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Long Read: London Cocktail Week – Let’s have a bar crawl while we still can

Published:  01 October, 2020

Hugh Jones lost his job this year after shortly after arriving at a new company right at the start of the pandemic. Feeling less than enthused about the situation and his looming annual Stoptober attempt, he was about to throw in the towel of sobriety for London Cocktail Week, which starts today. But after speaking with organisers, he discovered they are pulling out all the stops to this year to make sure as many people can get involved as possible – to blow off steam while also supporting London’s embattled on-trade.

Like so many others, I fell out of full time employment thanks to the pandemic. As soon as the hospitality industry shut down, belts had to be tightened. There was a domino effect hitting every level of the trade. Countless friends and former colleagues lost their jobs in the last six months. Senior or junior, startup or global brand, supplier or restaurant – nobody in our ecosystem is safe.

After a five week stint in Latvia where I could make money busking and gigging, I’m fortunate to have found some part-time brand ambassador work on my return to London. Even more fortuitous, my girlfriend doesn’t work in hospitality and her job seems secure. I’m hopeful there’ll be more work as the trade comes back to life, but the 10pm curfew is a clear indication that the government doesn’t understand how the industry works, or how important it is. What’s more, we live in fear of another lockdown and the devastation it will cause.

Most of my socialising has been in parks with pre-batched cocktails (I’ve gotten pretty good at them) and plastic cups. I worry deeply about the long-term effects of the government’s handling of our industry and want to do my bit in supporting it. The problem is, as much as I’ve wanted to visit all the best bars in London who’ve re-opened their doors and are offering the safest places for us to socialise, it’s been too much of a stretch financially.

Thanks to London Cocktail Week (which is in fact a month long this time around), we can now afford to visit our favourite bars, try exciting new drinks, revel in being back in the heart of the London drinks scene and show our love to the people that make it so special. A wristband for the entire month is only £15, or free if you work for the NHS or the trade. Desperate not to miss this opportunity to support the industry I love AND get a killer drink in over 200 venues for a bargain £6 a time, I was ready to ditch any notion of attempting Stoptober (something I attempt most years with varying degrees of failure) before the month even began… But wait…

“We actually have an enormous list of non-alcoholic cocktails being served for the special price of £4 throughout our extended London Cocktail Week,” explains Hannah Sharman Cox, co-organiser along with Siobhan Payne.

“So you can still support bars without drinking alcohol. We have worked alongside MacMillan and Go Sober for October for a few years now and absolutely support the charity work they’re doing. And if you’re going Sober-ish for October (which is their reworked campaign for this year) we also have a huge list of lower abv cocktails (25ml or less of a liquid 40% ABV of less) also available for £6.”

This is the first opportunity to truly embrace the incredible cocktail culture of our city, without breaking the bank, since lockdown. But god knows what is around the corner. It may also be our last chance to have a bar crawl for a while. Whether you’re sober, sober-ish or on the sauce, there are places to see, tipples to enjoy, friends to catch up with, commiserate with, and lend an ear to. There are a whole load of cocktails to enjoy, and we don’t have to make them ourselves or do the washing up afterwards! Hello London bars, how we’ve missed you.

Hugh has been in the drinks industry for 13 years, starting at Majestic before moving to Pernod Ricard, Mentzendorff and Lucky Saint among others.

Top photo shows bartenders at last year’s London Cocktail Week, which runs for a month starting today (1 October).