Robert Wood's 18/81 to shake up the Birmingham cocktail scene

Kate Malczewski

Kate Malczewski

19 June 2018

There’s an air of mystery surrounding the latest cocktail bar from Robert Wood. Named 18/81, its exact address is undisclosed. We know only that it’s located somewhere on Thorp Street, tucked away in Birmingham’s Southside.

However, once you talk to Wood about this latest venture, a partnership with Independent Birmingham founder Joe Schuppler, the mystery begins to dissipate and his vision for the cocktail bar is clear. At its heart, Wood’s approach for 18/81 is similar to the one he took for his 10-seat bar Smultronställe with a strong focus on service, only executed on a larger scale.

The new bar will feature a cocktail-tasting menu with a focus on a ‘progression of flavour’, much in the style of Smultronställe, but its calling card will be a core selection of prebatched cocktails. Drinks will be designed in four categories – premixed cocktails, premixed highballs, prebatched and prebottled – for speed and consistency.

‘We have clocked a table of four from order to drinking in less than 90 seconds!' he said. 'If you can get delicious cocktails without the wait in a friendly environment, why would you go elsewhere?’

Part of creating a welcoming environment is keeping the bar open to anyone who wants to stop by. The bar will only take same-day bookings via text and no reservations for future dates, with half the tables kept free for walk-ins.

Wood’s big-picture perspective on the relationship between 18/81’s service and its cocktail philosophy is apparent. It’s all part of a larger plan to foster progress in the industry.

‘Bars still mostly prepare drinks in the same way they did 150 years ago, but the world has moved on and we need to move with it,' he said. 'In this way, the guys behind White Lyan were like [famed experimental restaurant] elBulli in the early 2000s.

‘Now, we haven’t gone full “White Lyan”, but aim to spread the word of those who came before us to stop the inconsistency and lack of service to bring about a new era of delicious drinks without the fuss.’

It’s fitting, then, that Wood has chosen prebatching as the vehicle for change.

‘I think words like prebatched and premixed in terms of the cocktail are still seen as faux pas and almost dirty,’ he said, ‘but we want to show that it’s the future.

‘We hope that by challenging the status quo of waiting around for good cocktails, it might challenge others to do the same.’

18/81 opens on 20 June.


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