MIXOLOGY BAR AWARDS Winners: Agostino Perrone and The Connaught
Last year was a very good year for Agostino Perrone – The Connaught Bar in London won numerous awards, including our very own MIXOLOGY BAR AWARDS. Nearly 12 months on, how have things changed at the iconic hotel bar?
In the run-up to the MIXOLOGY BAR AWARDS 2018, we’re introducing last year’s winners and catching up to see what the past 12 months have brought for them. Not only did Agostino Perrone himself win Best European Mixologist, but The Connaught Bar also won the Best European Bar award. Numerous other accolades adorn his shelves, but we won’t bore you with them here.
Perrone is the latest in a long line of proud of Italians who’ve made a mark on the London bar scene. Agostino Perrone first came to bartending as a means to pay for his photography classes, but he’s since transitioned behind the bar full-time (that might just be the understatement of the year) and redefined what it means to be a hotel bar when he took over The Connaught Bar in 2008.
When asked about the meaning of awards, he appears humbled: “First off, I would like to express my gratitude to the judges and the industry. I am very grateful because these awards confirm that our focus is in the right direction. We’ve won an award almost every year since we opened, which means that we’ve always been consistent with our output. Awards are very fulfilling, but they’re only the top of the actual daily effort: to make the guest feel special.” Though you can sense his gratitude and appreciation for the industry that gives out these awards, he’s quick to point out that really, the true work is done in the day-to-day running of the bar – the awards are only the cherry on top.
Agostino Perrone: The Perfect Serve
His days begin very early, Agostino Perrone gets up around 7am, no matter how late he was working the night before. He spends the first few moments of the day taking care of himself and spending some quality time with his coffee press. “I look after myself, I do exercise, I mediate. Only after that do I switch on my phone and check the different WhatsApp groups – I always need to be in the loop. What’s going on, what happened last night, anything I need to be aware of…We live in a 24 hour world now.”
His approach to leading a large team is teaching the members how to be better people. “A better person is a better professional figure. If you look after yourself, you’ll have better achievements, you’ll be able to look after other people better, and you’ll be less generic, more focused during your shift. I try to mentor my team and help them grow both personally and professionally,” says Perrone. That’s a refreshing approach in an industry that’s well known for working its participants to the bone and where things like self-care are unheard of.
Perrone seems to truly cherish and exemplify this approach, and it’s something many managers would do well to copy. It’s always best to give your employees the space to grow into better workers and lead them through positive reinforcement rather than punishment.
That’s not to say the skill of bartending isn’t important, too: “The technical aspect is very important of course. Our focus and standards are extremely high. Having a structure helps you work more precisely. It’s like running: on the first day you run 1km, on the second day you run 2km, and so on. Same goes with the structure, once you have one in place you can use your mind to give the guest a better, more personal experience. The Connaught is a brand, our work is a lifestyle and guests come to be a part of that. Our focus is always on the cocktail and service. The combination is like the perfect cocktail,” Perrone says.
The Year of The Connaught
Earlier this year, The Connaught team launched their new menu, which they worked very hard on. “Honestly, it’s been a very exciting year. Because we worked so hard, we were very excited and we were very cheerful working most of the time. We’ve also won several awards since April and it’s been a nice recognition for the team, seeing that the new creations have been working out,” says Perrone.
Perrone says the past year was particularly positive. “Every day is exciting and last year was particularly fantastic. It was really our year! The general mood in the hotel, both of the team and that of the guests, was very special, almost magical. That made the last 12 months very memorable. I feel very lucky. I keep on attracting people that are incredibly motivated with a very uncommon passion,” he says.
Remaining creative is definitely one of the harder tricks of the trade. Agostino Perrone says The Connaught’s focus is squarely on keeping things stylish, classy and without any gimmicks. Guests should “feel like they’re in the past but looked after like they’re in the future.”
Cocktails are kept classy and neat, yet still surprising: crazy ideas but without crazy implementation. The drink is designed to sit on the table and look enticing; once the guest smells it and sips it, their senses are awoken, along with their curiosity. But Perrone and his team don’t want to put people off with a lengthy discussion of a drink’s backstory and ingreidents. “Only if the guests want to know do we explain, we don’t stress them if they don’t,” he says.
Simplicity as the Key to Innovation
Sometimes innovation goes hand in hand with simplicity, as is the case for The Connaught. Obviously, there is a creative process where the team discusses ideas. They want to continue surprising their guests but also keeping things simple, and that requires a lot of research. “You create something and then within moments, it’s gone. So we create a palette in the mind. We play with texture a lot. How does it make you feel? Will this make you think of your childhood, or perhaps a place that you’ve never gone to before? Innovation also lies in how you communicate.”
Agostino Perrone is looking forward to the next 12 months. The Connaught is moving into its 10th year, an anniversary that will be celebrated accordingly. “It’s a pinnacle in my career as well as for the bar. We’re the first hotel bar that emerged with creativity as well as classics. I think a lot of people saw us as an example of what a hotel bar can be. We made it accessible and successful,” says Perrone. The Connaught is planning on publishing a book of recipes and stories of the bar – a book that’s sure to be as interesting as the people who created it. There’s also a little something else in the works, Perrone says with a smile: “There are a few things lined up on my board and as soon as we realize them, you’ll know.” Here’s to another 10 years of The Connaught!
Foto: Photo via The Connaught.