Be our guest: the Imbibe guide to bar takeovers (part two)

Alice Lascelles

Alice Lascelles

01 November 2017

From Edinburgh to Exeter, hordes of bartenders have been roaming the land in search of guest spots where they can show off their skills. In part two of two, Alice Lascelles looks at what makes a successful bar takeover

In the first part of our insider's guide to organising bar takeovers, we gave you the professionals' advice on choosing the right venue, budgeting, asking the right questions and getting the timing of it all set in stone. Read on for the rest of our residency-sages' top tips.

Be creative

When it comes to designing the drinks menu, keep it simple - better to execute five ‘greatest hits’ really well than get in a tangle trying to do a dozen fiddly drinks. 

‘Picking drinks that are the most accessible in that particular country is key,’ says Dead Rabbit’s beverage director Jillian Vose. ‘Work with the beverage director of the hosting bar and see what’s best.’

Think about the food offering too. When BlackTail came to The Bloomsbury, the London hotel kitchen recreated its New York signature pulled-rabbit sandwiches, while the The Baxter Inn made sure every table was stocked with their trademark wicker bowl of pretzels.

You don’t need to do a massive fit-out to convey the feel of your bar either. Just a change in the lighting and music can make a big difference. El Bandito put its stamp on a venue by infusing it with the smell of incense. The Baxter Inn added signature details to The Bloomsbury, like bar letter boards and tags round the necks of bottles.

Bring as much stuff from your bar as you can, advise The Clumsies: ‘coasters, napkins, posters, everything you can to show that your bar is really there’.

Be nice

If you’re the visiting bar team don’t miss your flight, be polite, and don’t get drunk behind someone else’s bar. ‘People are coming to your guest shift to have fun, so be smiley, dance with them if it’s necessary; be a pleasant person,’ say The Clumsies.

If you’re the host, you’ll want to capitalise on the time you’ve got your visitors in town, but make sure they have some down time too. Build at least one night into the schedule for showing them around. And when it’s your turn to visit their city, hopefully they’ll return the favour.

It’s crucial you prepare for things to go wrong. The one thing you can guarantee is that they will. ‘Always, always, always expect a last-minute trolley dash,’ says Edmund Weil, Nightjar and Oriole owner. ‘As you will always have forgotten something.’

Maximise publicity

The main reason for doing a takeover is to create a buzz around your bar, so you want to make sure you publicise the event to the max.

Make sure your PR schedule is in sync with all your collaborators so that any announcements are made at the same time, and be meticulous about getting sign-offs on everything from press-releases and menus to pictures – this is incredibly important for protecting your brand.

Social media can turn on a dime, but glossy magazines and trade press often have lead times of several months. So get your event on their radar as soon as possible. And on the night, ensure your Twitter, Instagram and any hashtags are clearly visible on menus and any other promotional material.

‘Make sure you have someone taking videos and pictures of the event and make it part of the deal
to cross-promote in all your social media posts,’ says Weil. ‘And get a copy of any raw footage or artwork after – all these things are really valuable assets.

‘Try and work with a brand that’s got really well coordinated social media too,’ he adds. ‘A lot of brands can be very sluggish about that.’

Tips from a well-travelled bartender

Jillian Vose
Jillian Vose


Jillian Vose, beverage director at Dead Rabbit, New York, has done pop-ups and takeovers all over the world. Here are some of the things she’s learned:

Embrace the spreadsheet: ‘I’ve developed a Google document with every piece of information I could need for a shift outside Dead Rabbit walls. This includes multiple tabs with drink specifications, formulas to do batches, ounce to millilitre conversions and tabs for small wares, tools, syrup and infusion specs, a tab for how the verbiage of the menu should be, etc.’

Look after yourself: ‘Be involved with making your schedule. Keep in mind the jet-lag factor. There is nothing worse than working a long shift at your bar and heading to the airport for an early flight, flying 12 hours, checking into your hotel to find that you have to do eight hours of press or prep as soon as you touch the ground. Being rested is extremely important. And eat your breakfast! Most hotels have this complimentary, so take advantage of it!’

Get out and about: ‘Explore the city that you’re in. I’ve spent a week in cities where I’ve only left the hotel or area I was working in for one night. I may never be back there and it’s really upsetting to know I had travelled all that way to said city and didn’t even get the chance to see much at all.’

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