just as awful as it sounds. I eventually landed myself a job at a place called Tigerlily where a lot of the best bartenders in the city were working. I went there because they paid well and tips were awesome but in the three and a half years that I worked I got that bartending bug that everybody talks about. I took the job to be able to support my studies but I ended up loving it so much that it became the career I wanted to pursue.
From there I went to London to work at Worship Street Whistling Shop which was a whole different kettle of fish, I was learning how to do things that I didn't even think were possible and it took me in the direction I really wanted to go. I took some time out to do a Master's degree and worked at Bramble and The Last Word before moving back down to open Talented Mr Fox with Matt Whiley. We ran that as a nine month pop up and opened our first permanent site in Bethnal Green in April.
Who has been your biggest mentor?
It sounds quite corny but I've always felt you can learn something from everybody you work with, whether that is a bar back who runs himself into the ground for the bar or from the bar manager who has an incredible levels of knowledge. During my career I've had the fortune to work alongside some pretty impressive people. In the beginning I learnt a great deal from people like Joey Medrington, Frank McGivern and Ross Montgomery. I owe a lot to Teddy Joseph and Keiran Cusker who took me to Worship Street Whistling Shop in the first place and believed in my shocking lack of experience.
Generally though, I think Matt Whiley and James Stevenson who I work with at Talented Mr Fox and Peg + Patriot have had the greatest influence on my career. Going in everyday to work with guys like that means you constantly have to raise your game. I learn something new pretty much everyday and I'm constantly having to push myself.
Why did you decide to enter Legacy?
I've always felt like it's the competition which really nurtures bartenders. It's not about the trips or the money, it's about highlighting the fact that bartending is a respectable profession and it should be treated as such. From everything I've heard it's the competition that you can take the most away from because it will give you a platform to really progress in your career.
Is hospitality the most important aspect of bartending to you?
Absolutely, it doesn't matter how much time or effort you put into a drink if you don't put that same level of effort to making sure your guests have a great night then you've wasted your time. The best bars are the ones that place the most importance on hospitality.
What are your 10 best bars in London?
Best is such a subjective term, I love so many bars that it is difficult to pick the ten best. In terms of cocktails in London I wouldn't look much further than White Lyan or Blind Pig. I'm also a huge fan of The Red Bar at Bam Bou and Hawksmoor Spitalfields. I'm a big beer drinker as well so I really like Mother Kellys which is this banging little tap room in Bethnal Green and I also really like to go down to the Kernel Brewery on Saturday mornings, also Sager and Wilde is belting for a nice glass of wine and a top notch bit of cured meat. Outside of London, I can't get enough of Bramble and The Last Word in Edinburgh, the standard of drinks and service and the atmosphere beats a huge number of places in London. I also think Kelvingrove Cafe in Glasgow is a cracking wee bar as well. I've also got to give a shout out to my guiltiest pleasure, The Dolphin, I know that's 11, but the Dolphin plays Remix to Ignition by R. Kelly and you can't go wrong with that.
What's your personal favourite drink?
It always depends on the occasion, the time of day, the venue you're in all that stuff. If you really pushed me I'd probably say a Daiquiri or a Pegu Club, those are the kind of drinks which if done right then it's difficult to beat. I love a beer and a whisky as well, especially a really good Saison. I've also got a massive soft spot for a French Martini or a Clover Club, I like tasty pink drinks, what can I say.
Do you have a favourite spirit to work with?
Probably rum or whisky. It's constantly challenging to work with spirits like that because of the various levels of flavour within them. The complexity they have always makes it more difficult to get a drink right but when you do you get drinks which have all these nuances in flavour and it's all the more rewarding.
What's your end plan? Your own bar / rum hut on the beach?
I don't know where I want to end up, at the moment I'm just loving working with great people, making cool drinks and working with great products. When I'm older though I can think of nothing more appealing than owning a nice pub in the country where I could drink beer by the fire to my hearts content.