The Connaught Bar has long been a destination for a diverse range of clientele, and it’s easy to see why. From its beautiful interior and seamless service, to the innovative drinks list, classic and modern influences mingle effortlessly, with cocktails often taking inspiration from, and paying homage to, the classic Cubist decor of the bar itself. World famous for it’s martini serve and considered a leading example of hospitality, the Connaught Bar was named the world’s number one bar by 50 Best Bars in October. We chat to head mixologist Giorgio Bargiani about what this accolade means to the team, the current menu and, of course, that iconic martini.
Hi Giorgio, thanks for talking to us. Please tell us a bit about yourself
I’m Giorgio Bargiani, head mixologist at the Connaught Bar in London. I am an Italian bartender born in Pisa – maybe it was the Leaning Tower that influenced the direction of the casting of my martinis! I grew up in the friendly atmosphere of my family’s traditional restaurant, which made me passionate about bars and catering from childhood. I started working in bars during my studies and, after gaining my license, decided to devote myself to this profession. The luxury hotel industry has always been a goal, but I’ve been through several bars and clubs before. The courteous welcome and the meticulous detail of the hotel service really fascinated me. After a time at the Splendido hotel in Portofino, I went to the Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxford where I really learned discipline and rigor. My ambition led me to dream of big hotel bars where I could experiment and launch new trends in the world of mixology. I had my chance to join the Connaught’s team as a bar-back in August 2014, and since then I have had the honour of working with the greatest talents in the bar industry, starting with Ago Perrone. I learned a lot and grew, nurtured my passion and ambition, my creative, communicative spirit and my desire to always do something new, among people from all over the world.
What does an accolade like winning the best bar in the world mean to you?
It’s like reaching the top of a mountain after a long climb. We didn’t really feel the fatigue during the climb because we were busy and enthusiastic about what we were doing but, once up there, we saw it all and it was so rewarding. We have seen our evolution, teamwork, ability to adapt to challenges, and, above all, our dedication to hospitality and to our clients. Everything we do, we do for our sector and for our customers. Now the hardest climb begins. We must renew our investment in the bar, in the team, in the sector, as well as set new goals to reach ever higher heights.
Has adapting to the global pandemic required you to develop any new skills or taught you any useful lessons?
Absolutely. This year has taught us to accept challenges and turn them into opportunities. We have seen great professional and personal growth in the team. Everyone wanted to get involved to contribute to collective success with their ideas. Communication has been a central asset, both within the company and the team and externally, for our customers and sector. We have improved our communication skills to the extent that the contact and exposure we had before the pandemic have been considerably reduced. We have also innovated aspects of the implementation of our traditional service. For example, customers can no longer smell aromatic bitters directly from the bottles when they are brewed a martini. So, we invented a map of aromas where we put a few drops of the bitters as if they were fragrances. Customers smell the scents on the menu and choose their favorite bitter for the martini. They love it and very often they ask us to sign the aromatic card to bring it home with them, as a souvenir of the experience.
In a bar as upscale and elegant as the Connaught, how do you ensure the guests feel at ease when they visit?
The experience of our customers is the main thing for us. All we do is to give them an unforgettable moment. They feel good because we anticipate their needs, we learn to read their movements, their words and their mood. Courtesy and communication are fundamental factors in making a cocktail a sensory journey at the Connaught Bar.
The Connaught bar is famous for its iconic martini. Can you tell us the history of how it became such a theatrical staple?
Our martini is served on a personalised cocktail cart. This Martini Trolley is the symbol of the cocktail’s reputation. We tailor each cocktail to the customer’s taste and this allows us to establish a conversation with people and make them feel at ease. We offer different spirits as a base – including our Connaught Bar Gin – then add a house blend of three vermouths before stirring (not shaking!) on ice cubes. A drop of the aromatic bitter tincture that the customer has chosen is passed through the ice-cold martini cup – a choice of five different flavors is offered to give the martini its unique personality. Finally, we stage our theatrical casting of the martini, raising the mixing glass upwards until it is at our shoulder, without ever changing the flow to air the cocktail as we pour it into the glass. The garnish is lemon zest from Amalfi or a green olive from Sicily – and our smile, of course!
This current menu (released at the end of 2020) is the first at the Connaught Bar to feature fermentations. Tell us a bit more about the process and inspiration for these drinks.
Fermentation is a growing trend in our industry. We at the Connaught Bar like to learn and try out new techniques in mixology. However, before adopting them, we absorb them and develop them to reflect our style. With the Formae menu, we implemented a concept which allowed us to incorporate fermentation without distorting the characteristic approach of the Connaught. We created two lacto-fermented mixtures, one based on melon and one based on coconut, to add a more complex acid component without revolutionising the structure of our cocktails.
There has been an increase of custom glassware and vessels for the current menu, can you tell us about the process?
It is part of a journey that we had already undertaken and that we wanted to continue over the last year. We sought to create cocktails that go beyond tasting to become real experiences that tell several stories. This is the case of Magnetum, the Macallan-based cocktail which has its own mixer integrated in the glass, or even of Flint, the cocktail served in the ceramic glass created with the ceramist Reiko Kaneko and Rémy Martin for London Craft Week.
When not on the job, what do you look for in a bar? What makes a bar stand out to you?
The personality of the bar. Whether it’s a hotel bar or a small kiosk or an independent and creative bar, everything in a bar should reflect a cohesive style and personality: the cocktails, the decor, the service, the staff attitude.
Please share your ultimate martini recipe with us
The Connaught Martini
75ml Connaught Bar Gin
15ml Connaught Bar Vermouth Mix
A drop of aromatic bitter
(a choice between cardamom, lavender, ginseng and bergamot, coriander, tonka)
Mix the gin and vermouth with ice cubes in a mixing glass and strain into a martini glass where you have passed a drop of the chosen aromatic bitter. Add the zest of one Amalfi lemon.