A dark, cold February night was lit up by the hospitality industry's brightest stars, as they gathered in tiki-paradise Mahiki Kensington for the eighth annual Imbibe Personality of the Year Awards.
The awards recognise those who deserve it most: the people behind the venues. The passionate, hardworking and innovative folks who make the on-trade the incredible industry it is.
With a fair few nursing a sore head this morning, we reveal the 2018 Personalities of the Year, and the reasons why they received such coveted titles. Cheers to them!
Bar Personality of the Year: Mia Johansson, Swift, London
Co-founder of Soho's Swift, acclaimed staff trainer and previously of Milk & Honey, Johansson also created the bar (along with her husband Bobby Hiddleston) for Lafayette Grand Café in New York. It was clear Johansson was the deserving winner of Bar Personality of the Year.
Her work in London and across the Pond, and view that compassion and warmth is the key to hospitality was praised by the judges. 'She's one of the best hosts and biggest, loveliest personalities in the game – a beam of Swedish sunshine,' said judge Leon Dalloway.
Pub Personality of the Year: Tim Bird, Cheshire Cat Pubs and Bars, Cheshire, Staffordshire and Dorset
With a career spanning over 35 years, it was only right to reward Pub Personality Tim Bird for all he’s done, as he accepted the award with a Cheshire Cat-sized grin on his face.
Working on everything from large pub groups to small independents, to his own group of venues, it’s almost safe to say the UK pub scene would be in a different place without his input. His aim? ‘To continue restoring pubs and making them famous again.’ God speed.
Restaurant Personality of the Year: Owen Morgan, Bar 44 Group, Cardiff
Having built a restaurant business from scratch, Owen Morgan of Bar 44 Group was crowned Restaurant Personality of the Year.
Focusing on team work and inspiring those around him, Morgan has grown his Spanish-led group into four sites, currently looking for a fifth. He is also committed to spreading the word about Spain, and in particular, sherry. ‘If I can get one more person every day to start drinking dry sherry, a wine from a region or grape previously unknown to them, or try a tartare of Ibérico pork, for example, it’s a win,’ he said.
Hotel Personality(s) of the Year: Declan McGurk & Erik Lorincz, American Bar at The Savoy, London
There's no question why power-pair Declan McGurk and Erik Lorincz snapped up this title, their hotel bar needs no introduction, having recently risen to the position of World’s Best Bar in 50 Best.
‘[They provide] the perfect balance of technicality and intuition, laced together with experience and passion,’ said Connaught Bar’s Agostino Perrone. ‘Together they lead not only an iconic bar, but keep innovating and attracting young talent.’
Educator of the Year: Gabe Cook, The Ciderologist
Engaging, witty, bursting with knowledge, hands-on experience and an all-round great guy, Gabe Cook has all the qualities looked for in a great educator.
Spreading his love of cider through words, television and being chief pommelier examiner at the Beer & Cider Academy, Cook sees the opportunity to become the world’s foremost authority on cider.
‘Gabe has been a pioneer in the cider industry,’ said beer sommelier Annabel Smith. ‘He hasn't had a huge organisation behind him. He has single-handedly worked to get cider recognised as an important category in its own right.’
Innovator of the Year: Tristan Stephenson & Tom Aske, Fluid Movement
With a track record in pioneering ideas for the last 10 years, Fluid Movement’s Tristan Stephenson and Tom Aske were named as the deserving Innovators of the Year.
With five venues on their books (including Black Rock, The Devil’s Darling and sherry-haven Sack), the duo has also launched a range of bottled cocktails, perfect for home drinking.
‘Tristan and Tom are beasts in the bar world, who are nailing everything they set their minds to. Their bar concepts are brilliant and, most importantly for this category, innovative, and their writing and whisky shipments are just what the industry craves. Plus, they’re a top set of boys to have a Martini with,’ Gin Journey’s Leon Dalloway commented.
Hot Stuff: Greg Almeida, Scarfes Bar, London
'I would love to help young bartenders start on the right foot – train them, mentor them, and give them the best tools to be successful in their career,’ said Almeida himself on where his career is heading.
‘A young talent, and a truly fantastic bartender with amazing people skills,’ added Connaught Bar’s Agostino Perrone. ‘He has a solid set of skills that will take him very far in this industry.’
Chairman’s Award: JJ Goodman, The London Cocktail Club, Craft Cocktail Co & Keystones Cocktail Club, Worcester
'1, 2, 3...' You know the rest. He's the man at the helm of London’s best-loved party bar, The London Cocktail Club, which now operates nine venues around the capital. Bar operator, brand owner, ‘startender’, he’s done it all.
Business aside, the highlight of his career, according to Goodman, is a partnership with The Prince’s Trust to help get disadvantaged young people onto the employment ladder. This has resulted in dozens of candidates working at his establishments.
'This will not only give the industry and its work force the respect it deserves, but it will also set in stone the standards required for the cocktail industry to flourish,’ Goodman revealed, on his plans to help create the first Government-recognised qualification in bartending. We wish him all the luck. Not that he'll need it.
Industry Legend: Joint winners….
This year, the judges felt that two on-trade stalwarts deserved the illustrious accolade of Industry Legend, and those two are Alessandro Palazzi and David Bruce.
Alessandro Palazzi, Duke's Bar
Bar manager of Duke’s Bar (you might have heard of its Martinis?) for the past decade, Palazzi has grown the bar to the luxurious epitome of elegance it is today. He believes that hospitality is the best job in the world, and for that, we give him praise.
‘Alessandro has the energy and passion of a 25-year-old bartender, while his management experience makes him a solid leader for the industry,’ said Perrone. ‘Guests love him and his Martini, and this is reflected in the very busy, classic environment of Dukes Bar. It is a landmark in London!’
David Bruce, The City Pub Group, south of England
Sharing the title with Palazzi is David Bruce. With a staggering 51 years working in hospitality, he's created on-trade businesses and set up breweries around the world.
Looking ahead, Bruce is setting his sights on becoming a mentor to others looking to work, and a make a career in, the hospitality industry. And that's not it. Along with his outstanding work in the on-trade, he also founded The Bruce Trust, providing canal holidays for disabled, disadvantaged and elderly people. What a bloke.
You can read the full winners' report in the next issue of Imbibe.