Escrito por: Jane Ryan
Robert Wood has been a hotel bartender for seven years, rising through the ranks to become General Manager. Now he's bringing mixed drinks to the suburbs of Birmingham, in the guise of a boutique hotel. He's also out to carve a name for himself with Bacardi's Legacy competition, having just won the Bristol heat.
I'm the General Manager of The Edgbaston, but I work nearly every one of my shifts behind the bar. Seven years ago I started at The Kenilworth, The Edgbaston's sibling boutique hotel. I was steping into some seriously big shoes when I took the job there, from the likes of Richard Gilliam and Chris Moore who had run it beforehand.
My bartending story starts after my travelling days. Before that I had done a season in Henry's Bar in Tenerife making cocktails like Sex on the Beach and trying to flair, then a stint in Manchester before I went away for nine months. I travelled through Los Angeles, Vegas, New York, Hawaii, Melbourne, Sydney, Hong Kong, Dubai, Munich and Paris before returning to England. It was an inadvertent world bar tour and I said along the way that maybe I wouldn't come back if I found the right place.
In the end I did come back, but was out of work for six months looking for a project to sink my teeth into. I'd heard of The Kenilworth beforehand, it was actually a hotel my girlfriend and I had looked into potentially staying at. I went down there, did an interview and then they asked, if I wasn't in a rush, to work behind the bar that night. I've never looked back.
The Kenilworth pulls in cocktail drinkers from all over the midlands. It's some old cottages all knocked through to make one large building with 11 different rooms. As it's in a residential area we relied on our regulars, which make up about 60% of the guests. It was always humbling when people would travel quite a distance to come and have cocktails with us.
Birmingham was somehow left out of the cocktail renaissance, which is why The Edgbaston is there. While working at The Kenilworth I oversaw all the planning and eventually moved across to the new hotel. Calum Anderson has taken over the bar there, after working beneath me for three and a half years. It's been truly rewarding to see him blossom into that role.
I love working in a hotel, you can really look after your guests because the walls are broken down, people feel like they're at home.
Our menus are big, around 100 drinks and only ten of those tend to be classics, the rest are created by the team. When it comes to homemade ingredients I make what I can but if someone does it better then I'm not about to go and create a substandard product. Same goes for locally sourced produce, I'll always try and obtain local ingredients but only if they're the same or better than other items.
I've been offered a London job more than once, and what's been most tempting is the blank check some of these owners offer you. The chance to create whatever you want is an idea I really respond to. But then I already have that, and I suspect the grass is always greener.
What I love about where I work is the sense of family. The whole team looks after each other and I know all my bartenders incredibly well. I love being part of this team, this family. We've got each others backs.
Rum is my thing. On my back bar it's easily the best represented spirit. I love its versatility and will happily argue this with anyone, particularly my owner who loves single malts. I tell him nothing touches rum in the way that each brand will totally change the way your Daiquiri tastes.
I do look to London hotel bars, but with a critical eye. What they do, however fabulous it may be, doesn't always translate outside of London. And when it comes to trends I always wait a few months before attempting anything, as when everyone was barrel aging cocktails. I sat back and watched the mistakes being made so that when I went to experiment I already knew where others had gone wrong.
In the end, I still wake up each day loving what I'm doing. I don't want a corporate job in the industry. You can call me a GM and give me all the responsibility of that position but I don't want to stop making drinks.