One from the list: Nightjar, London

Gaëlle Laforest

21 June 2016

Nightjar is a bar that needs no introduction. Since its opening in 2010, it's received too many awards to count, thanks to a drinks menu that focuses on exotic, homemade and rare ingredients, and grand, spectacular presentation.

But Marian Beke had been at the helm of the drinks list all this time, so all eyes were on Nightjar recently as the bar launched its first post-Beke menu, created by a team headed by bar manager Martina Brezňanová. 'There's always a huge amount of time and effort that goes into developing the new menu – months of research,' she says. 'Understandably, it's always sad when a team member leaves a bar after many years. But we have the added benefit of enjoying drinking at his new bar too, and of course welcoming him back to Nightjar.'

The creation process, while the result of a year-long research period as the team travelled, tasted and worked behind the bar, culminated in a more intense development process from February. This resulted in a lengthy list, making use of several hundred ingredients, with drinks separated into four categories - much like they had been previously (Pre-Prohibition, Prohibition, Post-War and Signature).

And with a bar that can go up to 250 covers a night, there's one key word: prep. 'Every day there is one of us doing a full-time prep shift of nine hours,' says Brezňanová. 'We would not be able to operate at this level without prep.'

Another important aspect, obviously, is money. 'When we spec the drinks we always aim for somewhere in the region of 75%, however this is in the knowledge that in the real world we won't get anywhere near that figure,' she adds. 'With more ruthlessness it could be a more profitable enterprise.' A lot can influence the GP of Nightjar's drinks – especially garnishes, she says – which means the bar relies a lot on being continually busy... and on brands.

'We do tend to get some upfront financial support from [most of the brands we work with], which helps us to produce things like our playing card menus, and takes a bit of the sting out of our costs in sourcing and purchasing garnishes and vessels.'

And it works both ways: 'When we are developing a special serve or vessel with a brand, we enter into this fully aware of how mutually beneficial this is for both parties – the brands can go ahead and use these as a signature serve (using the Ketel One Pot and Kettle serve as an example) and a wider marketing device which we are very happy for them to do,' she explains.

That's not to say Nightjar doesn't champion smaller brands too, and there are plenty of these on the back bar and on the list that are there simply because the team like them and want to work with them. 'If there is a drinks brand with no budget that we really love, then we will list it on the menu regardless and ask them to support us in any way they can, which might be through a stock retro, or perhaps helping to source and pay for a special vessel,' says Brezňanová.

Cocktail à la Louisiane
Glass: Cocktail
Garnish: Small feather attached to the stem
Method: Stir and strain into coupette. On the base of the stem, blowtorch a sprinkling of patchouli and palo santo to create 'voodoo smoke'.

45 ml Johnnie Walker Gold Reserve
30ml Mancino Vermouth Rosso Amaranto
5ml Bénédictine
5ml orange liqueur
1 pinch agnus castus
2 dashes absinthe
1 dash Nightjar Bitters

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